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Oscars 2010: Art Direction, Costumes, and Makeup

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This edition of my Oscar 2010 breakdown covers a trio of technical categories that involve a good deal of artistry. These categories are also of the kind that, when done well, you don't notice as you will be too involved with the bigger picture. Good art direction, makeup, and costumes will blend into the story so well that while you may remark on how good they are, they do not distract you.

Let's start with art direction. The easiest way I can think of to describe this position is to compare it to cinematography. Cinematography is the way the the sequences look while art direction concerns what is seen during those sequences. It is concerned with authenticity to the story and combines many of the other departments working on the film (like costumes and makeup).

The award itself has been in existence since the original ceremonies, however it was called Interior Decoration and it was won by William Cameron Menzies for both The Dove and Tempest. The award would go through its first evolution towards the one we know today in 1940 when the award was split to accommodate color films as well as black and white. The next stage came with renaming the category in 1947 to Art Direction – Set Decoration. Ten years later the award was combined back into one for a brief period when it was once again split along color lines. The final change came in 1967 and it has stayed that way ever since.

The five nominees for the 2010 prize are: Avatar: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: David Warren, Anastasia Masaro, Caroline Smith; Nine: John Myhre, Gordon Sim; Sherlock Holmes: Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer; The Young Victoria: Patrice Vermette, Maggie Gray.

All of the nominees are quite good, although there are two titles that jump out at me. One is the likely winner and the other is film I would like to see win. But before getting to those two, let's take a look at those I do not believe will win. First is The Young Victoria; quite frankly it just does not excite me. It may be a good film (I haven't seen it) but it does not look any different than other costume dramas I've seen. Next is Nine. I am not quite sure what it is, but while it does look good it does not strike me as great; I think it may be the way it was cut. Finally, Sherlock Holmes has a great sense of fun around it and could have an outside shot.

I guess the remaining titles are pretty easy to guess. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is the movie I want to win. It has a great look combining the modern day with a bygone era with the carriage, not to mention the fantasy world of the Imaginarium. It just has a very unique look and feel. However, the winner will likely be Avatar. The science fiction epic has a great look and design that is a marvel to behold. It is also probably the most involved film with regards to the art direction as much of it had to be created from scratch.

Next up is Best Costume Design. This award was created in 1947 and was awarded to Roger K. Furse for Hamlet for black and white films and to Dorothy Jeakins and Barbara Karinska for Joan of Arc for color films. The awards history mirrors that of Art Direction with the color/black and white separation until 1967.

This year's nominees are: Bright Star: Janet Patterson, Coco avant Chanel: Catherine Leterrier, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Monique Prudhomme, Nine : Colleen Atwood, The Young Victoria : Sandy Powell

I am not sure who will win this category. It doesn't help that I have only seen one of the nominated features. That being true, I am going to try to whittle them down anyway. I am going to discount The Young Victoria, mainly because I am not the biggest fan of the period drama, but also because what little I have seen just did not impress me. Bright Star does not strike me as a winner either, although I know nothing about it. Coco avant Chanel could be a competitor — Audrey Tautou makes all of her costumes look good.

In the end, I suspect that Nine will take the prize. The costume work is very good. Everyone looks great in their stylized costumes in the musical. However, I think a case could be made for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. The Terry Gilliam film has a great look from the worn rags to the stage costumes to those in the Imaginarium. It goes hand in hand with the art direction. There really was nothing quite like it during the year.

I am a little noncommittal in this category, but I am going to come down on the side of Nine to win, although I would not be disappointed by a Parnassus victory.

Finally, let's take a look at Best Makeup. This award came into being in 1981 when An American Werewolf in London won for Rick Baker's great work. Over the years the award has gone to a blend of traditionally dramatic films and genre films, including horror. I am glad to see that this category will occasionally go outside the box and award genre films.

This year's nominees are: Il divo: Aldo Signoretti, Vittorio Sodano; Star Trek: Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, Joel Harlow; The Young Victoria: John Henry Gordon, Jenny Shircore

I have not seen Il divo or The Young Victoria, but I do not want either of them to win. The look of both of these films is very traditional, based on the trailers and a couple of clips. Neither one of them stand out. On the other hand Star Trek takes some chances with its alien creations and with its transformation of Eric Bana. I am hoping this one goes to the science fiction flick.

Be sure to tune in Sunday March 7, 2010 to see who wins!

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