Oscar Watch – Costume Design, Art Direction and Makeup

Best Achievement in Costume Design – Nominees
Bright Star: Janet Patterson
Coco avant Chanel: Catherine Leterrier
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Monique Prudhomme
Nine: Colleen Atwood
The Young Victoria: Sandy Powell

You know what will be weird? If a movie about Coco Chanel doesn’t win the main award for costume design. Anyway, the Academy has a track record of awarding this to period films: ‘The Duchess’, ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’, and ‘Marie Antoinette’, amongst others. So that could mean that this year’s Oscar for Costume Design will go to ‘The Young Victoria’. I certainly hope that will be the case. However, I am only saying that it will win because it’s the best among the five. If compared to the three previous winners of this category that I’ve mentioned, I would rate ‘The Young Victoria’ as the lowest. In the other aforementioned films, the costumes of the titular characters define their personalities. In every single scene that they appear, you will definitely go ‘wow’ (I still can’t get the image of Kiera donning that fur hat off my mind). In ‘The Young Victoria’ however, I tried to go ‘wow’ but will soon realized that they’re not that great. That’s was a constant worrying problem I had while watching this film. I was prepared to be mesmerized but I wasn’t. What I can say about this film’s costume is that the overall costume for every character looks stunning, unlike previous winners where only the costumes of the main characters are outstanding to give them an image of their own. Here, everybody seems to get a piece of Sandy Powell’s detailed work. Nevertheless, this being a period piece, the costumes are still intricate and it seems like a sure win in this category. Plus, I love this film, so go Victoria!

The WWE Divas moved into acting.

Next, we have ‘Nine’. Nothing great really, in terms of costume. The only times that the costume did stand up were during the musical numbers. Though I was pretty impressed with those costumes (as they were very sexy), I have to say that it’s very much the standard costumes used for musicals performances e.g. cabaret costumes. Besides, Colleen Atwood last won an Oscar for her costume design in ‘Chicago’. If compared to that, there really isn’t anything innovative that she’s done for this film. I really have nothing much to say here besides that the costumes do look great on the cast, but isn’t really Oscar-winning work, I think.

The key word in ‘Coco avant Chanel’ is the word ‘avant’ or ‘before’. By understanding this term, you will know that this story takes place before Coco Chanel’s rise to fame. Thus, you’ll know that the movie doesn’t go deep into costume designing, with all the flashy fashion shows and the works. What we saw instead was how Coco tried to revolutionise the fashion for women back then, circa 1910, by first inventing clothes for herself. You see back then, women only wear gowns with corsets inside. From my understanding of the story, she was the first women to wear pants and the first to wear short dresses at gala dinners. She revolutionised fashion for women. The story itself serves as a good lesson in costume designing. However, for award purposes, the costumes that were designed for the film aren’t all that smashing. Nevertheless, should ‘The Young Victoria’ not win in this category, my second choice will be ‘Coco avant Chanel’ because at least the costumes here were used to tell the story and I personally feel that that point is very crucial to note. Plus, we did have a short sequence towards the end where these models were walking down the stairs in flashy costumes but prior to that, you just have your basic shirt and tie, with baggy pants and a straw hat. Another reason I can think of why this movie should win is because it has the name Chanel in the film’s title for God’s sake!

Earlier in her career, Lady Gaga's hair was more outrageous.

I wasn’t really impressed with the costumes for ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’. However, they were able to make the main characters of the film stand out by dressing them up like hobos while everyone else around them were dressed up in modern-day outfits. The distinction was quite apparent and this adds to the weirdness of the film where there were times when you wonder if you’re watching a modern day film or a period fantasy film. I actually did notice that though these so called hobo outfits may look ugly and simple, they were actually elaborately designed, with rags hanging everywhere. However, my favourite costume in the film is when Lily Cole’s Valentina was dressed up as Eve. Her costume, or lack thereof, was the best achievement in costume design last year, at least for me.

Lastly, we have ‘Bright Star’, which is a period film set in the early 1800s.  I gave up watching this movie halfway through. I couldn’t give a damn about the story nor could I give a damn about the characters. There were just no purpose for me to finish the film as it is a movie that I just couldn’t care about. I saw it for the costume, which initially did impress me quite a bit as the main character, Fanny Brawne (played by Abbie Cornish), designs and sews her own clothes in the movie, which really made her stand out than the rest. But then after a while, I stop caring about the character, and find that her costume, though very different than the ones worn by the other characters in the film, isn’t really that fantastic to begin with. It also came to a point where you find that she is simply overdressed, with colors to bright and too gaudy for the wrong occasions (like that red outfit that she wore in the beginning of the film). Maybe that’s why she is the ‘bright’ star. Or was that a reference to John Keats? I guess I will never know.

Primary Prediction: The Young Victoria
Secondary Prediction: Coco avant Chanel
Personal Favorite: The Young Victoria

Best Achievement in Art Direction – Nominees
Avatar: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: David Warren, Anastasia Masaro, Caroline Smith
Nine: John Myhre, Gordon Sim
Sherlock Holmes: Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
The Young Victoria: Patrice Vermette, Maggie Gray

Hugh Hefner's Playboy parties moved up a notch.

Prior to the nominees being released, I was thinking of the film most deserving of this Oscar award. At the time, I have not yet seen ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’, ‘Nine’ or ‘The Young Victoria’. The only film I could have thought of was ‘Sherlock Holmes’, on how they had to recreate Victorian-age London. I also thought about one scene that really stood out for me, which was when Holmes and Watson paid a visit to this dingy little place that belongs to this one midget. I recalled how sordid that place looks like with all the weird objects adorning the desk and the shelves and I thought that the production designers and the set decorators must have put in a lot of work to make it look so utterly disgusting. And then there were the exterior London sets. Movies like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ actually makes you think, “Did the filmmakers and the actors actually traveled back to though time to shoot this film? Is it even possible to recreate a city on such a large scale and makes it look like it was actually shot during that period?” This is exactly why I love the movies. Of course, after a little pondering, the nominees came out and I’ve realized I’ve totally forgotten about one other movie: ‘Avatar’.

Thing is, I am not quite sure about ‘Avatar’’s qualification to this category. Art Direction usually consists of Production Designer and Set Decorator. For ‘Avatar’, obviously somebody had to design the wonderful world of Pandora. Somebody had to sit down and painstakingly design every leave, every branch, every flower in the lush forests of Pandora. Question is; were those drawn first by the Production Designer or was it completely done by some dude at visual effects? I had this many questions in my head about how do you look at ‘Avatar’, from an Art Direction’s point of view. For me Art Direction involves the design, usually hand-drawn by artists, of the sets and how the physical sets were constructed and decorated (like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ above). And set decoration, how does ‘Avatar’ qualifies for that? What kind of set decoration work has Kim Sinclair done? There are just too many questions in my head about ‘Avatar’ and this category and there will be many more when I look in Best Achievement in Cinematography later on. (Fikri: let’s not forget James Cameron’s own influence in these matters…) ‘Avatar’ breaks the conventional way of making films that new considerations have to be given to the film. At the end of the day, I can only say that Pandora looks great, like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Sure, the visual effect guys were responsible for creating Pandora and making it look real, but who designed it? Who designed the Hallelujah Mountains? Who designed the Hometree? Who designed Hell’s Gate? In short, who the heck designed ‘Avatar’? That, my friend, I am assuming was the work of the Art Directors. For that, they should and will win.

If you have these...you can't really go wrong with a Sherlock Holmes movie, can you?

We also have ‘Nine’. I would say that this film is more impressive in terms of Art Direction than it was in terms of Costume Design. I especially love the set where Fergie’s character was singing ‘Be Italian’. The sand was a nice touch. I also have to mention the intro set where we first met the film’s leading ladies. There was something about that sequence that made my hair stood up. It was a good combination of music, costume, set design and most importantly, to see all these great actresses together on the same stage. And you could not have asked for a grander set to introduce these screen sirens. But somehow, the great sets in this film have a more music video feel to it, especially ‘Cinema Italiano’ with Kate Hudson. So though it might be somewhat new to a feature film, it wouldn’t be out of place in a Christina Aguilera music video, or Black Eyed Peas for that matter. So on a final note, the film’s production design and set decoration may have given the film the cinematic grandeur that it seeks, but on an Oscar level, nothing particularly groundbreaking here.

‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ is a freaking weird movie, but I really, really liked it. I thought it was kind of freaky that when Heath Ledger’s Tony Sheperd walks into the mirror, he changes his image. Terry Gilliam is a master improviser on that note.  But I am not here to judge the film, rather the art direction. There are two types of art direction in this movie; one which we see in the real world, and the other is the one we see in the imaginarium (the mirror). In the real world, the only art worth mentioning would be the caravan. That was pretty neat work and highly detailed, but that’s just about it. As for the art direction in the imaginarium, I’ve always felt that it looks rather plain, cheap and not that intricate at all. I am very sure I have seen better ‘imagination’ than the ones I saw in this film, so I am not really impressed here. Or it could have been a bit too weird for me. Therefore, based on that caravan alone, I don’t think it deserves this award because it is nowhere close to the cinematic grandeur that is ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Of course if you were on some illegal substances when watching the movie, then you might really go all wow with ‘Imaginarium’.  If revenge is a dish best served cold, ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ is a movie best served stoned.

Munch's 21st century reimagination was more colourful.

As for ‘The Young Victoria’, I have to say that I was more impressed with the Art Direction rather than the Costume Design and Makeup. The production design and set decoration looks absolutely stunning, with the interiors of Buckingham Palace being my personal favorite. There were many beautiful sets in the movie but I can’t exactly point each and every one of them. All I can say is that overall, the movie looks spectacular, with a high production value. On a different year, it might win in this category but as you should all be aware by now, there is a little blue problem this year.

In the recently held Art Directors Guild Awards, ‘Avatar’ took home Best Fantasy Film whereas ‘Sherlock Holmes’ bagged Best Period Film, but ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ was not even nominated for either categories. I am not entirely sure how it will be played out here. I have a strong feeling that ‘Avatar’ will win, but should the Academy members to decide to honor a more traditional approach to art direction, I will go for ‘Sherlock Holmes’.

Primary Prediction: Avatar
Secondary Prediction: Sherlock Holmes
Personal Favorite: Sherlock Holmes

Best Achievement in Make Up – Nominees
Il divo: Aldo Signoretti, Vittorio Sodano
Star Trek: Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, Joel Harlow
The Young Victoria: John Henry Gordon, Jenny Shircore

They're wondering whether to bolt before the five-hour makeup session.

This is one category that will please all the Trekkies out there. ‘Star Trek’, after multiple nominations alongside ‘Avatar’ in various categories, finally has a chance at nabbing the Oscar here because they won’t be facing any competition from the blue-skinned natives. I wouldn’t say that the make-up for ‘Star Trek’ is really outstanding (I sincerely apologise to the Trekkies for saying this). I had to watch the other two nominees just to be sure that ‘Star Trek’ is the best among the three and it definitely is. Now make up comprises of three different areas: Makeup, Special Makeup Effects and Hairstyling. As for ‘Star Trek’, I can’t really say much about the hairstyling as there is nothing stunning in that department, except for the fact that I didn’t recognise Karl Urban as Bones. However, the makeup done on the Romulans and the Vulcans are really exceptional, though it doesn’t save Eric Bana from giving us an abysmal performance. And don’t forget the special makeup effects done on Chris Pine when he had boils spreading all over his face and hands. For me, that is the highlight of the make-up work done here. And, to all the guys out there, remember that hot green chick? Do you know who she is? Rachel Nichols, who played Scarlett in ‘G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra’! Unrecognizable, right? Well, nothing complicated there, since its just green paint all over the body (unlike Mystique in ‘X-Men’ who has scales as well), but coming up with a hot green character deserves some recognition since fanboys are wetting their pants all over the place (yes, I am referring to you Harold).

Then we have ‘The Young Victoria’. Beautiful movie and it deserves a full review but since I am busy with this analysis, it will have to wait. Now I am not taken away by the make up in this film because first and foremost, Emily Blunt is gorgeous to begin with. Thus, the fact that she looks dazzling in the film is not really the work of the makeup artist, although some credit is definitely due to them for making her beauty more apparent. Having said that however, I am not entirely sure if any prosthetic make-up was applied to her face to make her look more like Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. To me, she looks like herself and frankly, I don’t even know how the real young Victoria looks like for me to make any comparisons. The Victoria I remember is that of a statue of her in Penang when she’s old and round-faced. Now what this movie lacks in the make up department, it makes up in the hairstyling department (including facial-hair-styling), especially for the male actors. Thomas Kretschmann (King Leopold), Mark Strong (Sir John Conroy) and Paul Bettany (Viscount Melbourne) were barely recognizable here. If not for their incomparable voices (especially Kretschmann), I would not have know it’s them. It’s not just the hair itself, but the men in this film all sport some really long sideburns, which is not really common in most period-pieces. That was a unique touch to the film. But again, I still don’t think that this is an Oscar winning work.

"Alessandro, Pietro, Damiano, Frencesco, Filippo, Gianluca..."

Lastly we have ‘Il Divo’, an Italian movie that I had a hard time trying to understand. Its about former Italian Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti, who has been elected seven times to Parliament ever since its establishment. The role of Andreotti is played by Italian actor, Toni Servillo. I had no idea who Servillo is nor do I have any idea who Andreotti is. So prior to watching the film, I thought to myself, “How am I gonna know if the makeup work is good if I don’t know the actor and the character he’s playing.” Then I saw the film. When Andreotti appears on screen for the first time, you just know that he doesn’t look right and that extensive makeup work has been applied onto the actor. He looks weird with funny ears that remind me of Dobby from the Harry Potter series. However, during the close-up scenes, you can see the detail on the texture of the skin. But my appreciation of the makeup work done here was only realised after the film and thanks to Google. I’ve searched for pictures of both Servillo (the actor) and Andreotti (the character) and boy, was I surprised. Servillo looks nothing like the guy I saw in ‘Il Divo’. He looks more dashing and I would say and if I knew him earlier and heard that he was playing Andreotti (assuming I knew him too), I would say ‘go to hell’. So yeah, they really transformed Servillo in the film and though I have not seen his prior performances, I could say that his acting here is top notch (for some reason reminds me of Philip Seymour Hoffman in ‘Capote’). And as far as the real Andreotti, the dude is funny-looking, so nothing wrong there. And by the way, after reading this, if you’re having a hard time trying to discern who is Servilo and who is Andreotti, imagine what I had to go through while watching the movie with names like Scafari, Evangelisti, Lima, Pomicino, Aldo Moro, Pecorelli, Sbardella, Cossiga, Sindona, Badalamenti etc.

Primary Prediction: Star Trek
Secondary Prediction: Il Divo
Personal Favorite: Star Trek

Fazil is on such a roll with the Oscars thing, thank God he wasn’t a spring. Otherwise he’d be a spring roll… 🙂 Check out his Oscar Watch on Original Score and Song, as well as Sound Mixing and Editing.


6 thoughts on “Oscar Watch – Costume Design, Art Direction and Makeup

  1. with the perfectly precise military uniforms and the gorgeous gorgeous dresses in THE YOUNG VICTORIA, I am so thrilled that Sandy Powell won a much deserved Oscar for Costume Design….I can understand how STAR TREK could win for makeup but as far as the Best Achievement in Art Direction, I don’t think that NINE or SHIRLOCK HOLMES offered any serious competition to THE YOUNG VICTORIA and I think that with the immaculately researched 1830’s era set design for THE YOUNG VICTORIA, the only serious competition to brilliant Patrice Vermette and Maggie Gray would have been from the wild and off the wall ART FROM ALL CIVILIZATIONS ROLLED INTO ONE TOTAL FANTASY sets of THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS . AVATAR won in this category I think but I don’t feel that computerized set design mixed with human reality can still compare to the brilliantly created accurately historical 1830’S staging by PATRICE VERMETTE and MAGGIE GRAY.

    1. They all had their own charm, I think. Even Dr Parnassus, whose simpler approach is very artistic, in my opinion.


  2. I love your post on Costume Design, Art Direction and Makeup

    What I truly like is your statement on how you liked Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ and thought it was kind of freaky that when Heath Ledger’s Tony Sheperd walks into the mirror, he changes his image.

    I’m looking forward to seeing more of your great postings.

    1. Yeah, if it was another movie, they would probably had to abandon the project altogether after Heath’s death. Here, since the movie is already crazy to begin with, why not change his appearance when he walks into the imaginarium. what a coincidence his last film was a freaky one.

      Anyway, i am glad you like the post. Thanks 🙂

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