I'd like to dedicate this one to the costume designers that don't do movies about dead monarchs or glittery musicals.
-Sandy Powell collecting her third Oscar
It's a common refrain among film lovers that flashier work may win the awards, but the subtler, more invisible work is the stuff that really deserves the recognition. But what about the crafts where the flashy stuff is also brilliant as well? Take costume design. In 1998 when the Oscar race came down to Shakespeare in Love vs. Elizabeth I don't think many would deny that those were two very deserving choices. Even though they were the Oscar's favored "Look at me!" more-is-more style nominees, that didn't make the costumes any less superb. And while a lot of people would agree with Powell's statement that contemporary costume design is woefully overlooked, it will still be difficult to skip over Elizabeth to mark your ballot for my choice for that year's best costume design: Mary Zophres for the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski.
If you contrast the amount of effort that went into making one of Cate Blanchett's royal gowns against, say, picking out just the right grungy beige cardigan for the Dude, it seems like a pretty indefensible choice on the face of it. But costume design, like any other creative profession, is about making choices. And every choice made about the costumes in Lebowski is a bullseye, right down to getting a T-shirt to properly accentuate the Dude's gut.
And, hey, if you want traditionally attention grabbing, Zophres and the Coens oblige with a wacked-out Busby Berkeley goes bowling musical showstopper with the most outlandish costumes this side of a Terry Gilliam movie. Sandy Powell was a totally worthy Oscar winner for Shakespeare in Love, but I defy anyone to name me a costume from Shakespeare, or from any other film that year, that has brought more joy to people over the years than Julianne Moore's Viking bowler ensemble.