Friday, February 14, 2014

One Category at a Time: Costume Design

The costume designers in the Academy got to veer off into their own branch this year, having previously been lumped in with the production designers until now. However, there doesn't appear to be a noticeable discrepancy in their voting patterns, as a certain degree of overlap clearly still exists between the two categories (three common films between them, which is not unusual).
One of the films that double-dipped in the design categories is The Great Gatsby, whose Catherine Martin double-dipped herself as both the costume designer and production designer. Martin pulled off this feat once before in 2002, when she waltzed away with a pair of Oscars for her lavish work on Moulin Rouge!. One gets the feeling that she could do the same this year, but even if she loses the Production Design race to more prestigious fare, her shot on goal in this category is probably a more comfortable bet. The Academy is more forgiving of critically dismissed or unpopular films in this category, and the threads are certainly the most audacious and eye-catching of the lot.

Gatsby's closest competition probably comes from Best Picture nominee American Hustle, which features glamourously gaudy 70s fashions designed by Michael Wilkinson, who also did outstanding work for Man of Steel this year. The thought of the hugely entertaining caper film going 0/10 on Oscar night might galvanize enough voters into chalking it up here. I mean, it's gotta win something right? And there's no denying that its costumes are one of its most memorable elements. I could certainly see it winning on those coattails, although no 1970s period film has ever won here to the best of my recollection.
Another Best Picture nominee that could upset here if respect for the film runs deep enough is 12 Years a Slave. 82 year old Patricia Norris is enjoying her sixth nomination thanks to her thoroughly detailed period threads of Steve McQueen's slavery drama, but the last time she was nominated was 1989! And she hasn't yet won. Seeing her win would be a bit of a surprise as the work is more subtle than what typically triumphs here, but it would be oh so satisfying to see the veteran take the stage as recognition for a lengthy and substantial career.

One of the pleasant surprises of nomination morning was seeing The Grandmaster cited for not only Phillipe Le Sourd's exquisite photography, but also for William Chang Suk Ping's beautiful costuming. The designers branch had shown in the past that they were not shy about nominating foreign films with ornate costumes, and the newly minted costume designers branch is clearly carrying on that philosophy. Good on them for thinking outside the box and not limiting themselves to what the CDG narrows down as contenders. That said, The Grandmaster is probably too little seen to win either of its hard earned craft nominations.
Rounding out the five is another film who failed to win the CDG's approval, but turned up here on nomination day anyway, The Invisible Woman. This ornate British period drama about Charles Dickens and his mistress feels like its sole intent was to earn a single nomination for its costume design, and indeed, that's exactly what it got. Michael O'Connor won a few years back for The Duchess, a film which had just enough festival exposure (and a title that implies "COSTUME DESIGN!!!") to aid it to a win. The Invisible Woman has no such benefits, and its miniscule, late release ensure that it won't be capitalizing on its sole nomination, despite its costumes arguably being of the most typical ilk that wins this category.

Will win: The Great Gatsby
Runner-up: American Hustle

Should win: The Great Gatsby
Should've been nominated: Inside Llewyn Davis

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