Friday, February 13, 2015

One Category at a Time: Costume Design

For a while there, it looked like the Academy might never get over its obsession with Western European royalty in this category. A string of consecutive winners made up of Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Duchess, and The Young Victoria certainly cast the discouraging impression that Oscar voters had lost all their imagination when it comes to assessing the best dressed film of the year. Perhaps those complaints actually reached enough ears to initiate some kind of mini paradigm shift. Things have been looking up in Best Costume Design for the past few years, with the Academy branching out a bit in terms of the historical eras and geographical locales that the winning costumes have evoked. And with nary a stodgy royalty drama in sight, that trend looks to continue this year.

Well, I suppose you could claim that royalty comes into play in Maleficent, but to lump the Disney fantasy's princess garb and fur-trimmed gowns in with the frills and corsets of traditional royalty porn is a stretch. Anna B. Sheppard drew inspiration from and elaborated on the character designs from the original 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty to yield a number of iconic looks. She is the only nominee in this year's contest who hasn't previously won (despite clothing Academy-friendly Holocaust dramas Schindler's List and The Pianist), but sadly she'll have to keep waiting for her first victory. This is the sole nomination for her film, whereas each of her competitors come with additional citations, and better reviews.

Joining Sheppard on the fantastical end of the design spectrum is legendary triple-Oscar-winner Colleen Atwood, back in the fray for the eleventh time(!) for costuming the fairytale musical Into the Woods. While one poorly judged Johnny Depp outfit ended up being cause for some embarrassment, everything else she came up with is creative and well appointed. If there wasn't a Best-Picture-nominated craft behemoth in direct competition with her, she may have been primed to win her fourth trophy. In fact, she still might. It's worth noting that she once defeated The King's Speech -- as beloved an Oscar film as there ever was -- with her work in the critically reviled Alice in Wonderland.
Only a foolish pundit would ever count her out completely.

That said, the austere period trappings of The King's Speech don't hold a candle to Milena Canonero's threads in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Instantly memorable and wittily keyed into every character detail (love Madame D's 18"-high toque), the costumes miraculously straddle the divide between period accuracy and colourful imagination. This may not be how 1930s Europeans look in sepia photographs, but it is how they look through the rose-
tinted glasses of Wes Anderson. The love and respect commanded by his meticulously handcrafted aesthetic makes his movie a possible sweeper in the design fields. The added clout of being a Best Picture nominee (the only one in this category) upgrades that 'possible' sweep into a 'probable' one.

Another nominee that uses period specificity more as a loose guideline than as a strict rule when it comes to defining its characters' attire is Inherent Vice. Mark Bridges has been one of Paul Thomas Anderson's most faithful collaborators over the years, so it's nice to see the pair of them nominated for the visually distinctive 70s drug trip. Even detractors of the film (yours truly included) are hard pressed to deny the vivid, character-serving wonkiness of Bridges' wardrobe. Of course, the 70s are a time period that have a hard enough time getting nominated here, let alone winning, so a victory for the costumes' shaggy stylishness in not in the cards (however inspired it would be).

But in terms of sheer historical authenticity, Mr. Turner is probably the most devoutly faithful to its period. Jacqueline Durran's textured topcoats and battered bonnets feel like they could be actual artifacts from a museum of 19th Century British fashions. In tandem with Suzie Davies' equally believable production design, they build a wholly convincing recreation of Turner's world and the people who inhabited it. But even the most arduously researched costumes struggle to amass a winning vote unless they have a little more pizzazz to capture the voting membership's collective eye. You could extend that logic to the entire film itself, which is easily the most reserved of the lot, and with the clothes to match.

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Runner-up: Into the Woods

Should win: Inherent Vice
Should have been nominated: The Boxtrolls (but since that was never going to happen, I'll add that The Theory of Everything should have been given a closer look)

No comments:

Post a Comment