Awards Watch – Underestimating Modern Costume Design

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Awards analysis is provided by Sean from @MathTeacherMovies.

It’s no secret that the Oscars have the reputation of being snobbish with much more stuffy movies winning awards and popular modern movies falling by the wayside. This is the most present in one particular category; Costume Design. Looking back at both the winners and nominees of the past twenty years, the Costume award has been awarded to period pieces, science fiction, or fantasy movies. The type of movie that costume design never goes to is a movie that is set in the modern setting. 

It has become almost a cliche that when there’s a trailer to a movie with elaborate costumes told in a different time we say, “Well there goes Best Costume Design” and most of the time we are right. However, there is a subtlety and a beauty to the modern day costume and it’s a shame that it is frequently overlooked.  

Cruella, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Little Women, Black Panther, Phantom Thread, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina, The Artist, Alice in Wonderland are the past winners of Best Costume Design which follow this trend of fantasy movies and period pieces in addition to the majority of the nominees.

One exception was La La Land which was a well deserved nominee for Best Costume Design as the dresses had the color and vibrancy of the music and also helped define the characters and the setting without having to be flashy or fantastical.  

When thinking of great costume design in a modern setting, it’s difficult for any specific examples to stand out because we are used to this clothing in the everyday world. However, there are still costume designers and they work to meticulously construct costumes for the characters and the story with specific choices.

One of the most popular recent standouts in modern costume design was Knives Out. Everyone talks about Chris Evans’s character’s sweater which works for his posh and pretentious existence. In addition, the entire family shows their villainous characters through their sometimes subtle and frequently loud style. 

Sideways is a film that has a much more subtle style in its costuming but the way the two lead characters are presented and structured are also given dress that reflects that way giving them their different attitudes toward life but also with both of them heading in the same direction. 

Pulp Fiction is an obvious classic film, but the iconic suits should have also been given an opportunity to receive a costume nomination. Jerry Maguire’s costume design was a bit less iconic but the different suits worn said a lot about the different characters and helped establish the setting of the movie.  

Erin Brokovich would not be as famous without the character design from her costumes and while Julia Roberts performance brings the character to light, the costuming is truly what made her character the most known.

The costumes that take place in the modern age don’t have to be subtle and could be loud and boisterous and even help with the comedy of the movie; this is the case with Never Been Kissed and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. 

It is a shame that costume designs from movies that take place in the modern world don’t get attention from the Academy and it doesn’t seem like that problem will ever be fixed as the period pieces and science fiction fantasy costumes always stand out more. 

Follow Sean on Instagram at @MathTeacherMovies

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