Friday, February 12, 2016

One Category at a Time: Costume Design

The design categories have me at a loss this year. Best Production Design and Costume Design (the latter the subject of today's shaky analysis) both feature the two craft giants going at it for the distinction of most Oscars, but I have a tough time envisioning them as winners. The Academy likes its costumes pretty and plentiful. So lets start with a look at the prettiest and most plentiful of the lot:
Sandy Powell's threads for Cinderella are the very definition of opulence, boasting sumptuous technicolour hues and ornate patterning from start to finish.
If you believe that the general membership only votes for "most" costume design (not always the case), then this is the one to beat. But a vote for her is not necessarily a vote for flash over substance, as every bold choice she makes is informed by character (green is the perfect colour for Cate in this one), and it all fits perfectly into Brannagh's theatrical sensibilities.

And even if there are some voters who'd rather not sign off on work that's so deliberately ostentatious, Powell may still yet win their vote as she's also in the running for Carol. Her thoughtfully considered assemblages of 1950s couture play an important but understated role in capturing the feeling and personality of the film's characters. Maybe too understated to win more attention than her other bid. As fun as it is to think of Powell being her own stiffest competition, it's probably not true. Cinderella isn't the only contender with a huge and luxuriant wardrobe.

Paco Delgado, last nominated for Les Miserables, is back for Tom Hooper's latest prestige-courting pic The Danish Girl, and it presents him an excellent chance to win. The lavish European fashions that festoon Eddie Redmayne in his transition from man to woman (an obvious hook) are numerous, varied, and really quite beautiful. For anyone uncomfortable with voting for commercial genre fare like Cinderella, this may be a natural alternate.

And that leaves us with the two Best Picture nominees, both of which represent achievements that rarely get recognized by this branch, so good on them.

Jenny Beavan cut her teeth on the Merchant-Ivory period pieces of the 80s and 90s, winning an Oscar for A Room with a View, so Mad Max: Fury Road shows us that she indeed has range. Her outfits are inventive, singular and smartly conceived; A brilliant extension of George Miller's world-building. Jacqueline West, previously cited for her stylish era-spanning work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, also stretches her sewing fingers a bit with the battered furs and historic outerwear of The Revenant. Both of these being Best Picture nominees -- to say nothing of solid costuming accomplishments -- means we shouldn't count them out, but neither of them are "pretty", in the traditional sense at least.

This is subject to change, naturally, as BAFTA may offer us more direction, but for now:

Will win: Cinderella
Runner-up: The Danish Girl

Should win: Cinderella
Should be nominated: Brooklyn

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