Thursday, July 17, 2014

OVP: Costume (2013)

OVP: Best Costume (2013)

The Nominees Were...

Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
William Chang Suk Ping, The Grandmaster
Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Michael O'Connor, The Invisible Woman
Patricia Norris, 12 Years a Slave

My Thoughts: It's worth noting that in 2013, there was a split in the way that the Art Directors and Costume Designers chose their nominations.  In previous years both branches had voted on each other's categories, making it so that these branches frequently had very similar sets of nominees.  This year, however, the Costume designers just voted on their specific contenders (and vice versa), which led to a more category-specific set of nominees.

One of the films that didn't show up in the Art Direction lineup was The Invisible Woman.  The main thing I kept thinking during this admittedly boring film was that the lead romance was horribly dull and why does Felicity Jones keep missing in major roles but continually keep getting cast in them?  The second thing I remember, though, was how wonderfully pulled together Michael O'Connor's costumes are.  O'Connor's work previously won an OVP in 2011 for Jane Eyre, and once again he manages to make elegance look realistic.  I love the way that no one looks particularly gaudy or outlandish, but instead incredibly period appropriate.  Felicity Jones' dresses, for example, look increasingly fashionable the further into being Charles Dickens mistress she becomes.  Joanna Scanlan is an even better model for O'Connor.  I love the way that her dresses all look terribly expensive, but incredibly uncomfortable, reflecting the period.  There is a rigidity and fluidity that represents the classes of this film and their apparel that really caught my eye, and yet everything remains quite comely.  It's a quiet, wonderful achievement, and one I suspect may not have been recognized if it weren't for the split, so well-done AMPAS.

The other film to not score in Best Art Direction would be The Grandmaster.  One of the bigger surprises of the Oscar nomination morning was the double nomination for this Wong Kar Wai film, particularly since neither of those nominations happened in the Foreign Language film category (it is extremely rare for a film to be eligible for Foreign Language film, but to miss there and still score a nomination somewhere else...only City of God had done it with multiple nominations until The Grandmaster).  The film is, like all Wong Kar Wai films, extremely beautiful and there are moments in the film that are under a costuming spell, as Chang Suk Ping clearly is enamored with his glamorous leading lady.  The problem for me is that I felt less inspired with anyone that wasn't Zhang Ziyi (this was my problem with this film in general).  All other characters seem to slip into the background with their clothes, bringing her to the forefront.  This isn't a problem in the narrative (in fact it kind of helps), but when you're fighting against a film that finds the balance between all characters and a way to make the clothes sing, you're not quite ready to hit the top slot.

The Costume branch rarely goes with contemporary looks-they're not a fan of the modern, so American Hustle ends up being perhaps the least period film in the bunch, taking place in the late 1970's/early 1980's.  Like its hairstyling, the movie's costumes definitely help to define characters onscreen, which is a great treat for the audience.  Unlike the makeup/hair, though, I don't quite feel this is a home run.  While with Jennifer Lawrence's character it seems that the clothes reflect the woman, Amy Adams' Sydney seems to alternate into more provocative clothing in every scene, yet without much reason other than to make Amy Adams look sexy.  This works (Amy Adams is sexy, after all), but I don't feel like it naturally reflects the character who is becoming more vulnerable, not confident as her clothing suggests.  Still, you can hardly argue that the leading ladies in the film look great, and that the period work isn't spot-on.

When I first heard about the split in voting I wondered if there would be some sort of divergence that would cause Catherine Martin to miss in a category, but when I saw The Great Gatsby I knew that would be impossible.  Martin's work here is too showy and big to ignore.  I did feel that, like with the sets and just the film in general, there was a barge of excess sort of situation going on-there was too much of everything to really focus on the finer points that Martin was trying to make.  I know this is what Luhrmann was going for, and in this case she did her job, but I found this film so bloated (a term that can be attributed to everything Luhrmann has done since Moulin Rouge! toed that line with success) that I was flummoxed by Martin's work.  There are moments of absolute genius in what she does (that pale pink suit is the sort of look that launches a new trend in men's fashion), but I found myself wanting more differentiation and less "more, more, more."  Still, I cannot deny that there's something really remarkable going on with what she's doing here (particularly with the men), and this is a well-deserved nomination.  It just could have been one for the ages with a better vision from the director.

Finally we have Patricia Norris.  At one point in the late 1970's/early 1980's Norris was a go-to costume designer, in the vein of Colleen Atwood and Sandy Powell, but largely stopped working for a while there.  She's since become the de facto costume designer for Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment of all things, and as a result was the woman behind 12 Years a Slave (she's also the most-nominated costume designer without an Oscar for you trivia hounds).  Her work here is quite strong.  I love the way that the clothes seem so stifling for someone like Sarah Paulson's Mistress Epps (it's so damn humid-looking in Savannah) or the way that Mistress Shaw seems to not quite fit into her clothes but makes them work for her situation.  In particular, though, she does a great job with aging the clothes that the slaves in the film wore and having the wares of Fassbender's Epps juxtapose with his actual character.  Coupling Fassbender's intense beauty with billowy sleeves, deeply cut shirt collars, and rogue-like looseness in everything he wears, you are given an extremely handsome and desirable looking man that adds a level of danger to a truly evil character.  It's these sorts of touches that make Norris's work so impressive-she adds not only beauty to her film but a level of personality to the characters.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Costume Designers Guild is one of the only guilds to separate their nominees into not one or two categories, but three: contemporary, period, and fantasy.  Oscar's favorite of this bunch would have to be Period, of course, where 12 Years a Slave came in on-top of American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, The Great Gatsby, and Saving Mr. Banks.  In Fantasy (which oddly got no Oscar nominations despite historically this category getting at least one), Trish Summerville's looks in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire defeated The Hobbit and Oz the Great and Powerful.  And of course the much-forgotten Contemporary gave Blue Jasmine the trophy over Her, Nebraska, Philomena, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Let's also not forget the BAFTA Awards, where Gatsby won but 12 Years a Slave and The Grandmaster were traded out for Saving Mr. Banks (my guess for sixth place, though that film didn't enjoy much success with Oscar so it could have been The Butler) and Behind the Candelabra.
Films I Would Have Nominated: It's worth noting that this is one of the better lineups that Oscar pulled together in 2013.  There's not really a "bad" nomination in this bunch.  That being said, I still would have found room for at least the couture that Cate Blanchett wears for Blue Jasmine.  It's the sort of looks that don't need to spout off "it's Dior" in the dialogue to look insanely rich and far, far out of your price range, which is clearly what Woody is going for here.
Oscar's Choice: From the second it premiered, there was going to be no topping Gatsby with AMPAS, no matter how much Patricia Norris tried.
My Choice: This is a genuinely tough pick (our first tough pick of 2013 for myself).  Gatsby has the single greatest effect of the bunch (the pink suit).  Invisible Woman seems to be the most surprising of the bunch in terms of levels of symmetry with the story.  And 12 Years a Slave has the most going for it in terms of adding to the characters.  For that reason I'm going to ever so slightly give this to 12 Years which seems to be the best combination of great costuming and great film-aiding.  Gatsby follows, with Invisible Woman, American Hustle, and The Grandmaster coming in behind.

And now, of course, it's your turn.  Did you agree with me that Norris should have won the Oscar or were you all about Catherine Martin?  Were you as impressed as I was with The Invisible Woman and its "not just a period piece" costuming?  Who was the sixth place contender?  And what film had the best costumes of 2009?  Share in the comments!

Past Best Costume Contests: 2009, 201020112012

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