Wednesday, February 9, 2011

OSCARS: Best Art Direction – Costume Design – Make-Up

Winner - 1984 Amadeus
Best Art Direction - Costume Design - Make-Up
The form and function of cinematic mise-en-scene (visual style) has been a crucial, yet evolving element of filmmaking from the very beginning. Incorporating all elements of artistic cinematic expression, including cinematography, and to a lesser extent, editing, the mise-en-scene focuses primarily on all things in front of the camera, creating the world that we see in the film. Set design and decorating, use of space and lighting, costume design and make up all fall into this broad category of art direction, or production design. Throughout the years this broad category has been gradually divided and recognized for the specific contribution that each department makes to the overall production of their particular film. Just like cinematography, the awards for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design were split for a period of time between black and white productions, and color ones. Achievements in make-up, although present since the silent era (NOTE: Lon Chaney, dubbed “The Man of 1,000 Faces”), went unnoticed by the Academy for the better part of the century.

Initially the Academy Awards only honored art direction, which between 1928 and 1946 was known as “Best Interior Decoration.” It was twenty years before they created a competitive category for costume design in 1948. With the exception of two Special Achievement Oscars, one for William J. Tuttle’s work on 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) and another for John Chambers on Planet of the Apes (1968) there was no award honoring achievements in make-up until the early 1980s. These three awards, although similar in origin and function, each has their own unique qualities and aspects.

Best Art Direction (1928 – Present)
The award for Best Art Direction is actually a split award, honoring both achievements in the field of art direction and set decoration. It is only since 1947 that the two areas have been recognized. From time to time one or the other departments will be solely honored, but they usually appear in conjunction. Because they are so closely related it is convenient to pair them together. The art director is essentially in charge of all tangible and intangible visualizations in the film and works very closely with the other departments to make sure they are all on the same page. They work particularly close with the set decorator, who is in charge of creating, building, furnishing, and basically decorating the sets. Together they are responsible for establishing and maintaining the visual tone of the film.

Winner - 1990 Dick Tracy
Best Art Direction - Best Make-Up

The award for Best Art Direction is typically given to films that are either historically accurate, such as Titanic (1997), Gandhi (1982) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) or artistically flamboyant like, Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Dick Tracy (1990). Of the five contenders competing this year, the award will most likely go to either Alice in Wonderland (2010) or True Grit (2010). Both films are visually engaging based on their premises alone. There is a chance that The King’s Speech (2010) could snake it on the historically accurate angle, but True Grit has just what its title specifies, “grit.” There is simply more atmosphere present and variables to consider in a western than in an interior oriented British drama.

This year's nominees for Best Art Direction:
Robert Stromberg (Art Director) & Karen O’Hara (Set Decorator)– Alice in Wonderland
Eve Stewart (A.D.) & Judy Farr (S.D.) – The King's Speech
Stuart Craig (A.D.) & Stephenie McMillian (S.D.) – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Guy Hendrix Dyas (A.D.) & Larry Dias & Doug Mowat (S.D.) - Inception
Jess Gonchor (A.D.) & Nancy Haigh (S.D.) – True Grit

Best Costume Design (1948 – Present)
Nothing lends authenticity to a picture like quality costumes. Being able to capture an essence through material is an amazing feat. Not only does it give the actors something to enhance their performance, but it also transports audiences through time, space and other dimensions. A lot of times its not the design that is awarded but the volume of costumes present. For example, Batman (1989) won for it’s art direction, and the costumes were a large part of creating that atmosphere, but there were only three real costumes: Batman, the Joker, and his henchmen. The design is what makes the costumes stand out, but it is the wardrobe as a whole that is usually awarded.

Another recurring element in the Best Costume category coincides with the Best Art Direction category: films nominated tend to be historically accurate. Case in point, this year the Academy chose to ignore Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010). The entire visual concept of the film is based on elegance and aesthetics. Granted, it wasn’t a period piece, but the costume design was inventive, stylistic and original. Period piece films, such as The King’s Speech, which is nominated for costume design, are really an insult to designers. Being historically accurate when it comes to costumes is great for art direction, but in terms of design they aren’t breaking new ground. They are working from documented material and replicating reality. The work has essentially already been done for them, so there is little to no inspiration in that design.

This year's nominees for Best Costume Design:
Colleen Atwood – Alice in Wonderland
Jenny Beavan – The King's Speech
Antonella Cannarozzi – I Am Love
Sandy Powell – The Tempest
Mary Zophres – True Grit

Best Make-Up (1981 – Present)
When the Academy finally created the category in 1981, it allowed for some remarkable talents to get recognized for their contribution to the craft of filmmaking. For too long, iconic images and characters had gone unnoticed for their visual manifestation. Three generations of filmmakers and artists were neglected for their achievements. The entire golden age of cinema, including the classic monster movies from Universal Pictures (Phantom of the Opera (1925), Frankenstein (1931)) have no historical accolades, not that they are needed. In all cases of great make-up, the work speaks for itself. In fact, it was a black and white film featuring a deformed, monstrous being that led to the invention of the category. When Christopher Tucker’s work on The Elephant Man (1980) went unrecognized the Academy received a ton of complaints, resulting in a Best Make-Up category the following year.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the category. Coincidently the leading recipient in this category is nominated for a film whose content echoes not only his first award, but the first award given in the category as well. “Make up artist and creature creator, Rick Baker,” was the first winner in this category for his unprecedented work on An American Werewolf in London (1981). His work on The Wolfman (2010) takes a completely different approach to his earlier efforts and the competition is pretty thin by comparison.

This year's nominees for Best Make-Up:
Adrien Morot – Barney’s Version
Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk & Yolanda Toussieng– The Way Back
Rick Baker & Dave Elsey – The Wolfman

These three categories tend to flock together in terms of winners, with make-up being the wild card exception. It is interesting to note that there is also a strong correlation between best costume winners and best picture winners.

-       Nominating The Addams Family (1991) and 12 Monkeys (1995). – Best Costume Design
-       Beginning with An American Werewolf in London in 1981, through Quest for Fire (1982), Mask (1985), The Fly (1986) and continuing through to Beetlejuice (1988), the majority of the 1980s. – Best Make-Up

-       The aforementioned snub of Black Swan (2010). – Best Costume Design
-       Driving Miss Daisy (1989) beating The Adventures of Barron Munchausen (1989). – Best Make-Up

Loser - 1980 The Elephant Man
Best Art Direction - Costume Design - Make-Up

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