a theatre, film & pop culture review
Basically, I’m going to offer up to you what was both inspiring and beautiful and what looked cheap and ineffectual. And then you’re going to tell me it doesn’t matter because Avatar is going to win it all.
Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.
A little lackluster this year, the Academy was making a definite stretch with its third nominee, The Young Victoria. There’s no exceptional quality to the face paint in that film – it’s your typical royal blush accented with a decent wig, but what do I know? As for that seemingly obvious choice, Star Trek is a bit underwhelming (and not just in regards to its makeup); a few pointy ears and some temporary face tats and you, too, can earn an Oscar-nom! I wish there had been more visual stimulation onboard the Enterprise and less of pretty-boy Chris Pine attempting to look badass.
The most stunning makeup of the three nominees comes from that little Italian movie you’ve never heard of. In Paolo Sorrentino’s super-stylish Il Divo, the distinguished-looking actor Toni Servillo is physically transformed into the jowly, wrinkled, and incredibly hunchbacked Giulio Andreotti. The seven-time Italian Prime Minister Andreottti was tried for Mafia ties as well as for murder, was acquitted for both, and remains a senator for life to this day. Within a fascinating story that is fashionably told with creatively tongue-in-check cinematography and an intriguing score that often consists of staccato notes from a single flute, the makeup is actually the least impressive of the film’s visual qualities. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter: those flashy and uber-popular Romulans are sure to take home the golden statue.
Janet Patterson’s gorgeously detailed period designs have garnered her three nominations in the past (Oscar and Lucinda, The Portrait of a Lady, and The Piano), but never a win; here’s hoping that Bright Star’s refreshingly inventive and vibrantly-hued frocks (all those fabulous flowered and feathered hats! And ruffled collars! And lacy petticoats!) put some gold on her mantle. In the film, John Keats’s love, Fanny Brawne, is an accomplished designer, and so Patterson’s designs are all the more thoughtful, adhering to Fanny’s simultaneously fierce femininity and strength as both a designer and a woman in love. Unfortunately, there’s also a royal in the running for the coveted Oscar: The Young Victoria’s designer, Sandy Powell, has seven nominations and two wins (for Shakespeare in Love and The Aviator) under her belt. The odds are certainly in her favor as Victoria presents another selection of her richly-crafted and resplendent gowns, bejeweled crowns, and sharply adorned soldier uniforms.
Neither Patterson nor Powell need worry about the competition, however: Nine’s glorified – read: tacky, much like the entire film – except for you, Marion Cotillard. You are as gorgeous and classy as ever – lingerie-designs certainly aren’t a threat to either’s chances, and though The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’s costumes offer the only actual imaginative aspect of the entire film, the film’s general wretchedness makes one forget them almost entirely. And while one would think a film about a designer would offer the most impressive set of costumes, the Coco before Chanel ends just where it should begin, with Coco embracing her artistry – no one cares what happened before Chanel, even if charming Audrey Tautou’s the one selling it.
Why even bother to nominate five films? Why not just give Best Art Direction to Avatar right now? The answer to this is simple: purists – those old school chaps who think computer-created design doesn’t quite count (sound familiar, Disney-Pixar?) – are most likely giving their votes to Sherlock Holmes for its grimy, washed-out Victorian vision of London-town. Of course, there’s also the question of distinguishing Art Direction from Special Effects, as Avatar blurs the line so completely that one wonders why there’s not a single award – or even why we don’t just hand over the entire lot of 2010 golden statues to Cameron and crew right now (I’m only slightly kidding when I express my surprise that they didn’t figure out a way to twist the makeup category into a version that would allow for rewarding Avatar just one more time).
I want so desperately to award the inventive District 9 with something, anything, that I nearly put it at the top of my visual effects list. I of course realize the futility (and utter ridiculousness) of that gesture, and so even I must admit that Avatar will not only conquer this category, but deservedly so with its breathtaking visuals, startling detail, and sheer innovation. But District 9: I salute you and your South African alien slums; perhaps if you had been released just a year earlier or later…
Next up: Cinematography and Film Editing