2018 Academy Award Oscar Nominees

This year’s Oscar nominations for best costume design didn’t surprise me much because there weren’t many films to choose from – 2018 wasn’t a year for genres that lend themselves to costume design. I can only think of three other films that could have been nominated: BlacKKKlansmanBohemian Rhapsody, and, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Mary Zophres

Only one nomination surprised me and that was Mary Zophres for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. I was surprised because I had never heard of this Coen brothers film. Turns out it was a Netflix release, so I watched it last night and the costuming was fine but nothing made my heart race because of its artistic vision or authentic recreation. In fact, the costuming was loose – sometimes made for comedic effect and at other times for authenticity. The part about the wagon train, pictured above, is supposed to be set some time just after 1872, according to a conversation in the film, but the costuming looks earlier, and wagon trains were pretty much done by the Civil War.

The Favourite – Sandy Powell

Mary Queen of Scots, costumed by Alexandra Byrne, and The Favourite, costumed by Sandy Powell, are both beautiful looking films but they distort history by ignoring authenticity. Both these stories are about actual people and actual events, but in these days of ‘truthiness’ and alternative facts there is little regard for authenticity (and so help me God I will smack the first person who says ‘but it’s not a documentary’.)

Mary Queen of Scots – Alexandra Byrne

Don’t get me wrong, the costumes are beautiful. If either of these films had been plays at our local Stratford Festival I would have thrilled over the costumes. But these aren’t festival stage plays, they are multi-million dollar films with teams of professionals, celebrities, location shoots, and time to take and retake scenes until they are perfect… They squandered the opportunity to make something more than just a pretty pastiche based on a colour palette and mood board.

Mary Poppins – Sandy Powell

Sandy Powell was also nominated for The Return of Mary Poppins. The only film I have yet to see, but what I saw in trailers and stills looks fine. This is a musical fantasy, so the costuming can be whatever the designer and the Disney/Mary Poppins universe wants.

Black Panther – Ruth Carter

The final nominee is Ruth Carter for Black Panther. I am not a ‘super-hero’ genre fan (unless it has a talking raccoon), and I thought this movie was particularly awful, although the costuming was the best part of the movie (it was the plot and dialogue I hated.) Ruth Carter, who is somewhat new to costume design, shopped all of Africa for design inspiration and left no tool in her bag when she created the costumes. There were ‘too many notes’ in the cluttered designs as well as some cheap fabric choices – a white athleisure net dress, and some baggy kneed leggings on the female guards come to mind – so not my favourite…

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – Jenny Beavan (best in show….)

I will make no prediction of who will win this year because I don’t know – I guess Mary Poppins would be my choice if I had to pick from the nominations, but if I could pick who I think did amazing work I would have to go with the un-nominated Jenny Beavan for her costuming in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to 2018 Academy Award Oscar Nominees

  1. Nancy Nichols says:

    Thanks for your terrific posts — I was dismayed at the restricted and non-historic fabrics in Favourite, tho I agree it would’ve made a stunning look for a stage play. (I understand money was a factor, also the difficulty in getting reasonably priced luxe fabrics, something I am feeling as a stage costumer.) The long views of each outfit were far more impactful to my eye than the close ups. I’m not a historian, or historic fashion expert, so I can’t comment on the buster Scruggs choices, except to say that there were still some kind of wagon trains at the end of the 19th century — my grandma was a toddler on the wagon driven by her mother and older brother in 1893 from Nebraska to western Oregon. Don’t know if it was a Prairie Schooner, or just a flatbed wagon, but it was drawn by mules. Perhaps it was a last gasp, so to speak? (There was a railroad, but great grandma cashed in her tickets for the cheaper option). Fortunately nobody in the family died along the way! Again, thanks – I always look forward to your posts!

    • Jonathan says:

      You’re right there were people settling west by wagon until the end of the 19th century. I just thought the aesthetic they were drawing on had an ‘Oregon Trail’ type feel to it of the 1840s and 1850s, so that was why I was surprised when they referred to 1872 in conversation…

      I know money gets called all the time for reasons to take short cuts in period films and that’s a valid point, but why is it always the aesthetics that get their budgets slashed first!

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