Monday, January 30, 2023

From CDG To The Oscars: The 2023 Best Costume Design Race

Since their inception in 1953 during Hollywood’s golden age, the Costume Designers Guild (CDG) has bolstered a community full of designers and illustrators in the film and television industry. In 1999, the union introduced the Costume Designers Guild Awards to honor the best costume designers’ work in film, among other mediums. The CDG nominations and wins have since become a significant precursor for awards predictions leading up to the Academy Awards. For example, in 2022, Jenny Beavan won her third Oscar (following a CDG win) for her astonishing punk-rock-inspired costumes in Disney’s live-action “Cruella.” The year before that, Ann Roth won her second Oscar (following a CDG win) for her brilliant work in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” While the CDG statistics sometimes line up with AMPAS, the Oscars have matched with CDG more often than not in the last seven years. Many of this year’s costume design contenders have a strong history at the CDG. And the majority of them are in the race for period films, which AMPAS loves to honor.

What sets the CDG apart is that they recognize costume designers in three categories — excellence in contemporary film, period film, and fantasy film. It is not often that AMPAS follows suit with contemporary costume designs. When the Oscars had two categories for Best Costume Design — films in black-and-white and films in color — they had an opportunity to recognize more contemporary work in films such as “A New Kind of Love” (1963) and “The Slender Thread” (1965). Since the merging of both categories in 1967, the Oscars tended to blend period/historical and sci-fi/fantasy films, with a growing preference for honoring the former. The 1970s saw an early rise in repeated period and historical epic winners, with the exception of “Travels with My Aunt” (1972) and “Star Wars” (1977). This trend continued heavily through the 1980s and 90s with fewer exceptions to the period consensus. In 2003, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” reintroduced the fantasy win, and since then, four sci-fi/fantasy films have won the category. Though overall, costume design nominees have been overwhelmingly period pieces in the past two decades alone. 

When period films do miss at the Oscars, it is often a sci-fi/fantasy film that takes its place, as demonstrated by Jenny Beavan in 2015 (“Mad Max: Fury Road“) and Ruth E. Carter in 2018 (“Black Panther“). Both designers are in contention this year for “Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” respectively. If Carter wins a second time, she will be the fifth sci-fi/fantasy costume winner in the last twelve years, continuing the steady uptick in this genre of film being awarded. Over the same period of time, three costume designers received Oscar nominations for contemporary films — Antonella Cannarozzi for “I Am Love” (2010), Mark Bridges for “Joker” (2019), and Mary Zophres for “La La Land” (2016). Bridges and Zophres are back in contention this year for “The Fabelmans” and “Babylon,” respectively. But if anyone can modernize the category with more contemporary pieces this year, the likeliest wouldn’t be a previous winner or nominee but rather newcomers to the Oscars: Jenny Eagan and Shirley Kurata. 

Eagan won three of her six CDG nominations, and among her wins at the guild was “Glass Onion’s” predecessor “Knives Out.” The appearance of Eagan’s costume design for “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” on the BAFTA longlist and a recent Critics Choice Award nomination is a glimmer of possibility. From Daniel Craig’s sharp and striped swimsuit to Kate Hudson’s mesh defeating-the-purpose face mask, the costumes tell you more about the characters. However, the BAFTA’s have an even less recent history of nominating contemporary costumes than AMPAS does. If “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” can swing a BAFTA nomination, it may spark interest among Oscar voters to expand outside period pieces. Of the two likely contemporary design contenders, Shirley Kurata seems to be leading more forward overall with “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”

Given the Daniels’ meta-inspiring film is projected to perform very well on Oscar nomination morning (better than “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” in comparison), we could be hearing Kurata’s name along for the ride. However, it shouldn’t be seen as a case of riding the coattails of success. Kurata’s invigorating work speaks for itself. The costumes in “Everything Everywhere All At Once” are an innovative, energetic burst of creativity that invite you to reimagine worlds in the way the Daniels have achieved with their direction. Kurata would be a richly deserving Oscar nominee and a refreshingly modern change to a historically period-set category. This would also be her first Oscar nomination after she received a CDG nomination in the sci-fi/fantasy category. Both Eagan and Kurata face strong competition among multi-Oscar-nominated heavy hitters in the (period) costume design world.

Considering this year’s contenders, we could be looking at an all-period-piece lineup and one filled entirely by previous Oscar winners/nominees. Among these contenders, some designers have been in the industry for years and could be well on their way to the Oscars as first-time nominees. There is a precedent for newcomers, seen as recently as last year when Paul Tazewell received a nomination for his wonderful work in “West Side Story.” AMPAS matched the CDG four times out of five that year, including a nomination for Tazewell. A distinction to make here is that the four nominated films paralleled the CDG’s period piece lineup, once again showing the resistance to contemporary works. The majority of this year’s potential first-time nominees are in contention for period films, as are the heavy hitters. So, who are some of the designers at the forefront of this race? Let’s take a closer look at five key contenders to start. 

** – Previous Oscar and CDG winner/nominee 

* – Previous CDG winner/nominee

“Elvis” (Catherine Martin)**

From costumes to art direction and production design, Catherine Martin’s work has been celebrated on multiple fronts. She has two Oscars for Best Costume Design — for “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) and “The Great Gatsby” (2013) — and an additional Oscar nomination for “Australia” (2008). At the CDG, she was also nominated for “The Great Gatsby” and now, most recently, again for her work on “Elvis.” Martin is a classic branch favorite whose skill is fully showcased in “Elvis.” This is her sixth feature with her partner and director Baz Luhrmann; their longtime collaboration now has another feather in its cap. Martin had the task of merging historical accuracy without having the effect of the film’s star, Austin Butler, simply wearing ‘Elvis’ costumes.’ The wardrobe charts the life story of a global icon. Therefore, each outfit represents key time periods that tell you everything from Elvis’ rebellious spirit and career moves to the iconography of his Las Vegas jumpsuits. Each conveys how Elvis presented himself to the world and vividly reflects imagery forever instilled in pop culture.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Ruth E. Carter)**

After a historical first Oscar win for “Black Panther,” which made Ruth E. Carter the first Black woman to win Best Costume Design, chances are high for her to receive another Oscar nomination this year for the film’s sequel considering she just recently received another CDG nomination and won the Critics Choice Award in this category. Carter has an additional two Oscar nominations — for “Amistad” (1997) and “Malcolm X” (1992). Plus, she’s a three-time CDG winner, with an additional two CDG nominations — for “Selma” (2014) and “Dolemite Is My Name” (2019). With “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Carter elaborates on her award-winning work and is an incredible testament to how the wardrobes are such a vital part of Wakanda’s detailed world-building. She also incorporates skill in merging fantasy and historical elements, including the underwater civilization of the Talokan. Carter’s detailed dedication to the craft is on full display once again.

“Babylon” (Mary Zophres)**

While the overall Oscar chances of “Babylon” have become a little more touch and go recently, some below-the-line categories that most predictors can agree on include Best Costume Design. “Babylon” marks the third feature collaboration between costume designer Mary Zophres and director Damien Chazelle. Zophres has three Oscar nominations in the category — for “True Grit” (2010), “La La Land” (2016), and “The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs” (2018). She’s also a four-time CDG nominee and won for “La La Land.” Will a new Chazelle film be her road to Oscar glory? With 7,000 costumes between background, speaking parts, and principal cast members, Zophres tackles an epic old Hollywood period piece. From Margot Robbie’s fiery red entrance to the sheer volume of the wardrobe changes throughout, Zophres’ ambition shines. The genre certainly fits the bill of what the Oscars tend to award, and with another CDG nomination under her belt, she could be looking for another Oscar nomination.

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” (Jenny Beavan)**

Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris” is in the Oscar race for exactly one category. But when that category is Best Costume Design, the designer in question is three-time Oscar winner Jenny Beavan, and the costumes have their own spotlight in the film, a nomination makes perfect sense. Beavan is beloved in the branch, with a total of 11 Oscar nominations. She’s also an eight-time CDG nominee with three wins for “The King’s Speech” (2010), “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), and “Cruella.” In “Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris,” star Lesley Manville takes a front-row seat to a showcase of Beavan’s talent at a recreated 1950s Dior fashion show. Not only does Beavan succeed at giving haute couture in many beautiful designs, but her work plays an effective part in how the film’s story unfolds. Mrs. Harris’ trip is spurred by a Dior dress she falls in love with, and that sparkling piece of wardrobe catches your eye instantly. 

“The Woman King” (Gersha Phillips)*

Of the categories Gina Prince-Bythwood’s incredible historical epic “The Woman King” is contending for, two seem to be the likeliest predictions: Best Actress (Viola Davis) and Best Costume Design. Gersha Phillips is a four-time CDG nominee, and “The Woman King” would mark her first Oscar nomination, deservingly so. Phillips had the task of creating a historically accurate and expressive wardrobe through character movement. Set in the 1800s, the story of “The Woman King” follows a group of all-female Agojie warriors fighting to protect the African Kingdom of Dahomey. From the movability of the designs to the detailed accessories, Phillips’ detailed work is a remarkable building of character. The historical epic is a much-favored genre in the costume design category and can bode well for Phillips to become a first-time nominee. 

Ten more films that are in contention:

All Quiet On The Western Front” (Lisy Christi)*
The Banshees Of Inisherin” (Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh)
“The Batman” (Jacqueline Durran)**
Corsage” (Monika Buttinger)
Don’t Worry Darling” (Arianne Phillips)**
Everything Everywhere All At Once” (Shirley Kurata)
The Fabelmans” (Mark Bridges)**
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (Jenny Eagan)*
Living” (Sandy Powell)**
The Northman” (Linda Muir)

The 2023 Costume Designers Guild nominees have already been announced, and Ruth E. Carter has already won the Critics Choice Award for Best Costume Design, while “Elvis” leads the precursors in overall wins. The BAFTA nominations will be announced tomorrow and will help us clear up more in this category as we look toward this year’s Oscar nominations on January 24th. Considering the Oscar track record, the CDG’s excellence in a contemporary film may be destined to become a wish list of what could have modernized the category more as films such as “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” and “Women Talking” showed up but are still fighting for an Oscar nomination.

Both the CDG’s and the Oscars share an affinity for inviting the same people back. Since the 2010’s alone, we’ve had four designers win two Oscars each: Jenny Beavan, Colleen Atwood, Mark Bridges, and Jacqueline Durran. And funnily enough, they’re all in the running again this year. In addition to all the heavy hitters in contention for Best Costume Design, hopeful first-time Oscar nominees have emerged, with films gaining more traction by the day, such as “All Quiet On The Western Front.” If the war film’s costume designer Lisy Christi shows up at the BAFTAs tomorrow in what will surely be a competitive period-driven race, she’ll be one small step closer to gold. Of the three costume design categories at the CDG, excellence in period film is always the leading precursor. Not only is period film where the majority of this year’s contenders fall under, but it’s also where the majority of previous Oscar winners/nominees are. Here are my predicted picks for this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Costume Design:

  1. Elvis” (Catherine Martin)
  2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Ruth E. Carter)
  3. The Woman King” (Gersha Phillips)
  4. Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris” (Jenny Beavan)
  5. Babylon” (Mary Zophres)
  6. The Fabelmans” (Mark Bridges)
  7.  “Living” (Sandy Powell)
  8. Corsage” (Monika Buttinger)
  9. Everything Everywhere All At Once” (Shirley Kurata)
  10. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (Jenny Eagan)

Will the Oscar lineup continue to favor a combination of period, historical epic, and sci-fi/fantasy costume designs? Or will 2023 be the year contemporary costumes break through? Or is this category a question of how many branch favorites will be invited back and whether a first-time nominee can make an appearance? Whichever the case, Benoit Blanc’s swimsuit is making my 2023 wardrobe wish list. What do you think will be nominated for Best Costume Design at this year’s Academy Awards? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here.

Nadia Dalimonte
Nadia Dalimonte
Editor In Chief for Earth to Films. Film Independent, IFS Critics, NA Film Critic & Cherry Pick member.

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