Julia Turner: Amanda, thanks for joining me once again to discuss this year's Oscar frocks. I was going to start by asking you who had the best dress, but we can narrow it down a bit tonight: Who had the best black dress, and who had the best red one?
Amanda Fortini: I think I counted nine black dresses.
Julia: At least! Ellen Page, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Garner, Laura Linney, Hilary Swank, Penélope Cruz …
Amanda: Tilda Swinton.
Julia: Yes! Even Little Miss Once. And in red we had Anne Hathaway, Katherine Heigl, Helen Mirren, Miley Cyrus …
Amanda: … Ruby Dee, Heidi Klum, Julie Christie. There was quite a divide. One group seemed to be paying homage to this somber moment we're in, and one group seemed to be attempting a celebratory mood.
Julia: Do you think the preponderance of black had anything to do with the writers' strike?
Amanda: I think so. There has been so much fallout, not just for the writers but for everyone in the industry, and so I guess it seemed a moment for respect. There was an almost funereal aspect to much of the garb—well, strapless looks excepted.
Julia: Right. They all seemed to be in mourning, except that in Hollywood, mourning includes sequins and marabou.
Amanda: And then there was the opposite approach: Let's celebrate the end of the strike! In bright red! The color seemed a very deliberate effort to brighten things up.
Julia: Or maybe it was Reds red: Cheers to those commies in the unions!
Amanda: Don't you wonder, though, how it comes to be that practically everyone wears red? Who says, This year, girls, it's red! Why not bright green or royal blue?
Julia: I know! Poor Amy Adams didn't get the memo.
Amanda: And yet I liked her dress. It was Cameron Diaz who looked like she was of another moment. Blush felt out of place—like it belonged to a more carefree, innocent time.
Julia: I also thought Keri Russell seemed to have been beamed in from an earlier year. She looked very washed out.
Amanda: Russell also had that problem you get when you put a small-busted woman in a dress with a stiff bodice—it gapes. I'm always baffled when the dresses don't fit. Fit should be the top priority.
Julia: You're right. The key to looking good is feeling comfortable in a dress that fits perfectly. For example, I really wanted to like Diablo Cody's outfit. She was going for a punk-rock Oscar look, which is difficult to pull off, and I admire her unorthodox approach. But she was clearly uncomfortable in that dress; she held her hand protectively over that high slit as she came off the stage.
Amanda: We both value difficulty and originality in Oscar dressing, don't we? I liked Cody's look—she was rocking the Mrs. Roper muumuu, the skull-and-bones earrings, the exposed tattoo, the black nails, the armload of bracelets. I thought she seemed like she'd had a lot of fun concocting her outfit and was probably having a lot of fun in it. But you're right, it ruined the effect when she had to hold the slit together. I suppose I need to differentiate between admiration for her audacity and admiration for her outfit. The truth is, I really come down more for the former.
Julia: Another look with a high degree of difficulty: Tilda Swinton's.
Amanda: She could have done well with a little lipstick; she looked almost cadaverous. Her look was very austere, very avant-garde—she was probably wearing a Japanese designer. I thought the asymmetry of it—all that draping on one side only—didn't quite work. But it's hard for me to be objective with Swinton; I think she has a kind of amazing reptilian beauty.
Julia: I wish I had a better sense of how the draping on the besleeved side worked. But I didn't think it looked good on camera. The material was too shiny and so every wrinkle in it showed on TV. And the dress didn't suit her slouchy posture. There is something beautifully reptilian and otherworldly about her, but this dress didn't show that off; it just made her look like a gawky teen in hand-me-downs from an aunt who favors the Golden Girls.
Amanda: There was something very Bea Arthur about it!
Julia: The best caftan for public consumption I've seen lately was—no surprise—worn by the inimitable Cate Blanchett to a premiere last year: a turquoise and black one-shoulder number. Proof that avant-garde can look better than it looked on Tilda tonight.
Amanda: Did you notice that the two pregnant women, Jessica Alba and Cate Blanchett, both wore purple dresses? And purple is a color so rarely worn to the Oscars.
Julia: There were the two purple pregnant ladies and then Nicole Kidman's black satin look. I am not usually a big fan of Kidman's, but I think she wins two prizes tonight: Best Black Dress and Best Maternity Look (although Miss Alba put in a good bid for the latter title).
Amanda: What did you like about Nicole's dress?
TODAY IN SLATE
Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man
The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.
Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.
Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution
Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show
Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada
Now, journalists can't even say her name.
Lena Dunham, the Book
More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.