Oscar Nominees: Best Costume Design

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Every day from now until the Oscars on Sunday, February 26 I’m going to deconstruct the nominees in each category. I’ll give you their history with the Academy, some extra thoughts on each nominee/film, who was snubbed, and what you might consider before choosing them in your office pool.

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Nominee: Colleen Atwood
Film: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Oscar History: 12 previous nominations, 3 wins (Alice in Wonderland, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago)
Thoughts: The true veteran of this year’s roster of nominees, Atwood has had a long professional relationship with Tim Burton and with films that allow for imaginative flights of fancy. First nominated in 1995 for Little Women, the large bulk of her nominations have come from films that allow her outside of the box approach and exemplary eye for detail to shine. For her nomination this year, she successfully blended drab period clothing with a touch of colorful wizardry. Personally, I like Atwood’s work when it’s more dramatic like for Snow White and the Huntsman but her costumes here more than earned her a spot among the year’s best.

Nominee: Consolata Boyle
Film: Florence Foster Jenkins
Oscar History: 1 previous nomination (The Queen)
Thoughts: Last nominated exactly a decade ago, Boyle’s costumes for Florence Foster Jenkins never outshined their leading lady. Dressing a character that fancies herself an opera singer might suggest a more eccentric style but Boyle let fellow nominee Meryl Streep worry about the mechanics and decked her out in appropriately dramatic performance wear. Her other period costumes had nice touches and the stiffness of her shirt collars mirrored the society the title character was trying to impress.

Nominee: Madeline Fontaine
Film: Jackie
Oscar History: First time nominee
Thoughts: Jackie Kennedy has been portrayed in so many mediums that it might seem Fontaine had it easy when faced with dressing Natalie Portman and others. Not so, first time nominee Fontaine had to recreate several famous looks but give them a Technicolor vibrancy to really pop. The exquisite textures and trims were truly a remarkable sight.

Nominee: Mary Zophres
Film: La La Land
Oscar History: 1 previous nomination (True Grit)
Thoughts: A real head-scratcher of a nomination in my book, I’m guessing Zophres earned the nomination through a combination of La La Land Fever and for a sequence near the end of the film where costumes were key identifiers of time and place. Other than that, the work seemed to exist in the retro-chic clothing of now with a jazz hipster vibe. With the other nominees, I definitely remember being impressed by the costumes…but in La La Land nothing stood out as special.

Nominee: Joanna Johnston
Film: Allied
Oscar History: 1 previous nomination (Lincoln)
Thoughts: While I’m sure stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard would look good in a potato sack and Crocs, Johnston challenged herself a bit more with her elegant costumes for the 1940’s set spy tale. Having collaborated with director Robert Zemeckis on many of his films, she likely knew how to dress her actors in clothes that would provide some dazzling visuals their director couldn’t recreate on a computer. Cotillard’s evening dress in particular from a key scene alone might have netted her this nom.

Missed Opportunity:

Should Been Nominated: Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson for The Dressmaker
Why?: For a film all about the effect haute couture has on the residents of a small town in the Australian outback, I’m surprised there was no nomination for these two.  Wilson is credited as the designer of star Kate Winslet’s gorgeous clothing but Boyce crafted some fiery looks herself.  The Dressmaker fizzled out when released here but at least the two were recognized by the Australian version of the Oscars for their designs.

So…four deserving nominees and one that doesn’t quite fit with the rest. The Academy has long eschewed giving the award for a contemporary film so but I’m not entirely sure La La Land is out of the running. My vote would be for Jackie with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or Florence Foster Jenkins neck and neck for second place.

Movie Review ~ Florence Foster Jenkins

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, Nina Arianda

Director: Stephen Frears

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 110 minutes

Trailer Review: Here & Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: There’s a play based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins I saw several years back called Souvenir.  A two-person drama set in a supper club where Jenkins performed with her pianist Cosmé McMoon, you knew in advance that she was regarded as a terrible singer and that’s what attracted me to it.  The lights go down and I spent the next twenty minutes waiting for the actress playing Jenkins to open her mouth and warble out an opera aria.  She did. I laughed.  Then I spent the next two hours waiting for it to be over, the frivolity having running its course by the time the third song began.

That’s what seeing the new film Florence Foster Jenkins feels like…waiting for the joke and then checking your watch to see when it will end.  Buoyed by strong performances but misguided by some plot distractions that laboriously pad the running length instead of graciously filling it, it’s not a bad film in the slightest, just a one-joke movie that has its moment in the sun before entering some rainy weather territory which seriously drags down the latter half of the picture.

Jenkins (Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady) was a spirited eccentric that actually believed she could sing and was surrounded by friends (some say hangers-on) that wouldn’t be honest with her.  Her common-law husband (nicely played by Hugh Grant, Cloud Atlas) pays reporters for good write-ups and has a girlfriend on the side (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) while her new pianist (Simon Helberg) is aghast that someone so bad could be lauded so much.

Focused on the last year or so that Jenkins was alive, director Stephen Frears (Philomena) and writer Nicholas Martin have crafted a splendid looking period piece set in New York (but filmed in London) that hits most of the right notes even as their leading character runs afoul of her own musical keys.  Still, there’s a paint-by-the-numbers feeling to it which keeps it awkwardly grounded and merely content with going through the emotional moments.

Yet from the rapturous reception the film received at my screening, it’s clear this is an audience-pleasing picture.  I almost feel like I need to see it again since so many lines were lost to audiences roaring over a previous phrase (which I feel is actually a problem with overall editing…didn’t anyone involved screen this with a crowd first?).  Released at the tail end of summer when more discerning crowds have come in from the summer sun, it’s likely to be a well-timed alternative to the CGI heavy box office fodder that’s hogged many screens at your multiplex.

Streep is, as always, beyond reproach and you can pretty much count on her making another trip to the Kodak theater with another Oscar (and SAG and Golden Globe) nomination under belt.  There’s already a ton of press showing Streep singing well (like in Into the Woods) and praising her bravura bad singing here and it’s nice to find out she did the majority of the singing live.  It can’t have been easy for a trained singer to learn to sing so poorly…but Streep doesn’t merely sing off-key, she’s studied Jenkins and found out WHY she doesn’t sing well and used that to get the sound right.  Her Queen of the Night aria is alone worth the price of admission.

Supporting Streep is a dandy Grant who I hope will also get some Oscar recognition for his work.  A difficult role seeing that he’s a bit of a cad, Grant digs deep and shows that above all else the man he’s portraying truly loved Jenkins even though they couldn’t have the kind of life together that either planned.  Under some old age make-up, Grant remains charming in that aloof sort of way but over the years he’s grown as an actor to temper that aloofness with authenticity.

Aside from Streep and Grant, the other supporting players are a mixed bag.  Helberg’s performance is all overbite…literally.  Though Martin takes some time to flesh out Jenkins long-time pianist, Helberg plays him so slight and twee that I half expected him to fly away at any given moment.  He’s got good chemistry with Streep, though, and that’s all that really matters.  I’ve liked Ferguson and Nina Arianda in other movies but not much here…both play grating women in roles that easily could have been excised, especially Ferguson as Grant’s long-time mistress.

What makes Florence Foster Jenkins something I’d cautiously recommend is the stately way Frears, Martin, and Streep have presented this delusional socialite who performed her final concert to a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall.  Knowing the difference between a characterization that’s eccentric instead of goofy, Streep gives her the requisite dignity without letting her totally off the hook.  Like the overall film and the peculiar woman at its center, it’s an admirable close but no cigar.

The Silver Bullet ~ Florence Foster Jenkins (Trailer #2)

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Synopsis: The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.

Release Date:  May 6, 2016

Thoughts: I’m not prone to posting more than one column dedicated to my thoughts on a preview for a film but I’m making an exception in the case of Florence Foster Jenkins.  This full trailer arrives on the heels of a nice little teaser and gives audiences more to anticipate in this true-life story of a socialite singer who drew thunderous crowds…even though she couldn’t carry a tune with both hands.  I already know that I’m going to like Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) as the deluded dame but I think the real interest here will be around Hugh Grant (Cloud Atlas) who seems to be coming into his second act as an older leading man.  Gone is the foppy haired charming stutterer and in its place is an actor that’s been taking on note-perfect roles as of late.  Directed by Stephen Frears (Philomena), this looks like a pleasant treat.