Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012 Oscars: Costume Design

I know, I know, I said I was going to do the techs first, then the artistics. I'm sure you're very disappointed and confused that I'm going out of order. But there's a single costume in particular that kind of blew my mind and I want to talk about it.

So get over it.

Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Les Miserables, Paco Delgado
Lincoln, Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror, Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood

5. Mirror Mirror

Some of the dresses were pretty, I guess. The bright colors gave a nice fairy tale feel to the whole movie And Ishioka died a year ago, so yes, there's a bit of a sympathy vote here. But at the end of the day, these were cookie-cutter costumes that we've seen before, and they lacked a certain detail and texture to help them blend into their surroundings. Julia Roberts' giant yellow dresses were distracting. The costumes drew attention to themselves rather than aiding the story, and that's just not okay.

4. Les Miserables

These were fine, I guess. I wasn't a fan of the movie, and I don't want that to affect my position here, but given that most of the film was shot in closeups, most of the costumes we really got to see were of the collars and lapels, so it's rather difficult to tell if they were really all that good or not. They were appropriate enough, I guess. They seemed to fit the period and the characters, and there was a certain elaborateness that reflected the heightened musical atmosphere of the film, but really there wasn't a whole of really interesting work going on here.

For all I know, the entire cast never wore pants.

3. Snow White and the Huntsman

Colleen Atwood never fails to deliver, and where Mirror Mirror's costumes seemed distracting and inappropriate even for its bubblegum fairy tale vision, Atwood's work here adequately fits the darker medieval world of the film, without being too garish. Charlize Theron's costumes frequently had a sharp angular feel that matched her villainous character, and all the armor and chain mail seemed original and unique. That said, a few notable pieces aside, I feel like I've seen this all before.

2. Anna Karenina

Of the nominees thusfar, I think these costumes are the ones that best struck a balance between the authentic, period-based demands of the design with the colorful, exaggerated nature of the film itself. The film is intentionally theatrical, where films like Mirror Mirror and Les Miserables were accidentally theatrical. Therefore in my mind it gets a little leeway with its flamboyance. What's more, I never felt like I was focusing on the costumes, they seemed to simply exist in the world and became a part of the characters who wore them.

1. Lincoln

This will be the first of several awards I personally think Lincoln deserves, although it almost certainly won't win all of them. (And just to clarify now, in each of these categories I don't necessarily think Lincoln had the best such-and-such of the year so much as the best such-and-such of the nominees.) At face value, the design of Lincoln seems based in simply historical authenticity. Joanna Johnston has said as much, that "getting it right" was really the goal. So you see muted tones and rich textures to recreate the clothes and the mood of the times of the Civil War. Much of the outfit in Lincoln are indeed dutiful recreations, right down to the use of Lincoln's shawls, which he was apparently quite fond of. One of the few garish pieces was the bold yellow Asian-looking garment worn by Secretary of State Seward, and it does call attention to itself because it seems so out of place. Yet apparently, Seward had been a world traveller and was known to wear these sorts of things in private. So it is at least justified in it's out-of-placeness. Mary Todd Lincoln frequently wears finer fabrics and bolder colors in the film because, as she explains in one scene, she is intentionally living beyond her means so that the office of the Presidency maintains its dignity while she inhabits the White House. Her costumes are driving partially by history, but also by character.

My favorite example of character-driven costuming this entire year is the suit that Bob Lincoln wears on an outing with his father. It's a simple suit. The first time I saw the film, though, I frequently thought, "Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks odd in this film..." The second time I realized why: his clothes were almost always too big for him. In the film, his character is basically the son who wants to grow up and be a man in conflict with his parents who want to protect him and keep hold of their child. It's as though the entire film he's trying to wear his big boy pants, but something is stopping him from growing. It isn't until he does enlist in the military that he finally looks right in his own clothes.  It's honestly a brilliant piece of character-driven costume design, and just because the suit is an ugly brown instead of bright yellow, and just because the military uniforms are recreations instead of original armor and mail, and just because Charlize Theron looks hotter in her gowns than Sally Field does, that doesn't mean Lincoln is any less deserving of this award.

Will win: Anna Karenina (and that's not necessarily wrong or undeserving)
Should win: Lincoln
Should have been nominated: Argo and Django Unchained, instead of Mirror Mirror and Les Miserables.

(By the way, if anyone wants me to explain my "should have been nominated" choices any further, indicate it in the comments. I just dont' want to bore anyone too much.)

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