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Oscar for Best Costume Design: Why Costume Designers Guild nominations may give ‘Cruella’ the edge over ‘Dune’


With the Costume Designers Guild (CDG) having announced its 2021 nominations, we can now look at the Best Costume Design category at the Oscars with a much clearer picture of which films will get nominated and even which movie will probably win.

Gold Derby’s odds favor Jenny Beavan to receive her 11th Oscar nomination and third win for her work on Disney’s “Cruella.” As of this writing 26 of 27 Experts have it predicted to be nominated, 18 of whom have it down to win over this year’s below-the-line powerhouse “Dune.” Only three Experts have picked the latter to win, while three others still have “Spencer” to win despite it being snubbed by CDG, two picking “West Side Story,” and one backing “House of Gucci.”

The CDG’s nominations are divided between three categories: Contemporary, Period, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy. This allows the group to have 15 (or this year, 16) nominees, and most or all of the five Oscar nominees will probably come from that group. As with other precursors, we have to look at which CDG category lines up the most with the Oscars, and the Period Costume category is very much ahead of the other two.

The Oscar winner came from the fantasy/sci-fi realm only five times in the 22 years that the CDG has handed out awards, the most recent of which was Ruth E. Carter’s win for “Black Panther” in 2018. Coleen Atwood has won two Oscars in that time for her fantasy costumes for “Alice in Wonderland” and for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The only other sci-fi/fantasy winners were Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and Beavan for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” All the other Oscar winners were period films.

Period is where “Cruella” was nominated by CDG and will likely win, although it has some tough competition in “West Side Story,” “House of Gucci” (literally a movie about fashion!), “Cyrano,” and “Nightmare Alley.” That would be a pretty good list of Oscar nominees right there, but we also have to look at Sci-Fi/Fantasy where “Dune” is very likely to win over three superhero movies — “The Suicide Squad,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” — a “Matrix” sequel, and the medieval fantasy “The Green Knight.”

From that sci-fi/fantasy roster, “Dune” is the most likely to make it into the Oscar nominations, probably bumping out either “Cyrano” or “Nightmare Alley,” both which have notably fantastic costumes but rank sixth and seventh in our Oscar odds.

Sadly, the Contemporary Film category tends to be the least appreciated. Few of the winners in the CDG’s Contemporary category have gone on to even be nominated for an Oscar, the last one being Mary Zophres’s costumes for “La La Land” in 2016. She lost to Atwood for “Fantastic Beasts.” This year’s contemporary race is a mixed bag that includes one comedy sequel (“Coming 2 America”), one musical (“In the Heights”), an action blockbuster (“No Time to Die”), the indie “Zola,” and the satire “Don’t Look Up.” I honestly don’t see any of these getting into the Oscar nominations, and neither to Gold Derby’s users: the highest ranked of those in our Oscar odds is “Coming 2 America,” which places 10th. So that tradition is likely to continue.

The costume designers branch of the academy (heavily made up of CDG members, presumably) often goes its own way to pick their five nominees, singling out a few films that the CDG left out. That was the case in 2019 with “Joker” and “Little Women” (which won the Oscar), 2018 with “The Ballad of Buster Skruggs,” and 2017 with “The Shape of Water.” That’s right, the big 2017 Best Picture winner wasn’t even nominated by CDG.

So anyone upset about “Spencer” not being nominated by the CDG – the work of two-time Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran – need not fret. Durran’s most recent Oscar nomination was for the aforementioned “Little Women,” and that ended up winning the Oscar without a corresponding CDG bid. In fact, Durran has been nominated for Oscars seven times but for CDG Awards only three times, and that’s despite CDG having three categories. So maybe “Spencer” can pull off a well-deserved nomination without the guild precursor.

Even so, it’s going to have to contend with Beavan’s work in “Cruella.” Both designers have two Oscars, but Beavan has won two CDG Awards to Durran’s one. That might end up being a more interesting contest to watch this year if “Spencer” indeed gets nominated. Could it sneak past “Cruella” and “Dune” on Oscar night?

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