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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Oscar Series: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design

I've been spending the last day trying to figure out both these races and I haven't gotten too far. It's not that I don't understand them, it's that I have nothing to go off. The Golden Globe doesn't give out art direction or costume design awards. And, the guilds split these awards up (contemporary, period, and fantasy) so much that it's a big mess.

Achievement in Art Direction
American Gangster, Art Direction: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Beth A. Rubino
Atonement, Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
The Golden Compass, Art Direction: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Art Direction: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
There Will Be Blood, Art Direction: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

Maybe I'm the only one that thinks about these things, but do you realize that the Academy never recognizes contemporary art direction? Not saying it should, but it's "funny" that only period and fantasy films get nominated. Really, there's two different ways you can look at it. Award a period or fantasy film? This decade they have gone for five periods and two fantasies. Now, let's take a look a little closer.

American Gangster is a period piece set in the 60s and 70s. It's art director, Arthur Max hold a previous nomination (he lost). The big weakness I see with this film is that it's only set in the 60s. Period pieces do well at the Oscars, but we're talking about films set in 50s and earlier. Nothing jumps out at you that says, "Wow, great art direction." I think that will hurt it in the long run and partially why no one is talking about it in this category.

Atonement has a great shot to make some noise in this category. Many people are giving it the shaft for some of the major categories, so why not reward it in this one? It's very possible. I think this film is beautiful to look at. It's set during World War II and you feel like you're there. Especially, during the scenes on the beaches. It was the "Wow" moment that it needed. Its art director, Sarah Greenwood, has only one previous nomination (she lost), but I expect her to make some noise.

The Golden Compass is the stereotypical fantasy film this year. It's got all the elements you want in a great fantasy film. My concern is do people really care? Many fantasy films get nominated here, but fail to win. Only Pan's Labyrinth and Return of the King were victorious. And, let's not forget that there have been some great fantasy films this decade. The Harry Potter Series, The Pirates of the Caribbean Series, and The Lord of the Rings series (referring to the first two installments that lost). Dennis Gassner is a previous Oscar winner (1/3 lifetime including a double nomination in '91) for Bugsy. I still just don't have that much faith in this film's chances.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber on Fleet Street is the wild card in this race. At the beginning of the season, I thought Sweeney would easily win this and costume design. First off, the art director is Dante Ferretti (1/7 life at the Oscars including a win for The Aviator). He's probably the only art director I could name off the top of my head. He's like the Steven Spielberg of art direction. And to be quite honest, he did an amazing job on this period piece. It has a very distinct look to it and it works great. My concern would be do people like this film enough. Look, a lot of people get turned away from films with excessive blood and this film has it. Plus, Dante has one Oscar and they might want to give it to this guy...

Yes, I'm writing about Jack Fisk for his work on There Will Be Blood. Fisk, who is the only first time nominee of the bunch, could be the sentimental favorite. Why? First of all, he's an industry veteran who worked on many of David Lynch and Terry Malick's films (ever hear of Days of Heaven?) Second, he made a film in the middle of the desert look really interesting. It's all this wide open space and there is just something about it. Similar to the appeal of Days of Heaven. If support for Blood is strong, then watch out because I love this film's chances to win this.

The Art Directors Guild will be holding their awards on February 16th. I will report the winner on this site. Considering that four of the five nominees are competing against each other in the period film category it should tell us something. The winner of the guild's award has gone on to win the Oscar four out of seven times this decade including the last two. This race could be one that wins your Oscar pool, so choose wisely.

Achievement in Costume Design
Across the Universe, Albert Wolsky
Atonement, Jacqueline Durran
Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Alexandra Byrne
La Vie en Rose, Marit Allen
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Colleen Atwood

As with the art direction category, the costume designers love period and fantasy films. Again no surprise, but still something I found interesting since you never really think about that stuff when you're just an average Oscar pool participant. Looking at this category, they tend to go with more period pieces. I think the main reason for this is so they can compare it to something. How well does this costume match up to a costume from the 15th century for example? It's easier to gauge. I know that's how I would vote on this category, but what do I know? I'm just your neighborhood Oscar blogger.

Across the Universe has some great costumes, but I'm scratching my head on this one. Why? It wasn't even nominated for a Costume Designer Guild Award! The last time a film with no guild nomination went on to win was back in 2001 with Moulin Rouge! I hate to write off a film so quickly, but it's hard not to. I love the costumes in this film. Very colorful and psychdelic. They really capture the 60s well. The other issue is that this is the only nomination for the film. Do you really think they will reward a movie on its sole nomination? That's a tough call. Here is one thing it does have going for it. Albert Wolsky, the costume designer, is a two time Oscar winner (2/5 lifetime with wins for All That Jazz and Bugsy). That could help it, but people could also say that he already has two Oscars, lets give it to someone else.

Atonement is in the same position it's in for art direction. It could benefit by getting overlooked for the major categories. Kind of reminds me of Memoirs of a Geisha, which did extremely well in some of the minor categories back in 2005. Atonement could see the same effect. I would give Jacqueline Durran the Oscar solely on Keira Knightley's green dress, but that's because I'm in love with her. Durran has one previous nomination (she lost) and I really like her in this race. I feel like this category is somewhat weak and this is a good opportunity for Atonement to get some love.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the typical period film that gets in here every year. It's from the 16th century and some of the costumes are quite extravagant. Look at Cate Blanchett for example. Damn. Problem is will this film have enough support? Part of me actually thinks it could pull off the upset. Look at Marie Antoinette last year. No one even liked that film and it won this category. And, it beat some well respected films including Dreamgirls and The Devil Wears Prada (That's about costumes!). The costume designer, Alexandra Byrne, has been nominated three times before and she lost every time. The fourth time could be the charm.

La Vie en Rose has an interesting scenario for the simple reason that its costume designer sadly passed away back in November. Marit Allen received her first Oscar nomination posthumously. People could do two different things with this situation. One is to vote for her, her memory, and career. The other is not to vote for her since she has passed away. That sounds mean, but it's a legit reason why she might not receive votes. The last person I know that won an Oscar after he died after Conrad Hall for Road to Perdition. And, Hall was a cinematography icon and I think people wanted to send him out on top. The only other example I can think of is Peter Finch for Network back in 1976 when he won Best Actor. I may be missing someone else, but it's not very common to win. People have got nominated after death, but win is a different story. As for the actual movie, La Vie en Rose has some good costumes, but they didn't blow me away. I thought they captured the era (20s-60s) well in France, but I didn't say, "Wow, I love those costumes after viewing the film." I was more fascinated by the performance of Marion, but that's for a later issue of the Oscar Series.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber on Fleet Street has the Steven Spielberg (phrase of the week) of costume designers, Colleen Atwood, on its side. And, that's a good thing. Atwood, like Ferretti, is the only costume designer I can name off the top of my name. She's been here before (2/6 lifetime with wins for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha) and some of the costumes are great in Sweeney. Some people weren't crazy about the film, but I thought they did a great job creating their own vision for the film. It had a very distinct look throughout and that helps it a lot in this race. Like Albert Wolsky, people may not vote for it just so someone else may win. Although, I think this is a great position to win. It's the Academy's opportunity to award the film for something.

The Costume Designers Guild will be holding their awards on February 19th. Looking at its recent history, they have matched up with the Academy four out of seven times this decade (same as the art directors). They have also matched the last two years and four of the last five. I'll let you know the results when I find out as that could help us solve this puzzle.

Check back tomorrow as we take a look at another Oscar category...

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