Oscar Predictions: Who Has a Shot at Best Costume Design?

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Photo by Alan Light
Do you ever wonder what Edith Head would think about the state of costume design in film today? No? Just me? Edith Head holds the record for most nominations -- and most wins -- in the category of "Best Costume Design" at the Academy Awards. (Eight wins, 35 nominations, in case you wondered.)

The Academy Award for costume design isn't quite as old as the ceremony itself; the first Academy Awards were held in 1929, while the first award for costume design was presented in 1949, at the 21st annual award ceremony. Between 1949 and 1967 the category gave two statuettes: one for best costume design in black-and white film, another for best costume design in color. (Except for a couple of years in the late 1950s, when the Academy was consolidating and adding categories AND JUST PLAYING WITH PEOPLE'S LIVES and stuff.)

Today the category is known for awarding period pieces, which require much research and detail. Films with contemporary settings are rarely nominated, and even more rarely awarded. Do we dress like slobs? Maybe. Back in the 1950s, films like Rear Window, An American in Paris and Roman Holiday were winners. To be fair, so was The King and I -- hardly an accurate depiction of everyday life.

As 2012 draws to a close, let's take a look at who might get the nod when the Academy announces its nominations on January 10, 2013.

The last five winners of the Academy Award for Best Costume Design are:

• 2011: The Artist, Mark Bridges
• 2010: Alice in Wonderland, Colleen Atwood
• 2009: The Young Victoria, Sandy Powell
• 2008: The Duchess, Michael O'Connor
• 2007: Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Alexandra Byrne

(Keep going back and you'll see Marie Antoinette, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Aviator, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Chicago, Moulin Rouge, Gladiator ... see a pattern?) The last non-period piece film that won was The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert but it's a movie about a transsexual cabaret act! Let's face it, the days of contemporary film winning this category -- just for having sharply dressed characters -- is history.

Luckily there is never a shortage of period pieces, and that is certainly true of 2012. It bears noting that the Golden Globe nominations were announced today, and they usually serve as a good guide to nominations (and often, wins) in most categories. The Globes do not hand out awards for best costume design, but five films making the rounds on Oscars predictions lists include:

Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Les Miserables, Paco Delgado
Lincoln, Joanna Johnson
Mirror, Mirror, Eiko Ishioka
A Royal Affair, Manon Rasmuson

Most of us have heard of the first four, three of which are period pieces and the fourth -- Mirror, Mirror -- is a retelling of Snow White starring Julia Roberts. A Royal Affair is another period piece; a Danish historical drama with (insane) kings, and queens, and secret physician lovers! Plus, you know, crowns and jewels and fancy dress and whatnot.

To be perfectly frank, the Golden Globe nominations took some of the wind out of the sails here. Lincoln, Les Mis, and Anna Karenina would most certainly have made the cut, regardless. Mirror, Mirror wasn't even on the radar, and instead Argo was in the mix. Maybe bad 1970s fashion won't wow us visually, but the accuracy of the whole film overall -- the attention to detail in both set design and costume -- are so carefully executed, it seems a shame the Academy would overlook it just because the '70s are kinda ugly.

If the Academy wanted to get back into the game of nominating contemporary film, Arbitrage would be a good place to start. Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere are uber-wealthy and always beautifully dressed. There's one scene where Susan Sarandon is at the gym wearing an off-the-shoulder knit that had me pondering the question of how, exactly, 66-year-old women work out without sports bras -- now that's memorable costuming.

Box office bomb Cloud Atlas may not gather any acting nominations, but has a shot at costume design. Any film that spans time and space -- with an accompanying number of costume and makeup changes -- has a shot at some artistic noms. They probably have a better chance with makeup, but costume isn't out of the question.

Other possible contenders: The Hunger Games, Moonrise Kingdom, and Django Unchained, plus any number of foreign films that could come to the attention of Academy voters (by way of holiday movie viewing, or the Golden Globe noms) between now and January 10. For our money, the likely list will be:

Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Les Miserables, Paco Delgado
Lincoln, Joanna Johnson
The Hunger Games, Judianna Makovsky
The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey, Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey, Richard Taylor

One of these is likely to be wrong -- they are all pretty epic releases, and the Academy likes to nominate the little guy, too -- so if we had to guess for an upset we might go for Moonrise Kingdom, or the aforementioned A Royal Affair, over The Hobbit.

Predicted winner: Les Miserables, Paco Delgado.

Why? It's got it all: poor people in tatters! Rich people in finery! Military! Royalty! Wigs! And singing. Costumes look better when chests are heaving in song.

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