TECH SUPPORT: Best Costume Design — Volume II

Posted by · 9:49 am · October 22nd, 2010

Glitz and glamor.  Period prestige.  Newbie talent and old favorites.  How is the race for Best Costume Design shaping up this year?

In my opinion, Jenny Beavan is leading the way at this point in time. Beavan earned six nominations in the 1980s and 1990s for her work on Merchant-Ivory films, winning for “A Room With a View.” But after “Anna and the King” and “Gosford Park,” she has been out of the running for almost a decade. That said, there must have been occasions (notably “Sherlock Holmes” last year) where she must have been very close. This year, she designed the threads for leading contender “The King’s Speech.” Recreating British royalty of the 1930s seems almost certain to result in Beavan’s return to the final five.

Another eight-time nominee (albeit one with two wins) is Colleen Atwood. Atwood again teams up with director Tim Burton this year on “Alice in Wonderland.” The work was crazy fantasy. The branch doesn’t always go for that but they do frequently go for Atwood. That fact, combined with the film’s massive box office haul, leads me to believe Ms. Atwood is looking at nod #9 this year.

The most frequent nominee of the past dozen years, alongside Atwood, has been the great Sandy Powell, who won last year for “The Young Victoria.” Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest” has not been well-received. But her “Titus” and “Across the Universe” managed nominations here (also for great designers in Milena Canonero and Albert Wolsky) as sole nominations for the films. Given the extent of Powell’s talent and Taymor’s history here, I think Powell is in serious contention, if hardly a sure bet, for another nomination.

The branch consistently nominates at least one (usually more) first-time nominees every year. This year, I think Mary Zophres – long-time collaborator of the Coen brothers – will manage her first nomination for “True Grit.” The film is obviously period and I am starting to believe it will end up doing very well in the crafts categories, perhaps more so than any other Coen film.

Julie Weiss is a long-time industry veteran with two nominations to her credit. This year, she designed the threads on “Get Low.” Robert Duvall is a serious contender for a Best Actor nomination, and I could easily see Weiss coming along as the second-most likely nominee from this film, bringing us realistically into the South of the 1930s.

Weiss also designed Diane Lane’s costumes on “Secretariat,” with Michael T. Boyd serving as the overall costume designer.  The film didn’t set the world on fire but the handsome costumes are the sort that the branch often embraces.  Boyd has never been nominated before but that is hardly determinative of whether the film will be recognized here. (I must also add that I am curious if a nomination would be shared between Weiss and Boyd, or if Boyd would take it solo.)

Amy Wescott has a very unique opportunity with “Black Swan.” While the film is fundamentally contemporary, the subject matter will ensure that the sheer number – and variety – of costumes will be high. I remember many people were surprised when “The Devil Wears Prada” managed a nomination here four years ago (my first year writing this column, actually). While the film itself seems to be divisive in the extreme, I certainly expect Natalie Portman to be in the running, which could result in attention being brought to other aspects of the film.

Janty Yates is still awaiting her second nomination after winning this category a decade ago for “Gladiator.” Her great collaborations with Ridley Scott have been numerous but “Robin Hood” is perhaps their most Oscar-friendly effort together since 2000. Yates’s problem, however, seems to be that she has been concentrating her efforts on forgettable summer fare. Is this really a departure from that?

In a similar boat is Gabriella Pescucci for “Agora.” Pescucci has managed a nomination in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. So she needs a fourth nomination sometime this decade! The nature of the work is also the exact sort of period and glamor this branch usually loves. This title, however, seems already forgotten.

I’ll end by mentioning an eccentric possibility that could very well happen – Louise Stjernsward for “Made in Dagenham.” The costumes seem fun and very memorable. With Miranda Richardson and Sally Hawkins likely contenders, they’ll be hard not to notice. And while such “out there” nominations are not typical in this category, they are by no means unprecedented. So a nomination for Stjernsward could very well happen.

So that’s the way I see the race today. We’ll see how the next couple of months treat this category. Next week, we move from the glitz and glamor of costumes to the dark editing rooms of the film editing category.

[Photos: Walt Disney Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics]

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10 responses so far

  • 1 10-22-2010 at 10:04 am

    americanrequiem said...

    I think True Grit is looking better and better, I also loved the costumes in Shutter Island

    This tends to be my least favorite category, giving the award to the same kind of movie year in and year out

  • 2 10-22-2010 at 10:19 am

    Graysmith said...

    The first rule of costume design is always bet on the film’s with female leads or plenty of female characters.

    Well, maybe the first rule is to bet on period films, but the one above is just as important. True Grit, for example, looks to primarily be very male-centric which (even though it is a period piece) will lower its odds. It could still manage a nomination, but it’s far from a certainty, whereas it’d be a near-slamdunk if it was more female-centric. Get Low might fall into the same vortex of great period craftsmanship but not enough lavish dresses.

  • 3 10-22-2010 at 1:54 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    ugh, I’ve watched about half of Alice in Wonderland without sound, and the costumes are just so….loud. I suppose it fits with Burton’s vision, but nominating THOSE costumes would be lazy and incredibly undeserved recognition.

  • 4 10-22-2010 at 4:31 pm

    Graysmith said...

    It’s a shoe-in though. Period/fantasy costumes in a big budget movie like that.. Very hard to see it missing out on a nomination.

    Looking at my own predictions, I’ve got Alice, The King’s Speech (despite being male-centric it’s too big a favourite to miss out), The Tempest (Taymor + Costume Design = True), Made in Dagenham (all women + period piece) and Black Swan (maybe, maybe not?).

    Kind of a weak year for eye-popping costume design.. At least the kind that catches the Academy’s attention. It’ll be very interesting to see what the CDG nominates in their various categories since it kind of feels like slim pickings.

  • 5 10-22-2010 at 4:46 pm

    SJG said...

    I’m with Angry Shark. The whole mess of “Alice” was clearly just Tim Burton and everyone he worked with on auto-pilot.

    Costumes? “Eh, just come up with something Burton-y and Victorian, like Sweeney Todd, but with more color.”

    Makeup? “Eh, do that stylized-death look from Beetlejuice and Corpse Bride, but with more color.”

    Red Queen? “Helena, think you could just do your NBC/Hallmark Morgan leFay? … We’ll just make your head real big so no one will know.”

    etc. etc.

    I really hated that movie.

  • 6 10-22-2010 at 4:57 pm

    Rashad said...

    Robin Hood certainly deserves a nom

  • 7 10-22-2010 at 11:05 pm

    Leone said...

    SHUTTER ISLAND – Sandy Powell – great costume design in that film. awesome crafts across the board

  • 8 10-23-2010 at 4:22 am

    Graysmith said...


    I couldn’t agree more! I think I still have it at the top of my own rankings so far.. But I’m not sure it has that much of a shot here, not enough lavish dresses and such things. Even what Cate Blanchett wore was pretty toned down and “simple”, as far as I can remember..

  • 9 10-23-2010 at 8:09 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” deserves some recognition here.

  • 10 10-24-2010 at 10:52 am

    Graysmith said...

    Just saw this over on THR: Colleen Atwood talking a bit about the costumes on Alice in Wonderland: