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 ~ Jackie

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Billy Crudup, Max Casella

Director: Pablo Larraín

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: I’ve found that the mention of the Kennedy clan is, at this point in American culture, met with either exhaustion or adulation.  Countless documentaries have been made over the years and it seems like a new and noteworthy book finds its way to shelves every other month.  That doesn’t even count the movies.  So, suffice it to say, the woes of the Kennedy’s are known and easily accessible to anyone that cares to investigate further.

So why Jackie and why now?  We’ve seen the first lady portrayed on screens big and small (and even on stage in a one-woman show) but we’ve never seen it quite like this before.  Taking a page from recent biopics that focus on one small window of time in the life of a historical figure, Jackie is an exceedingly engaging film that welcomes us to stare and gawk at the tragedy that changed the direction of our nation.

Jumping back and forth and around and through the events leading up to Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas and its aftermath, Noah Oppenheim’s screenplay pulls the attention away from the president to focus on Jackie herself and how her grief revealed a woman bolder and stronger than even her closest allies realized.  Chilean director Pablo Larraín may be an out of the box choice for this American as apple pie film but perhaps being un-enamored with the legendary Kennedy family was needed to tell this tale with such uprightness.

As Jackie, Natalie Portman (Thor: The Dark World) gives the performance of her career and gets my vote for Best Actress of 2016 for the way she buries herself in the role.  The funny thing is, you always know it’s Portman but you see and hear Jackie through and through.  I was worried that her pronounced Kennedy accent would be a distraction and, honestly, it is but mostly because no one else in the cast rises to the same level of technicality in their work.  Even so, the performance is bravely honest when it shows Jackie at her most brusquely direct and emotionally powerful when she lets her guard down and her sorrow bleeds through. Here is a woman that knew the power of media (visual and print) and made a point to stay in the public eye in the days after the assassination so no one would forget the price she and her children paid.  Though Portman is featured in gorgeous costumes and is always pristine (even when covered in blood), the performance lacks any kind of vanity.  Truly exceptional work is on display here.

With a leading role sketched with such skill, the supporting characters need to be on point too and for the most part Jackie’s support staff get the job done.  Greta Gerwig (Mistress America) is nicely understated as a White House staffer/confidant, Billy Crudup (Spotlight) plays a fictionalized reporter Oppenheim uses as a framing device and serves as the voice of the people, and John Hurt (Only Lovers Left Alive) turns up late in the film as a priest attending to Jackie’s questions of faith.  The only major disappointment is Peter Sarsgaard (The Magnificent Seven) sonorously taking on Bobby Kennedy with neither the accent, looks, or charm that is profoundly needed.  Sarsgaard sticks out like a sore, unconvincing thumb…especially in scenes featuring him with Jackie and JFK.

Along with Madeline Fontaine’s glorious costumes and Jean Rabasse’s beautifully articulate production design, Mica Levi (Under the Skin) has composed a most unusual and original score that you’re either going to love or hate.  Nearly always conveying a mood that is opposite to what is happening on screen, it gives another layer of depth to feature film about a family possessing public vs private personas that often are in competition with each other.

Audiences going to see another recreation of JFK’s assassination or conspiracy surrounding it are advised to steer clear as Jackie is about the woman behind the president and the storm she weathered behind closed White House doors while she remained strong in public for a nation in mourning

The Silver Bullet ~ Jackie

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Synopsis: Following the assassination of her husband, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

Release Date: December 2, 2016

Thoughts: No matter how much people try to predict it, the Oscar season is always filled with twists and turns. A few months ago, Jackie wasn’t even on the radar for many pundits but it’s sneaking in at the last minute and could upset an already full Best Actress pool.  Oscar winner Natalie Portman’s (Thor: The Dark World) performance of the former first lady is getting raves but I’m already seeing the late night sketch shows parodying her Jackie accent. She’s dead-on with it, no question, but it takes a while to get used to. Co-starring Peter Sarsgaard (The Magnificent Seven), Greta Gerwig (Mistress America), Billy Crudup (Spotlight), and John Carroll Lynch (Hot Pursuit), look for Jackie to be part of the conversation as we move toward peak award season buzz.