Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **


It’s that time of year again.  The Big Awards season.  The big awards for film costumes are the Academy Awards (AMPAS), the Costume Designers Guild (CDG) Awards, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards.  There are other significant film costume awards (SATURN awards, the Genies), but for the sake of Awardsapalooza, the following is a timetable as to what awaits us immediately:

January 5        BAFTA round 1 voting ends
January 9        Nominating ballots due for the CDG awards
January 12        CDG awards nominees announced
January 12        AMPAS nominating ballots due
January 13        BAFTA round 2 voting ends
January 15        BAFTA announces nominees
January 19        Final CDG ballots mailed out
January 22        Academy Award nominations announced

February 2        BAFTA round 3 (final) voting ends
February 2        AMPAS nominees luncheon
February 6        Final ballots due for the CDG awards
February 8        BAFTA awards held in London
February 17        CDG awards held in Beverly Hills
February 17        AMPAS final ballots due
February 22        Academy Awards held in Los Angeles

A note on the nominating process: Academy (AMPAS) members who are costume designers nominate films for the costume design award, as well as for the best picture category.  Once the nominations are announced for all AMPAS categories, all voting members can vote on the final ballot, for all categories.  CDG members, all of them, no matter what job category (as long as they are in good standing) vote on all categories of awards, in all stages.

This year, the CDG Awards has the following categories for film work: Feature Film, Contemporary; Feature Film, Period; Feature Film, Fantasy.  Usually there are five nominees per category, but if there are less than a certain number of films submitted for consideration, the number of nominees is cut to three.

Last year’s CDG nominations were as follows (winners listed first):
•    Contemporary – Blades of Glory, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Into the Wild, Juno, Ocean’s Thirteen.
•    Period – Sweeney Todd, Atonement, Elizabeth: the Golden Age, La Vie en Rose, 3:10 to Yuma.
•    Fantasy –The Golden Compass, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 300, Enchanted.

Which films were nominated for the Academy Award for costume design last year?  Across the Universe, Atonement, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, La Vie en Rose, Sweeney Todd.  Won the Academy Award last year?  Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

You see how interesting this is?  There are discrepancies between the voting bodies of the CDG and the AMPAS costume design members, and general membership.  What does this mean for 2009?

Let’s discuss a few things.  1) Which movies are being touted as contenders for the big award, the Oscar, and by whom?  2) Which studios are pushing the hardest in their marketing for those awards?  3) Does the marketing push actually work?

1) Movies Being Touted for the Big Awards

Here are some nominee predictions from Oscar Pundits (non-costume people writing about awards):

•    Benjamin Button
•    Revolutionary Road
•    Changeling
•    The Duchess
•    The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
•    The Dark Knight
•    The Fall
•    The Other Boleyn Girl

I think that these are all appropriate ideas, given the history of the awards.  These are all relatively big-budgeted movies with ample opportunity for grand, complex-looking costumes.  However, the Academy often overlooks some of the best work in costume design, because it lacks the flash and sparkle of the big ones.  It would warm my heart to see a movie like Happy-Go-Lucky nominated for the Academy Award for costumes, but it seems unlikely, given the voting propensities of membership.  I doubt that these trends will ever significantly change.  Shiny, complex, dazzling costumes will always capture the audience’s attention above anything else.

That’s why the CDG Awards exist.  I seriously hope that Happy-Go-Lucky is nominated in the contemporary category, and I am also pulling for The Wrestler.  It is going to be a real toss-up for the contemporary category.  The ballot listing was very, very long.  And to be honest, I hadn’t seen even 35% of the films on the list.  It will be truly interesting to see what comes to the surface in that category.

In the Period category, you can expect to find the aforementioned pictures (Ben Button, Rev Road, Changeling, Duchess, Boleyn), and for the Fantasy category, you will see the others (Narnia, Dark Knight, The Fall)… that is, if people have actually seen these movies.

Many, many members of the CDG have not had the opportunity to see every movie that is a contender for these awards.  We are busy people, and since there has been a crackdown on sending out screeners, we get invitations to actual, physical screenings.  And if we are working, we can’t always make it to the theater in time.  Do CDG members vote on projects based on word-of-mouth, without actually having seen the movie?  Do members vote based on the designer; is it a popularity contest?  We would all hope that votes would be cast based on an informed decision – having seen the movie, and admired the work – but we can never really know.  Which brings me to the next point…

2) Which studios are pushing the hardest in their marketing for those awards?

As members of the CDG, we receive all manner of promotional material for films that would like to be contenders in this year’s race.  In our quarterly Costume Designer Magazine, there are “For Your Consideration” ads for the following films: High School Musical 3, Milk, Benjamin Button, Defiance, Revolutionary Road, The Dark Knight, The Reader, and Doubt.  We were sent screeners of Milk, The Duchess, and supposedly Revolutionary Road, but I have not yet received that one.  We also received a “behind the scenes”-type DVD on Revolutionary Road, and a large, lovely presentation folder featuring costume sketches, pictures, and fabric swatches from Benjamin Button.

We received invitations to scads of screenings, including Cadillac Records, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, Miracle at St. Anna, Secret Life of Bees, Changeling, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Tale of Despereaux, and others.  But like I said, it’s sometimes very difficult to make the screening times – many of the screenings are on weekdays at 6:30, and you need to be there at 6 to guarantee a seat.  It’s well intentioned, but ultimately not very effective.  I can’t tell you that I ran into many costume designers at these screenings, even this year, when work was really slow.

My friends who are Academy members have literally grocery bags full of screeners.  It’s like an avalanche of information, arriving every day in their mailboxes.  But what a glorious avalanche that is, if you love watching films.

If you haven’t had time to see the movie in the theater, then the screener, “behind the scenes” DVD or the visual presentation folder can be very helpful indeed.  I think it’s smart of the studios to do this, though it can be horrendously expensive.  It makes me wonder about the cost vs. reward of this kind of expenditure, in this economy.  I think if you have a strong horse in many categories, sending out 700 screeners to CDG membership might not be such a big deal.  But the Benjamin Button presentation folder was really intricate and looked quite costly.  If it cost $50 to put together each folder, times 700 members of the CDG, that’s $35,000.  Think about it!

Which begs the question…

3) Does the marketing push actually work?

I think that the short answer is YES.  You have to look at these movies as contenders in the first place.  Running a campaign for a costume award raises the profile of the film, and helps the film to stick in people’s minds when they fill out their ballots.  You don’t see studios running costume campaigns for movies that were stinkers, even if the costumes were brilliant.  And that’s really not fair to the costume designer or costume crew, but it’s the reality.

I think many of the films that get nominated in the contemporary category are not only well-designed movies, but also GOOD movies in general.  I can think of many flashy, sparkly costume movies that are big stinkers.  The costumes fade from memory quickly, due to the bad taste in the mouth from the stinko movie (and I say that, having full empathy for being involved in maybe a stinko or two over the years).  Something to keep in mind on Monday, January 12, when the CDG nominations are announced!

The category to watch this year is the CDG contemporary category.   Keep in mind that only films by Costume Designers Guild members can be nominated, though, so don’t expect to see many foreign titles in the mix.  It is going to be sooooo interesting.  Stand by for more updates as they arrive, and don’t forget to submit your ballots by this coming Friday!  Mail them by Wednesday, to be safe!!  Happy viewing and voting, everyone!


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