It was easy to feel buffeted on every side by politics heading into the 87th Academy Awards. The absence of a single minority nominee for the ceremony’s four acting categories became an immediate and well justified source of anger as soon as this year’s candidates were announced in January. Again, of the twenty actors nominated across Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress, all were white, with only Marion Cotillard not from the United States or England. The academy’s makeup was equally criticised, with its 5,765 members 94% white, 77% male, with a median age of 62, and only 2% black and less than 2% Latino.
Particularly lamented was the failure of Selma to receive any acting nominations. Meanwhile a look further down the list of nominees showed that every nominated director, screenwriter, screenplay adapter, and original score composer was male, as were the directors of the five works nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Continuing to cause consternation was December’s revelation, courtesy of the Sony Pictures email hack, that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were paid less than their male counterparts for the abysmal American Hustle. Then Reese Witherspoon, via Twitter before the evening of the ceremony, and during interview on the red carpet, helped popularise the #AskHerMore campaign: meant to encourage interviewers to ask women about their art, rather than focusing solely on their wardrobes. The sense grew also that her film, Wild, was not receiving its critical due.
LGBT rights and the persecution of gay men were issues highlighted at least somewhat by The Imitation Game, one of the early front-runners for this year’s awards; although there were criticisms that the film had marginalised Alan Turing’s homosexuality. Just as contentiously, The Theory of Everything could be read as another instance of Hollywood idealising disability: allowing able-bodied actors to play disabled roles, which view the disabled only within exceptional and often glamourised contexts. Finally, Still Alice brought focus upon early-onset Alzheimer’s.
These are all important issues, but the surfeit of politics felt at times like a constraint on the concept of films as works of art. Biopics in particular are already notorious for serving as awards bait. The wider consideration, as to whether the attention films can draw to pertinent political issues validates their existence beyond more formal or intuitive or imaginative cinematic concerns, remains difficult to navigate. And all of this comes within the context of an awards ceremony already compromised by other resolute politics: whether politicking between the major studio heads, or the ingrained habit of – after years of ignoring certain actors or directors or genres of film – doling out awards as mere token gestures.
Whatever, it felt like something of a relief when, come the end of this year’s ceremony, Birdman and Boyhood were left standing as the two main contenders for Best Picture. Alejandro González Iñárritu invoked politics in his acceptance speech for Birdman, the eventual winner: but this was easy to appreciate because the equally vital issue of immigration had been lost amid all the other debates. It serves as a relief now too to delve into some of the more minute collaborations and personal expressions the Oscars put on show.
Lining Up for Best Actress
All of these ladies looked fantastic. Julianne Moore’s Academy Award for Best Actress was thoroughly deserved as she continues a career of brave and astute film selections and bravura on-screen performances: a course she has charted from her earliest film work on Short Cuts, Vanya on 42nd Street, and especially Safe. She wore a strapless, sequinned Chanel Haute Couture gown: especially designed for the occasion by Karl Lagerfeld, and with hand-painted flower heads embroidered in four bands.
Both Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard have previously won Best Actress: Witherspoon in 2005 for Walk the Line, Cotillard in 2007 for La Vie en Rose. I really admire Reese Witherspoon as an artist, and she gave an excellent performance recently in Inherent Vice – my favourite film of the year, with an ensemble cast which even manages to surpass the talented group who excel in Birdman. However, I haven’t seen Wild yet, partly because – however unfair the comparison may be – the conceit reminds me of Sean Penn’s turgid Into the Wild. When I last wrote one of these pieces, in 2013, Reese wore a fabulous blue dress by Valentino, with black diagonal panels adding visual drama about her waist. Of course, everyone would have laughed had she worn that dress again; and she looked equally beautiful this year in a black and white custom piece by Tom Ford.
Marion Cotillard lays claim to the title of cinema’s best dressed. She is the face of Dior, heading the Lady Dior advertising campaign since 2008; and for the Oscars wore a white Dior Haute Couture dress, whose casual elegance in the front flowed into a loose and modernist back, bound together by a black band. Cotillard has looked wonderful this year attending events on behalf of Two Days, One Night in yellow pleated Valentino; Dior again in a magnificent dipped-hem, cape-like dress for Cannes; and in Mary Katrantzou. Both Cotillard and Moore wore earrings by Chopard.
I thought Felicity Jones succeeded in pulling off a difficult piece, the extravagant embroidery and billowing skirt of her dress by Alexander McQueen still well complementing her figure. And Rosamund Pike, nominated for the wildly uneven Gone Girl, looked splendid from the front in a deep red dress by Givenchy; although I wasn’t so enamoured with the vivid red belt which extended round the rear.
Assorted Elegance from the Ladies
For last year’s Academy Awards, at which she won Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong’o wore a sky blue, pleated, flowing gown custom designed by Prada, which was the recipient of much praise. Topped by a tiara from Fred Leighton, Nyong’o’s look was at once composed and unfettered. Her dress this year was very different but equally one of the night’s standouts: gossamer fabric replaced by 6,000 pearls, in a gown designed by Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein. In such a heavy and deluxe garment, Nyong’o still emerged relaxed and vital.
Anna Kendrick looked fantastic in a pink coral silk georgette gown, designed by Thakoon Panichgul, and featuring a jewelled halter neckline. Kendrick appeared in the opening of the ceremony, changed into a gold dress with tiara to sing alongside host Neil Patrick Harris. Though roundly condemned, I thought Harris did a decent job overall as the night’s host: his flippancy was necessary when so much of the show was so earnest and portentous; even if the plot regarding his pre-show predictions was laboured and put Octavia Spencer, who would go on to introduce ‘Glory’, in a slightly awkward position; and his ‘balls’ gag after Dana Perry’s heartfelt speech ill-timed. But Kendrick showed the opening performance to be equally ill-conceived, because she could project her voice magnificently: only emphasising that Harris, who led the song, wasn’t up to the task, and rendering the immediate impression ‘why isn’t Anna Kendrick hosting this?’.
Jennifer Aniston looked great in a nude gown by Versace. And Aniston was one of the red carpet’s most active participants, feeling her bottom pinched by Reese Witherspoon while being interviewed by Ryan Seacrest; before energetically hoisting up Emma Stone. Naomi Watts wore Armani Privé, in a dress with a silver layered brick pattern which worked well despite looking, from a certain angle, something like a long apron pinned around a black boob tube. Cate Blanchett’s appearance was also outstanding, as she wore a black velvet gown by Margiela Couture, with frayed hems at the sleeves, and a turquoise necklace courtesy of Tiffany & Co.. The dark dress and the pop of colour seemed such a simple conceit, but it was one of the most memorable looks of the Oscars.
The Duel for Best Actor
Two years ago, I criticised Eddie Redmayne’s Oscars attire for being too slim-fitting, and for its gaudy velvet slippers by Alexander McQueen. 2013 was the year of Argo; but we were only one year removed from the triumph of The Artist, the latest and one of the few of the great films to have won Best Picture, and I acclaimed the attending Jean Dujardin as one of the ceremony’s best dressed men.
There are marked similarities between The Artist and this year’s winner Birdman. Both are heavily referential works which pertain to the world of cinema; and both focus on a leading actor whose star has waned, and who attempts a comeback. But Birdman is hard-headed and analytic, evoking equally the complex mechanics of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York; where The Artist is a fluid movement through the history of cinema: from the drawing-room, romantic, and screwball comedies of the 1930s; to the musicals of Astaire, Rogers, and Kelly; through the visuals and atmospherics of film noir; to some of the sounds and psychological ambivalencies of Vertigo.
Redmayne’s slight build and diminishing legs – not to mention his beatific smile – made him a good fit for the role of Stephen Hawking, and no doubt he looks good sans clothes and in an array of alternative outfits, but his is not a body that becomes black tie. He was one of several actors – including Ansel Elgort, Justin Theroux, and The Rock – to wear blue, the midnight shade of his Alexander McQueen dinner suit occupying a middle ground, offset by contrasting peaked lapels, black bow tie, and what appeared to be black velvet lace-ups. The suit fit Redmayne really well this time round, but I’m not a fan of contrasting lapels, nor particularly the middling colour.
Michael Keaton on the other hand looked effortlessly elegant in his black suit, which deviated in its own way from the strictest of black tie conventions in that the jacket was a two-button and the lapels were notched rather than peaked. The shoulders of Keaton’s jacket were a little too padded, but the buttoning point suited him well and the suit overall proved a good fit. It remains to be seen whether Keaton will find another role capable of bringing him, belatedly, the award which his performance in Birdman deserved. Birdman from my perspective was a success of acting and cinematography more than the directing, which felt a touch heavy-handed in places.
Two Shades of Green
While Emma Stone’s gown could not unfairly be described as snotgreen, and Scarlett Johansson chose instead a dashingly deep emerald, I preferred Emma Stone’s dress at the Oscars. Johannson looked better, I thought, on stage presenting than she looked on the red carpet: the Versace creation she wore – matched with a plunging necklace of Swarovski crystal, and with a Piaget Mediterranean Garden ear cuff set – certainly made for a powerful look, and it showed off her exceptional figure, but the angular lines of the waist and chest allied to her haircut made her look a little statuesque for my taste. In fact, Johansson’s slicked-back hair was similar on the night to Bradley Cooper’s, and I thought the style did neither of them any favours.
Emma Stone was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her sterling work in Birdman; but she seemed resigned to losing out on the award in favour of Patricia Arquette, who won wearing a graceful, abstract white and black gown designed by her friend Rosetta Getty. Stone was more than content with the Lego Oscar she received during the performance of ‘Everything Is Awesome’ (a novelty which featured Will Arnett in Val Kilmer’s old Batsuit). Her beaded gown, with long sleeves and bracelets about the wrists, was designed by Elie Saab, and contrasted perfectly with her orange-red hair.
Jared Leto wore a powder blue/lilac Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci tuxedo, with an unusual shawl collar, a white shirt, diamond studs, a white bow tie, and white rubber-soled shoes. This was obviously a fashion forward look – and it drew a host of comparisons on Twitter including, least flatteringly, to Harry from Dumb and Dumber – but the fit was actually fairly conventional. Leto wore his pants a little low, but this was appropriate given his lithe and slender build, and overall his tuxedo was slim without being too slim. His jacket was just about the right length, it was a good size in the shoulders, and showed an apposite amount of shirt sleeve. Embellished with a pink flower in his lapel, Leto’s was an attractive look. Matthew McConaughey is busy shooting for an upcoming film titled The Free State of Jones, and seems to be channeling something of Leto’s appearance with long hair and a thick beard. More dishevelled, his look – showcasing a patterned silver jacket, unbuttoned to reveal a high-cut black waistcoat – worked too in a rugged, carefree sort of way.
By the time he ascended the stage to collect his award for Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash, J. K. Simmons looked a model of traditional black tie, with his peaked lapels, wing collar and shirt studs, and low-cut waistcoat. True, where most men opted at most for a flatly folded white square, Simmons had plumped a blue-purple handkerchief in his top pocket. But his appearance on the red carpet showed greater diversity, as he displayed a watch chain and wore a fedora. Simmons is one of the best character actors around, and there was much to admire about his outfit, but the hat and chain strike me as too costumey.
Common and John Legend’s performance of ‘Glory’, which won Best Original Song, was one of the most genuinely moving moments of the night: a good song sung with conviction, which engaged the audience, and suitably cast light on Selma and the issue of black rights. Common wore a navy velvet jacket by Prada, with peaked lapels, a white studded shirt, and a white bow. White-on-white was an unusual choice, but it produced a luxurious look aided by the visual interest of his sparkling blue shirt studs and the pin on his right lapel. Perhaps Common’s collar ought to have been more of a cutaway.
I’m a big admirer of Wes Anderson. Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tenenbaums are some of my favourite films, and I thought his previous work, Moonrise Kingdom, was among his very best. But I wasn’t overwhelmed with The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film’s various settings proved entertaining, and they were typically detailed and well shot – though if anything left the hotel itself underutilised – and there were a host of strong performances in minor roles. However, I wasn’t taken with the film’s framing narrative; while Ralph Fiennes can do arch, genteel cynicism expertly, but didn’t engage me in the lead role. At the Oscars, Anderson wore his customary attire: a dark velvet suit with a crushed bow, a lime pocket handkerchief and a green-yellow and brown checked shirt. The Grand Budapest Hotel came away with the awards for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. And speaking of the film…
White Dinner Jackets
…two of the stars of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Jeff Goldblum and Adrien Brody, were among a group of actors who wore white dinner jackets to the Oscar ceremony. Goldblum’s was a more conservative take, with a single button, a shawl collar, and a pin in the left lapel; while Brody went with contrasting black peaked lapels and a black pocket square. Benedict Cumberbatch wore a cross between the two looks, with a plain shawl collar but elements of black introduced via his choice of square and shirt studs.
Eddie Murphy offset his white jacket with a shirt in the faintest shade of lavender. Cumberbatch and Murphy’s partners both looked impeccable: Sophie Hunter, a theatre and opera director, in a draping red gown with a high slit ascending the right leg; Paige Butcher in close-fitting purple. There’s a fairly strong argument, when it comes to formalwear, for never deviating from a white shirt, but Murphy offered an interesting alternative which he just about managed to pull off. Kevin Hart on the other hand went much too far in his combination of white jacket, white trousers, black shoes, black contrast lapels, black shirt, and black tie: almost a wholesale inversion of the concept. Now back to the topic of makeup…
Margot Robbie was captivating in a black dress with plunging neckline and sheer sleeves by Saint Laurent. Around her neck she wore a vintage zipper necklace courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels – the necklace apparently originally designed for Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. Against the black of the dress and the distinguished blue of the necklace, Robbie’s vivid red lipstick really shone: it was an ideal harmony of colour, drawing the focus to her face. On the other hand, while Jennifer Lopez’s Elie Saab gown showcased an ample and shapely cleavage, her pink lipstick was too pale with the dress, and her eye makeup made her appear bruised or swollen.
Amid the great dressing down of Western society, shawl collars have remained relatively popular at these sort of events; but if there was a trend in menswear at this year’s Oscars, then it was the shawl collar, for this time they were ubiquitous. We have already seen Leto, Goldblum, and Cumberbatch in shawl collars; they were accompanied by Chris Pratt, wearing a black jacket with trim, and by the atrocious Adam Levine; and many other actors and performers joined them.
David Oyelowo’s Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo was of a slightly fuller cut than some of the outfits worn by his contemporaries – and for this it was all the better. More notably, the tux was a deep red, with candy apple red highlights courtesy of its single button fastening, the trim of the pockets, Oyelowo’s waistcoat, and his bow tie. In fact, this daring utilisation of red even appeared to extend to his Chelsea boots. Topped off with a rainbow-coloured ribbon pin in his left lapel, Oyelowo was one of the best looking men present.
Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki, who won the award for Best Cinematography for Birdman, also wore a shawl collar. This was a second consecutive award win for Lubezki, following his success for Gravity last year. In his own acceptance speech for Best Directing, Iñárritu called Lubezki ‘a genius, the artist of our generation’. This seems a reasonable claim considering that, aside from Birdman and Gravity, since 2005 Lubezki has worked on three films with Terrence Malick – The New World, The Tree of Life, and To the Wonder – and Burn After Reading with the Coens.
John Legend wore Gucci, with a velvet shawl collar which perhaps sounds better in theory than I thought it looked in practise. Channing Tatum’s Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo made for a strong look, although the width of the shawl collar was too narrow, especially given his breadth. And Ethan Hawke’s dark brown Prada tux was another excellent selection, enhanced by the black satin of the shawl, and marred only slightly by the straightness of his shirt collar.
Calling the Misses
Gwyneth Paltrow’s pink gown by Ralph & Russo was a little too pink, but the fit and the single sleeve would have been fair enough were it not for the florid bow atop her left shoulder. The bow is too big while offering too little in the way of extravagant or visually interesting decoration. Dakota Johnson’s attire has been broadly embraced; but despite some nice details, like the slit up the left side and the silver strap, this one-shouldered gown by Saint Laurent was cut too straight for her figure. A naughty design decision like this, of course, leaves somebody in sore need of a firm etc.
I’m more ambivalent about classing Lady Gaga and Kerry Washington’s dresses as ‘misses’. I like the box sleeves of Gaga’s Alaïa gown, and really appreciate the red leather gloves; but I think the gown is just too big, both in the body and in the long pleated bottom. Kerry Washington is sufficiently attractive to look good in anything; but as with Charlize Theron in 2013 – when Washington wore a stunning coral gown by Miu Miu, who also designed this year’s outfit – the peplum top half does nothing for her, nor do I like its silvery embroidered leaf pattern.
Presenting Two Couples
Wearing a tuxedo by Ermenegildo Zegna, in a dark shade of midnight blue which is properly the province of eveningwear, Idris Elba looked typically handsome presenting alongside Jessica Chastain for Best Cinematography. Featuring yet another shawl collar, Elba was a surprisingly rare proponent of the long tie: Jason Bateman was the only other prominent advocate. Chastain is an excellent actor and always beautiful: today’s embodiment of an old-school glamour, at once warmly sensual and discretely mysterious.
Jessica Chastain wore couture Givenchy. In theory, this presenting couple should have been impossible to surpass in the fashion stakes. But – although Elba made it work – I’m not enamoured with the combination of long tie and shawl collar, and on stage his jacket sleeves looked a little long and ruffled; while I wasn’t absolutely sold on the draping neckline of Chastain’s Givenchy. I thought The Rock and Zoe Saldana, presenting the award for Best Animated Feature Film, just about had them beat. Saldana wore Atelier Versace, displaying the fullest curves of the evening; while The Rock’s midnight blue tux came across less shiny on camera than Elba’s, and was furnished with contrast peaked lapels, shirt studs, and a black bow.
Final Call for the Gentlemen
Chiwetel Ejiofor was another in dark blue, and his tux was one of the best fitting of the night – although it could have benefitted slightly from a lower buttoning point and a wider shawl collar. Sean Penn’s chosen combination of a dark shirt alongside a dark suit and dark tie is never particularly advisable – but I thought it suited he and his moustache fairly well. And Josh Hutcherson – always well put together – wore a tuxedo jacket with a superb fit, although his trousers broke a tad excessively.
And finally a special word for Pawel Pawlikowski. The Polish director took the stage to receive the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for Ida. Other speeches of the ceremony have been more commented upon: Patricia Arquette’s call for pay equality, and Graham Moore’s call to ‘stay weird’ amid a courageous speech on suicide awareness and overcoming depression. But Pawlikowski’s acceptance speech, characterised by an elegant exuberance as he playfully and valiantly fought against the droning music which indicated repeatedly that his time was up, was by some margin the most fun of the night.