Sizing Up the Costume Design Field

So what could one possibly say about Best Costume Design that one couldn’t possibly infer from all of my previous installments? Even non-Oscar watchers could tell you that the most ornate and attention-grabbing costumes get the lion’s share of these prizes, meaning that period pieces and fantasy films almost always clean up here (but almost never science fiction…go figure). Unfortunately, that means a lot of more subtle, mood-specific costumes are passed over for films that look like either history museums or fashion shows.  More interestingly, a film does not necessarily have to be a hit elsewhere to be recognized here.  Indeed, sometimes an outright critical dud can make it to the winner’s circle on the strength of their costumes alone.  I’ll just briefly go through what few contenders we have to keep our eye on here…

Long Shots

  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Green Lantern
  • Melancholia
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
  • Shame
  • Thor
  • X-Men: First Class
  • Young Adult

You’ll notice a bit of a pattern, here.  That’s right; all of the superhero films of 2011 have at best a long shot at actually getting a nomination, as none of its ilk have ever even been nominated for the award (well, I guess you could count Dick Tracy, but c’mon…).  The other films just don’t have what one would call “Oscary” costumes, particularly Shame, as it’s a movie where people spend most of their time with their clothes off.  Melancholia’s hilariously poofy and over-the-top wedding dress just wouldn’t be a hit with the un-sarcastic tastes of the Academy.  Probably the most accomplished costumes of this group belong to Young Adult.  Now, I hated the film itself, but David Robinson’s witty use of the characters’ clothes to tell a story in of themselves deserves serious consideration from the Academy for a nomination.

Second Tier Contenders

  • A Dangerous Method
  • Anonymous
  • The Conspirator
  • Drive
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Immortals
  • J. Edgar
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Water for Elephants

Ha, remember Anonymous, and all of those whispers of Roland Emmerich actually getting some Oscar glory?  People were actually thinking it would happen!  Well, now that the film has tanked and laughed at by critics, its only real shot at an Oscar nod are some notices in the crafts categories, especially for its elaborate costumes.  I never bothered to give any money to the cause of Oxfordian bullshit, but based on the trailers the duds do look interesting.  The Conspirator came and went with barely a rumble, but it is a period piece and those can never be completely discounted for Costume Design.  As for the rest, they’re give-or-take based on their level of popularity in the race overall.  This is especially true of Drive, which would seem to have impossible odds, but that scorpion jacket is just. So. Iconic!  I’m sure others would think the same way of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I have heard many a complaint from critics that Trish Summerville’s glamorous, sexy outfits belied the character of Lisbeth Salander.  And what of the queen of otherworldly, bizarre costumes Ms. Eiko Ishioka for Immortals?  Looking at this list, I’m a little ashamed that I didn’t single out the impressive threads of Denise Cronenberg for A Dangerous Method in my original review.  Also responsible for Dead Ringers, her costumes for the uneven psychological period thriller were sharp, surprising and a joy to look at.

Pole Position Contenders

  • The Artist
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • War Horse
  • W.E.

And here we are.  There are almost always at least two or three Best Picture nominees here based on genre and production values.  Here that means War Horse, The Artist and Hugo should comfortably waltz to a nomination, with the royalty status of three-time winner Sandy Powell having the slight edge (interestingly, her Oscar rival Colleen Atwood will almost certainly be a no-show this year…).  The only Harry Potter film to get a Costume Design nomination was the very first one, but then again this is the most popular and critically acclaimed installment.  The Help stands a good shot of making it regardless of its Best Picture chances, as Sharen Davis’ bright evocation of 60’s Mississippi will undoubtedly be a big hit with the voters.  What may be the big upset contender here is Madonna’s critically-reviled W.E., as its numerous negative reviews all have to make room for the glorious outfits, dresses and period wear that the Material Girl fashions up.

Any films that I failed to mention in this installment?  What threads really clicked for you this year?  Let us know and stay tuned for more!