And The Winners Are! 2019 Edition

Nominees for Best Achievement in Costume Design.

The Votes are in and here are the nominees in a category that is very close to my heart: Best Achievement in Costume Design. This year the nominees are all veterans of the awards season. There are two former recipients and perennial nominees.

And the Winners Are 2019

Ruth E. Carter: Black Panther

Ruth E. Carter has been active since the early 80’s and her body of work encompasses the costumes of almost every film genre. A multiple Oscar nominee, she has worked with top notch directors such as Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay and Steven Spielberg. This body of work has reached its zenith with her innovative designs for the film “Black Panther”. 

The genre of science fiction is one that I personally feel is unfairly over looked when it comes to recognition from The Academy. Not to disparage the other nominees, because their efforts also merit recognition. But, Oscar nominations tend to favor historical dramas and it always pains me when I see science fiction or fantasy films get passed over in that category. Because for a historical costume drama one only needs to look at a history book for the interpretation of the characters through design. But for a science fiction or fantasy film, the costume designer relies only on their imagination. And believe me, that can be a tall order. Francis Coppola said once that a costume designer tells the story through the wardrobe and when the story is purely hypothetical, that’s where real creative genius kicks in.

Mary Zophres: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Mary Zophres is also a multiple Oscar nominee and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is her 14th collaboration with the Coen Brothers. Their films all have “a look” about them and it’s obvious that the entire Art Department works very hard to create a cohesive vision. Like some of her previous efforts such as “The Big Lebowski”, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” displays all of the quirky costuming conceits associated the Coen Brothers films. 

Here, the characters are defined by the costumes they wear. To quote Ms. Zophres: “This was like designing for six different leads with six different backgrounds”. She was particularly challenged in the creation of an amputee costume for one character. The character was not an amputee and the Coen Brothers do not always rely on CGI for special effects. So she cleverly created a shirt with four sleeves to give the illusion of being armless and allowing the actor to hide his limbs without resorting to “Cinema Verité”. 

Alexandra Byrne: Mary, Queen of Scots 

Alexandra Byrne, a former Oscar winner (Elizabeth, The Golden Age) and perennial nominee, brings a touch of fantasy to an equally fantastical film. I try to avoid movies dealing with the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth II. Mostly because of their inaccuracies. Yes, it’s a screenwriters wet dream to write a script featuring these two hellcats chewing up the scenery. The fact is they never met! And unfortunately this film steps into the same historical dog pile with the hems of the costumes dragging though.

I am not sure if the following fabric choice was due to budgetary and/or creative license, but all of the costumes were built from denim. A fabric that did not even exist at that time!. I applaud the Art Department by trying to be edgy, but honestly, it does not work. The use of this fabric as a base for all the costumes winds up giving the movie a dreary, monotonous look. 

One last abuse of creative license with really has nothing to do with costumes but it’s something that always burns my toast: Yes, Mary Stuart was born in Scotland, yes, she was queen of this country. But her Mother (Marie de Guise) was French and Mary was sent to live at the French court at the age of 5, where she lived for 14 years. More than likely her first language would have been French. So why, why, why is she always portrayed speaking with a thick Scottish Burr? So if anything, she probably would have spoken English with a French accent, n’est-ce pas? Oh yes and Memo to the Hair & Makeup Department: Mary Stuart had brown eyes, not blue. Saoirse Ronan has lovely baby-blues and perhaps they wanted to match the denim.

In short, if this movie is awarded in this category, I will stab myself in the eye with a fork and broadcast it on this blog. 

But I don’t want to waste this post by trashing her work. Alexandra Byrne also designed the costumes for the popular “Dr. Strange” for which she was passed over in 2016. This only reinforces my theory about the shortsightedness of the Academy and the way that science fiction and fantasy are ignored. 

Sandy Powell: Mary Poppins Returns & The Favourite


Once again, Sandy Powell pulls double duty with a double nomination for “Mary Poppins Returns” & “The Favourite”. Statistically speaking, this double nomination will also increase  her chances to grab the statue, as was the case with her double whammy nomination in 2000 for “Velvet Goldmine” and “Shakespeare in Love” and then again in 2015 for “Carol” and “Cinderella”. She has won the prize for “Shakespeare in Love”, “The Aviator” and “The Young Victoria”. 

In “Mary Poppins” she employs whimsical techniques such as hand painting the costumes for the CGI scenes in order to achieve a more even color palette. For “The Favourite” she relies on a muted palate to echo the elegant interiors of the baroque era. 

Of all of this year’s nominees, she is probably the most accomplished. Sandy Powell is one of those creative artists whose creations are so visually powerful, that sometimes they can overpower the actor’s performance. I’m thinking specifically of Jonathon Rees-Meyers playing the “Bowie” role in “Velvet Goldmine”. Anyone who had the privilege to see Bowie perform in his lifetime knows that Bowie was a natural performer who wore his costumes with panache. In “Velvet Goldmine” is appeared as if the costumes were wearing Jonathan Rees Meyers. Thankfully, the strong performances of Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppeins” and the female Trifecta in “The Favourite” worked well with the beautiful costumes. 

Sandy Powell’s creative inspiration sees her on the fast track to inherent the double crowns of the late Eiko Ishioka and Edith Head. 

All Nominees are Winners but for my money the Oscar should go to: 

Ruth E. Carter, “Black Panther”.



“ A Wrinkle in Time”

Why was this movie not nominated?

The film showcases the beautiful femcentric designs of Paco Delgado.

Memo to the Academy: 

Please get your collective heads out of your asses 

and nominate more science fiction/fantasy movies!

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Costume Drama!


Costume Drama 2016!

Well who knew? 2016 is almost a memory and the Awards Season is just around the corner. That can only mean that its time for the studios to release their ‘Oscar Worthy’ films and that of course means plenty of Costume Dramas for us to sink our teeth into. Let’s start by reviewing some of the major releases although there are tons more that time or space won’t allow me to cover. That will just have to wait for my annual newsletter ‘And the Winners Are..’ which is usually released right after the nominations.

So let’s begin with:

Magnificent Seven
Magnificent Seven

‘The Magnificent 7’
OK, so how many times are they going to recycle ‘7 Samurai’? Personally I prefer Akiro Kurosawa’s original but anything starring Denzel Washington deserves my attention. So here I would like to address the costumes designed by veteran Sharen Davis. Share already has some western cowboy credits having worked with Tarantino in ‘Django Unchained’, and in ‘Magnificent 7’ she does not disappoint; I liked how her use of muted colors to highlight the gang of seven was much like the samurai costumes in the original, but at the same time giving each character their own individual costuming conceit. For example, the Vincent D’Onofrio character’s almost elizabethan looking vest and Denzel’s black on black ensemble. Sharen Davies received an Oscar nomination for her costumes in ‘Django’, so let’s see if the fates smile down on her this awards season.

The Handmaiden


‘The Handmaiden’
WOW! This is on my ‘must see’ list and I wish the film would hurry up and make its way out here. It’s not in general release yet, so I may have to drive out to Austin just to see it. ‘The Handmaiden’ is based on a novel by the same name and the story revolves around the relationship between a wealthy heiress and her personal maid. Ok so the story has been told before but not as it’s interpreted by Director Park Chan-woo. This erotic thriller is set in 1930’s Korea and presents luscious sets and costume combining western and eastern aesthetics. Costume Designer Sang-gyeong Jo creates the most exquisite ‘costume porn’ that I have ever seen since ‘The Cell’. So far, Jo has only collaborated on a few previous project with Park and I hope that this breakthrough movie serves as a stepping stone to bigger and greater things. The Envelope Please!

Dr Strange
Dr Strange

‘Dr. Strange’
So far of all the films presented here, this has to be my personal favorite. Of course not having seen ‘The Handmaiden’, so that may change. In spite of the obnoxiously bad 3D, this movie was fun to watch and featured so many occult allusions that after the movie ended, I had to run home and brush up on my ‘Key of Solomon.’ But the costumes by Alexandra Byrne are what make the movie shine.Dr Strange’s Magical Cape alone is worth the price of admission and should get a nomination for ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’. It’ll be the first time an article of clothing would receive that recognition and deservedly so. Bad puns aside, the Magic Cape is a ‘stand alone’ performance. Ms. Byrne is a veteran of the Marvel franchise, having designed costumes for ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Thor’. Good Job!

Fantastic Serafina

‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’
The Harry Potter franchise returns and perennial Oscar nominee/winner Designer Colleen Atwood is in charge of the Costumes once again. Being that this is such a moneymaker for Warner Brothers, Ms. Atwood plays it safe in the wardrobe interpretation but there are some standouts like Seraphina Picquery’s lovely tunic pictured here. There is no doubt in my mind that Colleen Atwood will receive another Oscar nomination but whether she actually gets it is another story. I am keeping my fingers crossed for ‘The Handmaiden’ or ‘Dr. Strange’.

Assassins Creed

‘The Assassins Creed’
Welcome to the Spanish Inquisition! NOT! Finally, the video games make it to the big screen and like they used to say before the ‘Auto de Fe’, you can’t keep a good Borgia down. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon is a bit of a newcomer here, having started her career in showbiz as an actress but shifted her efforts to working behind the camera. I did a quick IMDB search for her and discovered that her first design effort was for ‘V for Vendetta’ which ostensibly makes her the mother of the Guy Fawkes mask! Who’da thunk it? Well, this broad has just earned my total RESPECT! Unfortunately no amount of string pulling with my contacts in the industry was able to get me a preview of ‘Assassins Creed’ so I guess that I will have to stand in line with all of the lesser mortals when this film goes into general release of December 21st.



This film is a parable on a ‘Post Dallas’ Jackie. Natalie Portman rocks the ‘Locust Valley Lockjaw’ accent playing the widowed First Lady trying to put her life in order following the assignation of her husband. First time designer for a major American film is French costume designer Madeline Fontaine who’s previous credits include ‘Amelie’ and ‘ Asterix at the Olympics’ (really). To her credit she did a good job replicating Jackie’s pink suit worn in Dallas, her widow’s weed’s for the Presidential funeral, telling Jackie’s story through her wardrobe. For the record, I would just like to clarify one thing here and now: Contemporary fashion pundits are saying that the pink suit she wore in Dallas was designed by Chanel. That is WRONG! The suit was actually a Chanel knock off designed by American Designer (and FIT professor emeritus, Pauline Trigere).
The actual worn by JKO is now locked away in the National archives where it will stay out of the public eye until the year 2103.


In this new release from Martin Scorcese, veteran production crew member Dante Ferretti, pulls double duty as both Production Designer AND Costume Designer. This is quite an undertaking for the average mortal. But he has done so in the past for other Scorsese projects such as ‘Kundun’. Looking at the publicity image provided by Paramount Studios, it’s safe to say that only an Italian can manage to make a Jesuit priest look sexy!

Do I smell an Oscar for any of these efforts?

We’ll see when the AMPAS nominations are announced on

January 24, 2017!

Till then, Happy Viewing!

But wait, there’s more!

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