The Oscar nominees were announced yesterday, and of course I was compelled to write about the costume design category. Specifically, my frustration regarding the kind of films that are routinely ignored, year after year.
Do all of the designers on this list deserve to be nominated? Well, yes. They're all brilliant, and did great work on the films in question. But the selection process for this category is still deeply flawed, and fails to represent the range of talent on offer.
As Roger Ebert pointed out in his unwritten rules of the Oscars, the Academy rarely gives out awards for subtlety. "It never hurts to ask yourself," he wrote, "Who did the 'most' acting? Most editing? Most noticeable cinematography or music?"
In the costume category, this is truer than ever. The award invariably goes to the film with the most impressive and noticeable costumes, whether this means creating a selection of historically accurate crinolines or outfitting an army of elves.
Two ingredients are required for an Oscar nomination in costume design. First, it's helpful to be a familiar face who has been nominated several times before. Secondly, you need to have worked on a historical drama (preferably starring Keira Knightley), a sci-fi/fantasy epic, or a musical—the three genres that produce the most showy and memorable costumes.
Judging by these two criteria, this year's nominees are comfortably predictable.