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Costume Design

The analysis

Biopics dominate Oscar’s costume design nominees, but it looks a lot like past races: heavy on the history with one fantasy entry.

Academy Awards precedent shows that voters tend to honor period pieces, and like many below-the-line categories, members often ride the bandwagon.

If “The Aviator” gains early Oscar momentum, be sure to see previous honoree Sandy Powell on the podium giving another acceptance speech. Her representation of old Hollywood icons — Cate Blanchett in Katharine Hepburn’s signature trousers and Kate Beckinsale perfectly turned out in glamorous suits and jewels as Ava Gardner — may push voters to award the town’s past.

“Ray’s” Sharen Davis is up against a heavyweight field, but voters may salute her for spot-on re-creations and for the research into Ray Charles’ sartorial life. Not an easy task, given the familiar image of Charles in the public’s imagination. Davis also could benefit from “Ray” nabbing five other mentions.

Yet “Ray” is relatively contemporary, a hard sell to voters, who may find vet Alexandra Byrne’s Edwardian finery for “Finding Neverland” more to their liking. Byrne’s previous two Oscar noms make her a known commodity as well. Like “Neverland’s” art directors (who also received a nom), Byrne had to convey the social strata of Edwardian London society through her designs, helping to capture character through fabric.

Costume design is “Troy’s” lone mention, but Bob Ringwood’s costumes for “Troy” might not impress voters as it is too period. Oscar doesn’t seem very receptive to anything earlier than the Renaissance. In 2000, “Gladiator’s” Janty Yates took the Oscar in costume design, but she benefited from that film’s award momentum. Oscar has to go back 20 years to find a pic set earlier than the 1500s that won a costume design award, when Emi Wada nabbed a statue for “Ran.” (She is absent this year from the category despite her work on “House of Flying Daggers.”)

Colleen Atwood’s designs for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” combine menace, whimsy and a timeless yet Victorian-tinged look. Her Oscar pedigree (one win for “Chicago” and a slew of noms) might sway voters not keen on awarding fanciful films.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” won in 2003, but was snubbed previous years. Oscar tends to stick with reality and veers away from the overwhelming majority of fantasy and sci-fi pics with rare exceptions, such as “LOTR” and “Star Wars” (1977).

The Aviator

Sandy Powell

Current kudos: BAFTA (nom), Costume Designers Guild (nom), Golden Satellite (nom)

Oscar pedigree: “Shakespeare in Love” (win), “Gangs of New York” (nom), “Velvet Goldmine” (nom), “The Wings of the Dove” (nom), “Orlando” (nom)

Why she’ll win: Powell’s pedigree is impeccable: She’s a previous winner and “The Aviator’s” costumes look marvelous.

Why she won’t: Oscar might want to go for the dazzling yet dark “Lemony Snicket” or throw “Troy” a bone.

Finding Neverland

Alexandra Byrne

Current kudos: BAFTA (nom), Costume Designers Guild (nom)

Oscar pedigree: “Elizabeth” (nom), “Hamlet” (nom)

Why she’ll win: Oscar voters have a keen eye for subtle work in period pieces, and “Neverland” delivers.

Why she won’t: “Aviator’s” glossy period-piece sheen may overpower this biopic’s low-key work.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Colleen Atwood

Current kudos: Costume Designers Guild (nom)

Oscar pedigree: “Chicago” (win), “Sleepy Hollow” (nom), “Beloved” (nom), “Little Women” (nom)

Why she’ll win: Her designs tread the line between contemporary and period, a tricky task to pull off, but she has pulled it off well.

Why she won’t: Voters may not embrace or understand the aesthetic behind the film.

Ray

Sharen Davis

Current kudos: Costume Designers Guild (nom)

Oscar pedigree: None

Why she’ll win: “Ray’s” a crowdpleaser and Oscar likes a crowdpleaser. Plus, on a tight budget, Davis managed to give the iconic figure of Ray Charles a convincing wardrobe.

Why she won’t: Might be too contemporary for most voters, who gravitate toward more period in their period pieces.

Troy

Bob Ringwood

Current kudos: None

Oscar pedigree: “Empire of the Sun” (nom)

Why he’ll win: Despite the fact that the mostly male cast wore skirts, Ringwood’s historically accurate designs look functional, masculine and sexy.

Why he won’t: Oscar liked “Gladiator,” but momentum does not favor “Troy.”

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