Oscars 2011: Best Art Direction, Costumes and Makeup

How easily we can forget the importance of these three categories. While some sets, costumes and makeup design stand out to us as breathtakingly impressive — especially in the genres of fantasy and science fiction — in the case of most films, it’s about creating the illusion of a specific place and time.

Science fiction must utilize these elements to rivet our imagination and make us believe that an imaginary time or place actually exists, hence “Avatar” winning Best Art Direction last year. For a historical drama, if the audience notices so much as one chink in the accuracy of a film, the illusion is shattered. These are two different challenges, but both hold heavy weight at the Academy Awards

Best Achievement in Art Direction

  • “Alice in Wonderland” – Robert Stromberg, Karen O’Hara
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1” – Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
  • “The King’s Speech” – Eve Stewart, Judy Farr
  • “Inception” – Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
  • “True Grit” – Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haighland

A nice balance exists in this category this year. Fantasy and science fiction have a majority grip on the nominees with “The King’s Speech” the lone European period piece contender. “True Grit” provides a rare period Western entry that should not be overlooked either.

In terms of awards experience, Robert Stromberg returns after his win for “Avatar” last year, but as interesting as “Alice in Wonderland” was from a purely visual perspective, there’s too much good competition. Stuart Craig and Stephenie McMillan are two very celebrated art directors/set decorators, but their work on “Harry Potter” has yet to receive an Oscar. It’s hard to imagine with one more installment left that they should be considered favorites.

Despite all their work with the Coens, Gonchor and Haighland finally get nominated for “True Grit,” which had a clean, strong look to it, but if a period piece is going to win it’s “The King’s Speech.” If the Academy loves this film so much, it’s hard to envision this not being one of the technical awards it wins. Some of the sets were simply beautiful and very catching.

Hard to fathom not giving “Inception” this award considering the design of these “dreamscapes,” but with a visual effects Oscar likely coming in, I think it’s likely to get cheated.

Prediction: “The King’s Speech”

Best Achievement in Costume Design

  • “Alice in Wonderland” – Colleen Atwood
  • “I Am Love” – Antonella Cannarozzi
  • “The King’s Speech” – Jenny Beaven
  • “The Tempest” – Sandy Powell
  • “True Grit” – Mary Zophres

Where to even begin with this category. For one thing, Sandy Powell and Colleen Atwood are nominated every single year, no matter what films they do. Powell won the Oscar last year and in one of my favorite speeches of the ceremony, dedicated her award to those who don’t design for “films about dead monarchs or glittery musicals.” Every year, that’s who gets recognition and that’s why nine-time Oscar nominee Jenny Beaven has to be the odds-on favorite to win for “The King’s Speech.”  Beaven one only once previously in 1985 for “A Room with a View.”

Classy Italian period piece “I Am Love” looks intriguing as well for this reason. This was Cannarozzi’s first nomination, but we’ve seen lots of other movies that fit the Academy’s tastes like an 19th Century glove that don’t have the weight or the attention who miss out on the statuette. “The Tempest” is another such film. Julie Taymor’s films usually get costume recognition, but a Taymor/Powell collaboration is an automatic nomination regardless, just not necessarily a contender.

If a film will upset “The King’s Speech,” it will be “Alice in Wonderland” because of Atwood. The costumes were probably the best part of the film and certainly the whole look of the Mad Hatter was astounding, even if the character didn’t live up to it.

Prediction: “The King’s Speech”

Best Achievement in Makeup

  • “Barney’s Version” – Adrien Morot
  • “The Way Back” – Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
  • “The Wolfman” – Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

You might be thinking “The Wolfman,” for real? and you might be justified in thinking that from an overall movie quality standpoint, but Rick Baker is a makeup legend, winning his first of six Oscars for “An American Werewolf in London.” If you can say nothing else, the guy knows how to do werewolves. He even won an Oscar for the movie version of “Harry and the Hendersons.”

Morot’s nomination for “Barney’s Version” fits Academy’s tendency to award films that age their characters/span a whole lifetime, but Morot is a newcomer to Oscar territory. Henriques has been nominated for “Master and Commander” and “The Cell” previously. Ultimately, however, AMPAS will be thrilled to honor one of the all-time greats.

Prediction: “The Wolfman”


  1. Mandy says:

    I agree that the AMPAS will choose someone like Rick Baker to win makeup even though it’s not worthy of winning in comparison to the other two. Adrien Morot did beautiful aging makeups using prosthetics and no one could tell. Very well done indeed. I thought Paul Giamatti had gained weight for the part but when I read some interviews, turned out it was done using hand laid hair for beards and prosthetics for faces. The Way Back was nice and it looked like it had a lot of work involved. Boring movie to watch. Barney’s Version had me in tears, I was sobbing in the theater. The Wolfman? Ughh …. horrible. But Rick Baker will most likely win because the other AMPAS will vote for who they know and not who should win. Check out the Morot’s site, I was impressed!


  2. Steven says:

    That’s really cool, I did not know that about Barney’s Version. Thanks for the info!

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