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Tuesday, February 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Real drama at the Oscars is who'll win Best Dressed
By Moira Macdonald
Ever since grade school, I've been an Oscar watcher. I remember, as a kid, eating dinner in front of the TV as we watched the glittery ceremony; getting special school-night permission to stay up late and see it all. Back then, I didn't know what most of the movies were, or recognize most of the stars; I just watched it for the dresses so beautiful, so belonging to another world.
Now I work on Oscar night, and I've seen all the movies, and I write dutifully about who I think will win and what it all might mean but I'll let you in on a little secret: I still watch it for the dresses.
Because the awards let's face it are inevitably disappointing. I mean, I know my pick for best picture won't win, because it wasn't even nominated. ("American Splendor," for the record.) And the actors who are dressed the most interestingly, and who seemed poised to make the most off-the-wall speech, never seem to win. (Hello, Mr. Depp.) And the show's always too damned long.
A nominee's dress (and we're leaving the gentlemen out here; a tux is a tux, even when Russell Crowe adds a frock coat and a medallion) can reveal something about her, as much as any acceptance speech might. When Marlee Matlin won in 1987 (for "Children of a Lesser God") in what looked like a lavender bridesmaid's dress, with spikes of baby's breath stuck in her hair, she seemed like one of us; sweetly frumpy and a bit out of her league.
And when Jodie Foster walked up the staircase to collect her first Oscar (for "The Accused," in 1989), wearing what just might have been her first strapless dress powder-blue, and kind of ugly, but it was the '80s the world saw her give the top of her dress an unmistakable yank upwards. Like any woman who's suffered through an evening in a dress that didn't fit quite right, Jodie wasn't exactly wearing her dress it was wearing her.
In opposition, of course, are the fantasy gowns. Say what you will about Cher's sheer mermaid gown (in which she won best actress for "Moonstruck" in 1987); she looked glorious in it. Likewise the form-fitting strapless white gown in which Madonna performed "Sooner or Later" in 1990, though she could perhaps have benefited from a few Jodie Foster-style tugs. (When she bent over to pick up her feather boa well, I don't know what kept that dress up. Ambition, perhaps?)
In recent years, Oscar style has gotten a little more tasteful and generic, thanks to the rise of the personal stylist. (No, I don't think Björk she of the infamous swan dress employed one.)
Designer gowns, such as the ethereal lavender Prada worn by Uma Thurman a few years back, or the chartreuse, fur-trimmed John Galliano (for Christian Dior) that helped Nicole Kidman emerge from Tom Cruise's shadow, have become more prevalent.
This year, we should have plenty to look at, with the 10 actress nominees including several glamour girls (Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts, Renée Zellweger), one adolescent (Keisha Castle-Hughes), one very pregnant woman (Marcia Gay Harden, expecting twins) and one famous fashion eccentric (Keaton).
Movies deal in fantasy and so do Oscar dresses. Have fun watching, and dreaming.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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