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OSCAR: Oh, They Coulda Been Contenders

Pete Hammond

You know the oft-repeated phrase heard this time of year, “It’s an honor just to be nominated”? That was never more true for some who might have actually won the Academy Award but tripped on their way to the Kodak stage by failing to get to first base with a nomination this past Tuesday. This year, presumed frontrunners in different categories weren’t moved forward in the Oscar race because of their own peer group. In case you’re not aware, peer groups pick the individual nominees in their categories. In the final vote, the entire Academy votes for the winners. The membership at large, thought not to be as technically judgmental as the formidable peer groups (or, in some situations, as swayed by petty jealousies), usually tend to select the more obvious choices. But what should be an anomaly happens a lot when it comes to Oscar. In 1989, Driving Miss Daisy was the big winner with four Oscars including Best Picture. Its director Bruce Beresford almost certainly would have made it five except for one small thing: the Director’s branch didn’t nominate him so the Academy at large couldn’t vote for him. It was the first time since Grand Hotel (1931-1932) that a director was not nommed for a movie that won Best Picture. (Instead, Oliver Stone won for Born On The Fouth Of July.) Most famously, Hollywood was shocked when the actors branch didn’t nominate Bette Davis for 1934’s Of Human Bondage even though it was considered one of the greatest female performances ever and its omission  caused  such a stir that the Academy augmented their rules to allow a write-in vote. (The write-in didn’t work, and Claudette Colbert triumphed.) Out of embarrassment, the Academy tried to make amends and gave Davis the Oscar the next year for the much-lesser Dangerous.

For instance, this year in the Best Make Up category, Alice In Wonderland was considered the frontrunner among the seven finalists – but shockingly failed to even be nominated. Instead, the final three nominees were Barney’s Version, The Way Back, and Universal’s early 2010 dud The Wolfman, forcing Academy voters to choose from these far more obscure entries. Which is why I have to ask: Was Paul Giamatti’s disheveled hair in Barney’s Version really better than the Make Up artistry on the Red Queen or the Mad Hatter? It’s all a very closed club, and the answer may not lie in the work itself but in who did the work and who is a member of the club.

For instance, the critically drubbed The Tempest‘s Sandy Powell, a 3-time winner in Oscar’s Costumes category, can get nominated for just about anything she does because she is one of Costume branch’s inner circle. The same is true for the Music branch and John Williams who doesn’t score for movies as much anymore. But any time he does, he’s likely to get a nomination because he’s an icon among musicians.

Regarding the Best Documentary nominations this year, I heard that one Governor of the Academy’s Documentary branch told a consultant that if Waiting For ‘Superman’, Davis Guggenheim’s widely favored education doc from Paramount, received a nomination it would win Best Feature Documentary with the membership at large. But he wasn’t voting for it and neither were some other branch members he knew due to questions they had about the way some of the documentary was conducted. Specifically, objections were raised about one scene recreated for the camera after it happened in real life. The result is that Guggenheim won’t be getting that second Oscar this time around (he won for An Inconvenient Truth) since his documentary didn’t make the cut with his branch.

Christopher Nolan was now infamously passed over in the Best Director category, first for The Dark Knight and this time for Inception. Would he have won this time out for staying true to his passion project? We’ll never know. My guess is there’s a certain level of jealousy because he pretty much can do whatever he wants and wherever he wants. (I often say he could go in and pitch a remake of Howard The Duck and studios would say yes.) Steven Speilberg was famously not nominated as Best Director for the Best Picture nominee Jaws. (Worse, a TV show following around Spielberg that day the Oscar nods were announced showed him anxiously anticipating a nomination that never came.)

Lee Smith’s dazzling Editing for Inception was thought to be an easy winner in that category once it got to the general vote. Problem is, the editors themselves dissed it. No Oscar for Lee this year.

Diane Warren won a Golden Globe this month for the anthem she wrote for Cher in Burlesque called “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me”. And she was considered a likely Academy Award winner this time after 6 previous Oscar nominations. Plus, Cher was expected to perform it on the telecast. Unfortunately, the Academy’s grumpy Music branch decided we had seen the last of Warren this awards season and nominated only four tunes, none of them from the critically reviled Burlesque. Talk about a backlash. (A publicist connected with Warren’s campaign even wanted to ask for a recount but knew the Academy would never allow it.) The same Music branch disqualified Clint Mansell’s soaring blend of original music and Tchaikovsky in Black Swan which almost certainly could have triumphed with the general Academy membership when voting starts on February 2nd. Read More »

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OSCAR: Behind-The-Seams With Costume Designers For ‘Alice In Wonderland’, ‘Black Swan’, ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘The Tempest’

By | Thursday January 20, 2011 @ 10:12am PST

Costume Designers Guild Names Nominees

(Freelancer Elizabeth Snead is helping Deadline’s awards coverage)

Colleen Atwood, Alice in Wonderland:

Previous films: Won two Oscars for Chicago and Memoirs Of A Geisha. Six Oscar nominations for Sweeney Todd, Nine, Lemony Snicket, Sleepy Hollow, Beloved, Little Women.

Behind-the-seams: “The Hatter’s look was based on the real hatters who used mercury in their trade which poisoned them and made them go mad. It also caused the hair to turn a very fried red color and their skin to get very pale…

“We wanted the Mad Hatter’s bow tie droopy but when he cheered up, such as when Alice came around, he perked up and his tie would also get happy. It was controlled by Johnny so he could make it happen when he felt it…

“We got very lucky for Johnny’s hat, I found some laser-cut leather in Italy that looked like it had been burned, then re-embroidered with gold thread. Right before we did our first fitting with him, I thought ‘Oh my God, I can’t figure out how the hat is going to look without the hair.’ Those pictures can never see the light of day because we literally stuffed a clown wig in the hat. We were dying laughing because he looked like Bozo…

“Shoes are a passion of mine and I knew that because Johnny walked on a table that we would see them. So we etched subversive things on the shoes like ‘Down with Bloody Big Head’. You can’t really read it but I love doing all those details. It makes me laugh and it’s part of character building…

“All Johnny’s tools of his trade — scissors, threads, thimbles, a pin cushion — were period items I found in flea markets on Portobello Road in London and online…

“Johnny has it in his contract that he keeps his wardrobe. He has an archive of all his costumes from all his films and people who catalog and preserve them. He loves that part of the process and he always has.”

Amy Westcott, Black Swan
Previous films: The Wrestler

Behind-the-seams: “It was Natalie who recommended Rodarte. It was important to her and Darren asked me if it was OK. I met with Laura and Kate Mulleavy and I saw their feathered Vulture collection (I think it was Spring 2010). It seemed very appropriate. We communicated using Skype because they were in LA and we were shooting in New York…

“The biggest key for my research was watching actual classes and talking to actual dancers at the American Ballet Theatre and City Ballet. I couldn’t take photos but they allowed me to sit in and made sketches and talked to the girls afterwards. I got to see what was realistic and functional, how they put on and took off layers…

“All the lead characters are based on characters in the ballet. Nina, the White Swan, wears pale colors. When Nina loses her innocence, she starts to dress a little darker. By the end of the film, she’s all in black for the first time…

“Nina’s sheer shrug was to cover the scars on her back. We looked everywhere for the right one. We cut the feet off tights and she put her arms through the legs, something dancers do. It was authentic but was also important for the character. And I love the scene where she’s breaking in her shoes. It shows the violence of this art form that looks so beautiful and graceful.”

Louise Stjernsward, Made in Dagenham

Previous films: Stealing Beauty, Sexy Beast, The Dreamers.

Behind-the-seams: “It was in the script that it had to be a Biba dress and two girls had to wear it and Sally was quite a bit smaller than Rosamund. I tried to find an original but didn’t. Then I bought a book about Biba, which was such a great shop and so inexpensive, and I saw the iconic mage of this dress. I had two made and made Sally’s a little big on her to make credible that she’d borrowed it from Ros…

“I watched a lot of footage of the real women, and the film is slightly glamorized. Sally wanted to keep her character very low key in the beginning. She’s a working girl with two kids, so it’s clothes from that era but practical, simple. As her confidence grows, she gets a bit more stylish but then she also had less money so I tried to do it with color…

“Barbara Castle [Labour Cabinet minister] actually wore a white blouse and skirt to that famous meeting with the women. I tried that but it didn’t suit Miranda and she didn’t feel right in it so we got the dresses and little suits instead, mostly sober colors, even one made of crimplene, a popular but ghastly thick, wash and wear polyester….

“We’d bought tons of period stuff from Portobello Road and vintage markets, irrespective of size, and we’d decide which outfits were right for main characters and took the rest for the crowd scenes.”

Jenny Beavan, The King’s Speech

Past Awards: Won an Oscar for A Room With Aa View. Nominated seven times for The Bostonians, Maurice”, Howards End, The Remains Of The Day, Sense And Sensibility, Anna And The King, Gosford Park.

Behind-the-seams: “We had an incredibly short prep time, just five and a half weeks. So thank god for the Internet. There is an incredible amount of archival footage online – Pathe News — of the Duke and Duchess of York. I had no idea and I was very grateful. We also got the spirit in family photographs that you can find as well as books and souvenir albums from the coronation…

“The Queen mother loved fur. She had fur trim on practically everything. Not to get PETA riled up, we used very old furs, nothing new. Even though she wore a lot of blues and mauves, the colors were too theatrical on film and too strong on Helena so we used muted softer hues…

“As for those royal uniforms, they don’t exist in costume houses. We found a belt there, an eaglet here, epaulets in a vintage market. We made the neck orders and that interesting necklace Colin wears. Colin was always anxious to look as thin as possible. The real Duke was terribly slight. Colin is not as slight so he didn’t wear the jacket under the topcoat most of the time and we got away with it because of the scarf…

“I wanted to put Geoffrey in more sport coats and trousers but he felt Lionel Logue would put on his smart suit when he knew the Duke was coming…

“One of Guy Pearce’s Duke of Windsor suits was an original from the period. It was a bit moth-eaten, so we did some good darning. I’m terribly fond of Guy’s suit at Balmoral. I found a short length of checked tweed at a Cosgrove Costume House, just enough to do a jacket and trouser. The fabric truly was a gift from the costume gods.”

Sandy Powell, The Tempest

Past Awards: Three Oscar wins for The Young Victoria, The Aviator, Shakespeare In Love. Also Oscar nominations for Mrs. Henderson Presents, Gangs Of New York, Velvet Goldmine, and Orlando.

Behind-the-seams: “Julie wanted the characters that lived on the island to look like they were part of it. So that’s how it started, looking at images of a place (Lanai) I had never been too. It was quite extraordinary, after making some of Helen’s costumes, going there and seeing them in situ, in the environment…

“In the script, Prospera’s magic cloak is described as being made of ‘shards of glass and light.’ Julie talked about obsidian and that’s when the volcanic lava images came into play. It’s truly an experimental piece, more like a sculpture than clothing. And even though the painted plastic pieces were thin and light, when there are 3,000 of them, it was quite heavy. It was nicknamed ‘The Monster’ by my crew. It had to be carried up and down the mountain like a dead body. During the storm scene, Helen had these powerful wind machines on her, so these plastic things would ping off all the time. We all had to stand by with glue guns, constantly repairing it during shooting…”

“The idea was for Prospera to look androgynous. Her clothing had to be practical and also have this feeling of coming from the landscape. The shapes were inspired by Japanese fashion designers. The colors are natural, indigo, the color of the sky and sea. The browns and sands work with the land, almost as a kind of camouflage…

“Julie wanted the court costumes to look like those in Goya or Velasquez’s paintings, very dark but also metallic. It did come out looking very Jacobean or Elizabethan. So to avoid it looking too period, I went with zippers instead of jewels or braid. They were all functional zippers.”

Nicoletta Massone, Barney’s Version Read More »

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