Categories One-by-One: Costume Design

Mister Tee
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Postby Mister Tee » Thu Feb 25, 2010 6:23 pm

Now that I've seen Young Victoria, it's very hard to pick against it. It matches the category standard for both period and sheer number of eye-catching outfits (even the mens' clothes are elaborate). Plus there are a few of Victoria's costumes in the final half hour that stood out for me as quite beautiful. It's not as deserving as The Duchess, but not as groan-inducing as Elizabeth Deux.

I'm still rooting for Bright Star, because its costumes were both more striking and less Oscar-typical. But Young Victoria isn't a dreadful pick, and right in the Academy's wheelhouse.

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Postby Damien » Fri Feb 19, 2010 10:32 pm

Despite many skeptics here two years ago, I insisted that Elizabeth: The Golden Age would win. And I also predicted Marie Antoinette, even though I dreaded that outcome -- it's much more difficult to design convincingly for the recent past because people in the audience (and anyone with YouTube access) knows the proper look. Thus, Dreamgirls was a much more deserving winner. As I said at the time, used costumes from any earlier French Revolution picture could have been used in Marie Antoinette and no one would have been the wiser.

What voters inevitably go for is sumptuousness and elaborateness in a period picture, the further back the better (until you get into Medieval times, because then everything gets grey and dank). Thus, The Young Victoria is the easy winner here. (In the couple of weeks since seeing The Young Victoria, my sister (a regular moviegoer) has mentioned to me how the costumes in The Young Victoria are the most beautiful she's ever seen.)

As for me, I was surprised that the clothing in the film wasn't quite as sumptuous as I had anticipated. Unlike the frocks in Elizabeth and Marie, they don't call attention to themselves. But they, nevertheless, still most fit the mode of this category.

Coco Before Chanel is a movie ABOUT design, but the film's chances are hindered by the fact that the clothing against which Chanel rebelled were made to look dowdy, the better to contrast her new style.

What I look for in costume design are small details that emphasize fidelity to era and place -- a pocket for a man's vest watch here, an extra small bow on a gown there -- and, like Sabin, a feel that the clothes are really lived in and not merely being worn as props by actors. For me, Bright Star is the most deserving nominee in this category.




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Postby Okri » Fri Feb 19, 2010 12:19 am

So, while I think The Young Victoria has this one in the bag, Bright Star or Coco Before Chanel could sneak in. Heck, at this point, even Imaginarium is a dark horse nominee. One thing's for sure: Nine won't win.


I'd be fine with that. I just don't recall much in the way of elaborate costume work - more in the vain of a Finding Neverland. But if I'm wrong, well, I'm fine with that.

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Postby Hollywood Z » Thu Feb 18, 2010 10:27 pm

As for the previous winners, we also have to take into consideration what it was up against:

2008: The Duchess: The movie that rarely anyone heard of, but it was the most elaborate of the nominees. And when portions of the script rely on "what is she wearing," the movie was almost destined to win.

- Australia: Sure, sumptuous costumes, but the film was such a commercial and critical failure that by now, it practically had no support, even from the costuming branch.

- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Well, by all rights, it should have won, seeing it was how the prestigious Best Picture nominee of the bunch and generally, that coattails it to win. However, the dresses weren't as elaborate as they were flowing and the guy's costumes were just run of the mill.

- Milk: Way, way, way, WWWWAAAAAYYYYY too contemporary to win. Going back one generation without having as much elaborate designs as it's other nominees was definitely going against it, especially when the research for the costumes wasn't as in depth as Duchess, Australia or Benjamin Button.

- Revolutionary Road: If Milk was only one generation away, then Revolutionary Road was two generations away and the same rationale applies. Especially with such a poor box office performance, it's award was just being nominated here.


2007: Elizabeth: The Golden Age: Dull, inaccurate and bland, this sequel to Elizabeth (which was the complete opposite of the previous description) definitely upped the design factor, giving Care more elaborate costumes (especially the last design) and a LOT more extras to dress. So, large number of costumes to be made, massive amount of research and very elaborate design, it was a shoe in to win, especially considering that voters around for the Elizabeth/Shakespeare in Love situation, this was their chance to make it up to the designer

- Across the Universe: The surprise nominee of the five. While the 1960s design was nicely captured and the fantasy sequences were uniquely designed, it still had that "too recent to be considered" factor going against it.

- Atonement: The Best Picture nominee of the bunch, with it's 1930s to 1940s setting from upper class to lower class, soldiers to nurses and Keira Knightly's much talked about green library dress, it could have been the winner if it had more support. However, what was going against it was the elaboration factor. While it had the period settings and the large numbers of extras, Elizabeth had the much further back period.

- La Vie en Rose: Nice period stretch (1900 to 1950s) with numerous class structures and the Parisian setting, the only factors the film had against it where how many costumes were required and the fact that the designs were elaborate.

- Sweeney Todd: At first, this seemed destined to win, but it suffered from the usual Tim Burton/Colleen Atwood period collaboration issue: the settings and lighting were too dark to see how much went into the lacing of the costumes. Besides, how many shades of black can actually be considered an elaborate design?


2006: Marie Antoinette: Again, elaborate designs, much longer time ago and a huge cast. Three factors that seem to be what the voters are looking for.

- Curse of the Golden Flower: However, this was more elaborate, much more extras to dress and a time period that took place a longer time ago with an even more foreign setting. The film's only downfall? Who the heck saw it that year.

- The Devil Wears Prada: This movie was about the costumes. It was all about what a person wore, how they wore it, how fantastic it was and had to embody an entire mindset. But, the emphasis that I gave Milk a while back about it being too contemporary, double that here.

- Dreamgirls: Originally, it was the expected winner, but as support for the film faltered, so it did in all of it's technical categories. It still remained a front runner here because of the time period it encompassed. In the end, all of the sequins couldn't sway voters who recognized that it's costumes weren't as elaborate as the other nominees.

- The Queen: Now, this was the weakest of the nominees in years. Low number of extras to costume, a time period that was ten years ago from release and very little elaboration put into the design. Sure, the costumes for Helen Mirren reflected the modern regalness of Queen Elizabeth II, but it was something that could have been done with a simple google search of Queen Elizabeth's on camera interviews. In a year where the other nominees could have been The Prestige, The Illusionist, The Good Shepherd or Pan's Labyrinth, The Queen was definitely a questionable nominee.


Which brings us to this year's nominees:

-Bright Star: Very well designed costumes that have both a slight elaboration and the time period to match, it could win. However, the big question remains of whether or not it has enough support and if it's considered too intimate of a cast size to give it the award.

-Coco Before Chanel: Now this is interesting, a period piece about a costume designer. It's a period version of The Devil Wears Prada, so to speak. So it has a lot going for it here, except, perhaps, a loyal following.

-The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus: A surprise nominee in that we're surprised enough people saw it to consider it for a nomination. It has the fantasy elements, the period design and the large extras, so a win for it wouldn't be out of the question. But, again, the question remains how much support does it actually have.

-Nine: Now, here's a film where the amount of support isn't in question. If the film was better and had caught on more, Colleen Atwood would be a shoe in for her third Oscar. But it's a case of the "been-there-done-that-with-Chicago" and while Chicago had a longer time period to costume, Nine has the 50s/60s Italian look to embody. It does so, but not for a film that created a demand for the look to return.

-The Young Victoria: This seems destined to win, if only because of the previous three winners. Large amount of extras, elaborate design and long ago time period to research, Young Victoria would be the most likely to win of the nominees, especially if the recent voting mentality of the branch continues.

So, while I think The Young Victoria has this one in the bag, Bright Star or Coco Before Chanel could sneak in. Heck, at this point, even Imaginarium is a dark horse nominee. One thing's for sure: Nine won't win.
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Postby Okri » Wed Feb 17, 2010 8:49 pm

Hmmmm..

You know, I'm not buying The Young Victoria. The Duchess and Marie Antoinette were clearly eye-popping creations. I barely remember the costumes in The Young Victoria. They're a little too restrained. Now, I thought the movie was remarkably bland, so that might be coloring my perceptions.

The only other nominee I've seen is Bright Star, and for me, that would win by a long shot. Oh, I've seen Parnassus. Like BJ, I'm sorta floored that the film snuck in there. Some iconic costume work (that red dress in the broken mirror tango; Tom Waits' devil), and I'd love it to win for sheer "WTF-edness", but Bright Star deserves it.

But I think Nine gets it. Very glamorous costumes, lots of stars, gaudiness/garishness. It feels like Memoirs of a Giesha to me.

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Postby Big Magilla » Wed Feb 17, 2010 2:14 pm

Screeners didn't start coming in to the picture until well into the home video age.

When the "sea change" occurred in 1967 we were fifteen years away from the wholesale introduction of VCRs. At the time there actually grumblings in the press about the period costumes of Camelot winning over the tend-setting costumes of Bonnie and Clyde. Nowadays it's just assumed that a period film will win and there are no campaigns for contemporary films in this category.
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Postby rain Bard » Wed Feb 17, 2010 1:16 pm

Big Magilla wrote:In most, if not all, of these instances the contemporary winner was the more popular film. From 1967 on, the winner has more often not been the most popular film but the one with the most elaborate costumes so there was definitely a sea change in the way the "best" was perceived.

I'm guessing this sea change is connected to the increase in campaigns/sending materials to voters. Nobody was getting a screener DVD of Ugetsu back in the day, and I wonder how many Academy screenings there might have been for such a film. Nowadays, pretty much any film that gets a nomination is going to get a strong push from its distributor to try and make sure the voters actually see the film.




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Postby Big Magilla » Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:39 pm

Duh. I just realized The Heiress was a period piece!

On the other hand, its costumes weren't as elaborate as those in The Prince of Foxes.
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Postby FilmFan720 » Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:38 pm

I know I predicted Marie Antionette to win costumes, and I seem to remember being pretty sure of that, but that may have been my own wishful thinking (it was my favorite film of the year).
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Postby Big Magilla » Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:36 pm

Mister Tee wrote:Magilla, as you I'm sure realize, the reason contemporary films won the B&W costume prizes so often is that even then most period films were shot in color -- certainly by the 60s.

Yes, but pre-1967 contemporary films occasionally won over period films in both categories:

The Heiress over The Prince of Foxes
All About Eve over The Magnificent Yankee
A Place in the Sun over The Mudlark
An American in Paris over David and Bathsheba and Quo Vadis
Roman Holiday over The President's Lady
I'll Cry Tomorrow over Ugetsu
The Solid Gold Cadillac over The Seven Samurai
Les Girls over Raintree County
La Dolce Vita over Yojimbo
Darling over Ship of Fools
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? over The Gospel According to St. Matthew

In most, if not all, of these instances the contemporary winner was the more popular film. From 1967 on, the winner has more often not been the most popular film but the one with the most elaborate costumes so there was definitely a sea change in the way the "best" was perceived.

Maybe that's the way it should be, but it certainly does kill the chance of a surprise win in the category in most years.
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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:27 pm

Something I just thought of when I looked at your list, Sabin: while we think of Nine as a superflop, it has actually about doubled the gross of every other film on the list. Granted, Nine was an expensive effort and the others were more boutique items, but, still -- I wonder when was the last time we had such an overall low-grossing field?

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Postby Sabin » Wed Feb 17, 2010 11:53 am

Yeah, I don't think Marie Antoinette was a shoo-in at all. I thought it was going to be Dreamgirls. In retrospect, the Academy probably made the best choice if they couldn't give it to The Devil Wears Prada. Marie Antoinette is one of the better sets of corsets this decade to honor.

I remember thinking at the turn of the decade that Nine probably had this one in the bag. Now, I think it's chances are almost dashed to win anything. Both Coleen Atwood and Sandy Powell have now been nominated eight times and have won twice. They both have one thing in common: I will never see the film they are nominated for this year. Nor have I seen Coco Before Chanel, nor Doctor Parnassus. One would imagine that Nine and Doctor Parnassus would reap the benefits of being non-standard costume'd pics, but that probably isn't the case. With three nominations and [reportedly] the most lavish costumes, The Young Victor is The Duchess, is Elizabeth: The Golden Age, is Marie Antoinette.

It feels wrong saying that Bright Star is the best of the nominees, but I feel very passionate about its inclusion, nomination, and win because in Bright Star something like costumes plays a very active role. Like family, like wayward cats, the characters in the movie truly wear their clothing. There is a palpable feel of struggle against and within the costumes. Last year, my horse was Milk. This year, I have no problem rooting for Bright Star. That being said, my favorite costume designs this year were between The Brothers Bloom and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Predictions:
Bright Star -- 15%
Coco Before Chanel -- 15%
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus -- 20%
Nine -- 20%
The Young Victoria -- 30%
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Postby Greg » Wed Feb 17, 2010 11:43 am

Mister Tee wrote:When Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? won all three B&W prizes, despite not meeting the standards of lushness we associate with those categories, the Academy had pretty much no choice but to delete the distinction.

I think Who's Afraid Of Virgina Woolf? could have won for cinematography that year even if there would have been no distinction between black-and-white and color films.




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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Feb 17, 2010 11:22 am

I won't be able to fully comment on this till at least the weekend -- Coco Before Chanel is en route, and I hope to get to The Young Victoria over the next 3-10 days. But a few comments now:

rudeboy, I don't think you can say Marie Antoinette was a shoo-in, except in retrospect. Most people were predicting the far more widely seen and nominated Dreamgirls. It was only when I saw the DVD two nights before the show that I thought Antoinette was in the running, and even then its single nomination made me doubtful.

Magilla, as you I'm sure realize, the reason contemporary films won the B&W costume prizes so often is that even then most period films were shot in color -- certainly by the 60s. When Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? won all three B&W prizes, despite not meeting the standards of lushness we associate with those categories, the Academy had pretty much no choice but to delete the distinction. (Probably costing In Cold Blood the one Oscar it might have won, cinematography -- but that's another story)

I've only seen two of the nominees here, Nine and Bright Star, and, as I said reviewing the film, I'm with BJ, that Bright Star has some of the most splendiferous costumes I've seen since, well, Marie Antoinette. The point Magilla makes -- that the design of said costumes is actually referred to in dialogue -- may give the long-shot something of a boost.

Just a historical point: Terry Gilliam's films have frequently been noted for design elements, even when broadly unpopular -- Brazil and Fisher King got art direction nods, and Baron Munchausen, despite its flop status, scored for costumes, sets and make-up.

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Postby Big Magilla » Wed Feb 17, 2010 5:19 am

Costume design awards have been given since 1948. Interestingly in the first nineteen years of the awards when the category was split between black-and-white and color, contemporary designs generally took the black-and-white award and period pieces the color award.

From 1967 on, all but four of the winners have been period films. The exceptions were two science fiction films (Star Wars and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the glitzy musical All That Jazz and the delightful drag queen designs for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a surprise winner.

Even in years when the film's costumes started fashion trends - Bonnie and Clyde, Love Story, Annie Hall - those films didn't win. The latter two weren't even nominated.

It's really ridiculous when a piece of garbage like Elizabeth: The Golden Age can be called an Oscar winner because of its costume design. It's hopeless.

Hopeful Prediction: Bright Star, which includes scenes of the heroine making her own dresses, will prevail over the more elaborate costumes for The Young Victoria.
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