As it is in Best Production Design, having the most noticeable design elements is an essential factor to winning Best Costume Design, which is why suspect the likely winner of Best Production Design is also primed to win here too. These two categories do often go hand in hand. Splits between two films nominated in both categories (like the one we saw last year) don't happen as often as one film winning both.
The design showcase I expect to pull off the double-win this year is Anna Karenina, and it would be a merited victory. Jacqueline Durran's period-mashing costumes are the best of the year, in my opinion, and they're fetching enough to sate the Academy's appetite for eye candy in this category. Many expected Durran to win five years ago for “that” green dress from Atonement, but there's no frilly royalty porn to rob her this year.
Her main competition comes in the form of two Best Picture nominees also up for both Design Oscars. After working on Steven Spielberg's movies for years, Joanna Johnston finally managed her first career nomination for Lincoln, and it's a well deserved one. The meticulously researched threads are inconspicuous but give every character a visual signature. She would make a worthy winner, but I wonder if the costumes' subtlety won't hinder her in the race.
The second Best Picture nominee has more eccentric wardrobe. Paco Delgado's stage inspired vestments for Les Miserables use lots of colour to help its characters stand out, but with the actors being shot so often from the neck up, it's also easy to overlook the clothes they're wearing. I still think it's a solid threat for the win, but I'm not moving my chips from Anna Karenina for it.
The final two nominees are nifty bookends in that they represent this year's two Snow White reincarnations. I guess fairytale revisionism is in vogue. Watch out for 2014 Oscar nominees Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters!
The late, great Eiko Ishioka earned only her second nomination posthumously for the daffy and dizzying outfits in her swan song Mirror Mirror. If I were predicting what would win simply on what has the “most” costume design, then Ishioka's unabashedly self-aware contribution to her film takes the cake, but it's not that simple. People need to have seen the film. Only one film in the last 17 years has won this category on its sole nomination (Marie Antoinette in 2007).
While one Snow White film thrives on loopiness, the other is a dark and grimy affair. The death motifs of Colleen Atwood's grunge-inspired apparel in Snow White and the Huntsman is effective, and fits perfectly with the film's aesthetic approach. But again, I doubt many saw or liked this film, and when given the choice, they'll vote for the prettier costumes every time.
Will win: Anna Karenina
Runner-up: Les Miserables
Should win: Anna Karenina
Should have been nominated: Moonrise Kingdom