Costume confusion

Posted by · 5:00 pm · January 20th, 2011

Gerard will address this category in tomorrow’s Tech Support column, but I did want to say something about Best Costume Design — partly because the Guild dropped some rather interesting nominations today, and partly because it’s the technical category that’s still prompting the most head-scratching as I work towards my final predictions.

We all know the Academy favors lavish period productions with corsets and hoop skirts a go-go in this category, but 2010 served up remarkably few possibilities in this vein. Even “The King’s Speech,” the year’s default well-dressed prestige title, is hardly a sartorial showcase in the vein of “Marie-Antoinette” or “The Duchess” — Jenny Beavan’s crisp 1930s wardrobe is functionally stylish rather than spectacular.

As if to illustrate the lack of conventional historical options, the Costume Designers’ Guild found only three films to nominate in their period category, instead of the usual five — and one of them, I’m thrilled to say, is the 1990s-set “The Fighter,” whose threads I was plugging just the other day.

I’m surprised to see the Guild accurately classifying designer Mark Bridges’s expert jumble of MC Hammer pants and animal-print tube tops as period garb — not least because they placed “Precious,” with its late-1980s milieu, in the contemporary category last year. Consistency, thy name is not the CDG.

In the contemporary race, meanwhile, the Guild opted for a full slate of five nominees — again, reflecting an unusually strong year for latter-day costuming in Hollywood film. Any one of their picks would be a worthy, if atypical, Oscar nominee: “Black Swan” and “Burlesque” take stark and maximalist approaches, respectively, to theatrical performance garb; “Inception” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” delineate their men with sharp differences in tailoring. (This last earns curio points for Josh Brolin’s burgundy Mephistopheles suit). Even “The Social Network” made subtle character points with simple college casualwear.

With the Guild evidently more excited by this year’s contemporary costuming, it’ll be interesting to see if one or more of these films (I’m thinking the prettier feminine threads of “Black Swan” and/or “Burlesque”) could pop up in the Oscar lineup alongside obvious, more-is-more costume bait like “Alice in Wonderland.”

Obviously, the Academy’s costume branch has parted ways with the Guild before. But if they also preferĀ “The Fighter” to dressier period pieces like “Made in Dagenham,” “Robin Hood” and “Secretariat,” we could be looking at the most modern slate of nominees in the category’s recent history. Perhaps Sandy Powell’s wry dedication to contemporary costumers in last year’s Oscar acceptance speech didn’t fall on deaf ears after all.

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24 responses so far

  • 1 1-20-2011 at 5:30 pm

    Tye-Grr said...

    ‘Black Swan’ wasn’t on Oscars short list, so you can scratch that possibility off, unfortunately.

  • 2 1-20-2011 at 5:32 pm

    John said...

    The big ????, particularly given that they only found three period movies, is ROBIN HOOD. I turned it off 2/3 of the way thru, but it seemed to be an ideal case of more-is-more costuming (which I am not opposed to).

  • 3 1-20-2011 at 5:37 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Robin Hood…? Oh right, I keep forgetting that movie existed.

  • 4 1-20-2011 at 5:46 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Tye-Grr: What are you talking about? There’s no Oscar shortlist for costume design. Perhaps you’re thinking of the makeup category.

  • 5 1-20-2011 at 5:53 pm

    americanrequeim said...

    hopefully, black swan and the fighter are certainly deserving

  • 6 1-20-2011 at 6:02 pm

    Glenn said...

    The costume guild were certainly perplexing with their period category, weren’t they? While I certainly won’t begrudge the three nominees of their citation, but – as you say – did they really not consider “Robin Hood”, “Made in Dagenham”, “Secretariat”, “Centurian”, “Shutter Island” or “The Wolfman” to be at all good enough to fill out the period category?

    Fantasy? Were the costumes of “Narnia: The Dawn Treader”, “The Last Airbender” and (most deserving of all) “Scott Pilgrim vs The World” really that far worse than the three they did nominate to not warrant expanding the category to its usual five?

    How very strange. I love the contemporary category which, unlike the production design guild, looked further astray than the 6 or 7 Oscar contenders with titles like “Burlesque” and “Wall Street 2”. I would’ve liked to see “I Am Love” in there, but what can you do?

    That nomination for “The Fighter” should carry on over to Oscar (now that I’ve seen the film). I’d like to see the nominations as “The Fighter”, “The King’s Speech”, “Burlesque”, “TRON: Legacy” and “True Grit”, but I’m sure the Academy, in their infinite wisdom (ahem), will not see that way.

  • 7 1-20-2011 at 6:12 pm

    matsunaga said...

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 costume design is missing in the fantasy category…

  • 8 1-20-2011 at 6:27 pm

    Dylan said...

    I remember a story from a while ago that Fleur’s wedding dress in HP7:1 was allegedly ripped off from the late Alexander McQueen, so maybe that had something to do with its snub.

    Or maybe they just didn’t like the costumes? I remember not being impressed and at times annoyed by them. For example, I found this silly multi-collared outfit by Elphias Dodge to just be an example of them trying too hard.

  • 9 1-20-2011 at 6:38 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    The McQueen mini-controversy (which we reported on here) wouldn’t have helped, but I’m guessing they just regard the films as old news. They didn’t nominate “Half-Blood Prince” either.

  • 10 1-20-2011 at 6:43 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    @Dylan: Doge’s character is supposed to be slightly dotty and there’s some ambiguity about whether or not he’s slightly senile, which is why Harry isn’t completely confident in him. Within that context, I think the costume is appropriate.

  • 11 1-20-2011 at 7:10 pm

    Dreyer. said...


    Armond White is back at it..

  • 12 1-20-2011 at 7:12 pm

    matsunaga said...

    But at least they should have nominate it… I mean, the contemporary category has five, why not have five nominees for period and fantasy?

    I think Black Swan, The King’s Speech and Alice in Wonderland will win respectively.

  • 13 1-20-2011 at 7:22 pm

    matsunaga said...

    Yeah Guy has a point… Neither the 4th and the 3rd films weren’t nominated… I was wondering the costumes for those two films are better than the 5th one..

    In HP7: PART 1, the wedding costumes were really good.. Too bad…. I also think that Secretariat deserves a nomination in period category.. MAybe if it was 5 nominees?

  • 14 1-20-2011 at 11:26 pm

    Alex in Movieland said...

    yes, the big question: will we have a Bright Star this year?

    honestly, I don’t think so.

    I think the nominees will be 2 of the Period Films:

    all 3 of the Fantasy Films:

    and it will be an interesting line-up, with Alice easily winning.

  • 15 1-21-2011 at 3:35 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    In HP7: PART 1, the wedding costumes were really good

    Except the centerpiece was blatantly plagiarised from another designer’s creation.

  • 16 1-21-2011 at 4:00 am

    Graysmith said...

    Good to know I wasn’t the only one scratching my head yesterday. The Fighter, a period film? I thought they were stretching it calling No Country for Old Men a period film and it takes place in the early 80s. Not that it really matters, The Fighter’s not going to get any costume nomination.

    And I’m continually amazed how all these guilds are finding every aspect of The Social Network nomination-worthy. I mean, seriously, costumes? They quite literally nominated Eisenberg’s bathrobe and slippers.

  • 17 1-21-2011 at 4:02 am

    Graysmith said...

    Anyway, I’ve got Alice in Wonderland, Black Swan, The King’s Speech, The Tempest and True Grit as my predictions, with Burlesque and Tron Legacy as potential upsets.

  • 18 1-21-2011 at 4:13 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    You’re misreading me, Graysmith: I’m arguing for The Fighter as a period film. I’m just glad the Guild got it right. Plus, an Oscar nod wouldn’t surprise me.

    By the way, the Costume Designers’ Guild didn’t nominate No Country for Old Men in any category, but the Art Directors’ Guild declared it a contemporary film.

  • 19 1-21-2011 at 4:57 am

    JJ1 said...

    It may be funny/weird, but I think the “period” costumes in The Fighter were very good.

    The shirts, pants, shoes, all VERY 1993 or so.

  • 20 1-21-2011 at 6:11 am

    Graysmith said...

    I would have to strongly disagree that the 90s fits in with films depicting the 1930s and the 1800s. It’s just too recent, no matter how ridiculous people dressed in the 80s and early 90s. It may not be truly contemporary either, but it feels more akin to contemporary than period.

    It’s all subjective but I think roughly 30 years back from the current year is a good divider for what’s contemporary or period. No Country for Old Men was right on that edge, and it came out 27 years after the time depicted in the film.

  • 21 1-21-2011 at 6:13 am

    JJ1 said...

    The more I think of it, the more I’m surprised by no ‘Secretariat’ here or in the art guild – didn’t they have a BIG Disney campaign, according to Anne Thompson?

  • 22 1-23-2011 at 2:34 pm

    matsunaga said...

    HP7 Part 1 costume designer should have at least credited McQueen for that…..

  • 23 1-24-2011 at 1:47 pm

    WDDC said...

    Don’t underestimate Inception or Black Swan in this category!