Monday, February 27, 2017

The 2017 Oscars Red Carpet Review

Marilyn Monroe and Carol Channing both helped to make the saying famous: "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." Indeed, last night's Academy Awards ceremony proved that diamonds (and rubies, and emeralds, and sapphires) are indeed a girl's best friend. There weren't a lot of particularly memorable gowns, but there were plenty of gorgeous statement pieces of jewelry that served to make a look memorable (mostly for good, but a few for ill). Here are some of the most interesting looks of the evening and the jewelry that made them so interesting.

Scarlett Johansson: Gown by Alaia; bracelets by Belperron
Johansson's gown was a beautiful watercolor fabric that swirled gracefully and lightly as she moved. Under the stage lights, the skirt was nearly transparent, but fortunately she wore a white miniskirt (or possibly boy shorts) underneath so it wasn't too tacky. The gown was cinched in with a sparkling leather and silver belt which coordinated surprisingly well with her pair of coiled diamond cuff bracelets. It was a very soft and feminine look, which helped to offset the harshness of her hairstyle, with its shaved sides and upswept crown, revealing lots of dark roots and blonde tips. 

Taraji P. Henson: Gown by Alberta Ferretti; necklace by Nirav Modi
Henson's look was the ultimate in the perfect pairing of a beautiful but relatively simple gown with an amazing statement piece of jewelry that brought the outfit to a completely new level. The gown itself was a deep midnight blue, nearly black, velvet sheath with an off the shoulder wrapped bodice with plunging neckline and thigh-high slit. Dramatic, but simple. But add on this gorgeous diamond necklace with a flower at the center and smaller diamonds cascading from the triangular collar, and it turns a lovely look into an absolutely striking one, arguably one of the best looks of the evening.

Salma Hayek: Gown by Alexander McQueen; headband and earrings by Fred Leighton
I loved the lines of Hayek's black-over-nude gown, from the lace skirt, to the diagonal lines of the crushed bodice, to the pretty patterning of the triangular see-through front panel. It fit her beautifully and had interesting textures. But it could have still been a bit bland if not for the lovely large chandelier earrings and especially the glittery diamond headband. I wish the headband had been worn further forward to make it more visible from the front, but that little bit of sparkle even as worn gave it a pop of glamour that turned a good look into a great one. 

Alicia Vikander: Gown by Louis Vuitton; necklace by Bulgari
Vikander's black lace gown with corset-style, cap-sleeved bodice and cascading ruffle skirt could have been too frou-frou and ingenue-ish, but the addition of this stunning diamond collar, with its series of curved triangles with center diamonds, was elegant and mature enough to elevate the entire look. This stunning piece made a "just okay" look into a lovely and memorable one. 

Viola Davis: Gown by Armani; earrings by Niwaka
Davis' striking scarlet column didn't need any assistance from jewelry to be perfectly stunning on the red carpet, despite its simple column structure. The gathered halter neckline and cascading shoulder straps, along with a mid-length train, added all the visual interest and glamour needed. But the addition of these understated gold and ruby earrings and coordinating bracelet gave just a hint of added sparkle without drawing focus. 

Nicole Kidman: Gown by Armani Prive; earrings by Harry Winston
Kidman is one of the few actresses who successfully wears nude gowns on a regular basis, and this bejeweled halter sheath was no exception. The Indian-inspired pattern of the beading and the line of the gown, with its straight silhouette and short side train, was reminiscent of a traditional sari, both very nice nods to her film, Lion. I love to see a subtle pop of color with nude gowns, and Kidman's ruby and diamond drop earrings, along with coordinating scarlet lips, added just the right touch. Anything more ornate would have been too busy, and anything larger or more colorful would have been too distracting, but these earrings were the perfect finishing touch. 

Halle Berry: Gown by Atelier Versace; earrings by Nevermark
I admit that I found Berry's wild, voluminous, two-toned hair to be somewhat distracting from her overall look, but I did love the lines of her gown, which was a one-shouldered gold base which became feathery at the knee (I didn't love that part quite as much) and ended in a short train. The detail that really made it work for me was the sheer (or possibly black-dots-on-gold) fabric swaths wrapped around the bodice and cascading to the knee in a few wide ribbons. It created interesting geometric lines and varied textures and broke up the similarity between the color of the skirt and her lovely golden skin. Her choice of long narrow triangle earrings lent a touch of stark geometric lines to the softer lines of the dress and the curly hair, yet also reflected the diagonals of the bodice, helping to tie the look together. 

Naomie Harris: Gown by Calvin Klein; jewelry by Bulgari
I first saw Harris' gown only from the waist up, and I didn't like it very much. Then I saw it full-length under the lights and I truly hated it. The sleeveless sweetheart sheath wasn't horrible, but the horizontal slit fell in an odd place and opened and closed as she moved, making the dress look poorly fitted although it was clearly not. The stiff train was too stark and formal for the cocktail-length dress, and combined with the bare shoulders gave the impression that it was weighting the whole thing down in back. But the feature that really turned me off was that the shiny sequined fabric looked like cheap vinyl under the lights. However, the beautiful and feminine drop earrings, paired with her long, sleek, dark hair and subtle pink-toned makeup, saved the look from being too terrible. Extra points for the quirky diamond additions to one ankle strap and one toe strap, which both coordinated with the earrings and cuff and prevented the shoes from being overly yellow. It was not a great dress, but the jewels did the best they could to save the look.  

Charlize Theron: Gown by Christian Dior Couture; earrings by Chopard
Theron's Grecian-inspired gown consisted of pleated metallic gold fabric with a sheer black overlay, gathering at each shoulder and plunging to the waist, where it gathered into a wide sash and then fell into a full, slightly flared skirt with a side slit nearly to the waist. I loved the detailing of the sheer black fabric slightly filling in the neckline and the fullness of the skirt hiding the slit until she moved. But the huge chandelier earrings, paired with the pulled-back coiffure, pulled attention right back to her gorgeous face, where it belonged. Another perfect pairing of what could have been an overly simple gown with simply amazing jewelry to create a stunning and memorable look. 


 Chrissy Teigen: Gown by Zuhair Murad; earrings by Lorraine Schwartz
I didn't love the overall silhouette of this gown, although the look really grew on me over the course of the evening. What I did love from the very beginning, was the beautiful "firework" patterned gold and silver beading on the bodice, which descended down the sleeves and onto the top part of the skirt. The metallic belt and high slit lent some nice straight lines to the soft, clingy fabric, and although I didn't love the single sheer sleeve, I did like the way the train came down as a kind of cape. However, the earrings were the perfect tie-in to the beading of the gown, echoing the mixed metallics of the beads, and the long triangle shape in turn echoing the line of the exposed arm and leg. It brought the look together and made Teigen look even taller and leaner than she already is, drawing the eye up her body to focus on her face. 

Kirsten Dunst: Gown by Christian Dior Couture; jewelry by Niwaka
Dunst wore a basic black strapless ballgown with a barely curved, nicely-fitted bodice and a slightly bi-level skirt ending in a short train. It was pretty but unremarkable, and would have looked at home at a high school prom (with the possible exception of the train). But her gorgeous diamond choker with elegant fleur de lis pattern added some softer lines, a touch of mature elegance, and some much needed sparkle to pull attention to her face. The large but simple diamond earrings also drew focus to her face, but without detracting from the lovely lines of the choker. These diamonds turned this look from utterly boring into one of my favorites of the night. 

Dakota Johnson: Gown by Gucci; necklace by Cartier
I'm not sure that anything could have saved this dress, but least of all this particular necklace. The dress suffered from the worst features of several decades: gold lame from the 60s, high ruffled neck from the 70s, and squared-off shoulders from the 80s (we won't even mention the giant bow in front that adorned the backside of a many a bride in the 90s). It's disproportionate and droopy and unflattering, and her drab hairstyle and uninspired makeup isn't helping any. The necklace by itself is lovely, but other than the color, it just doesn't seem to work with the style of the dress. The pointed leaves are too sharp for the soft lines of the dress, the length is too long to lay nicely against the dress collar, and the ruffles of the collar compete with the necklace. Sadly, this look was definitely one of those 50 shades of grey. 

Janelle Monae: Gown by Elie Saab Couture; jewelry by Nevermark
Let me begin my remarks on this look by admitting that it's much better than a lot of outfits we've seen on Monae on various red carpets. But it's still just too much. The sheer bodice with sequined trim and embroidery, while reminiscent of Halle Berry's stunning 2002 Oscar gown, does not provide quite enough coverage. I love the black buckled belt and the way the skirt cascades in stripes of black, silver, and sheer panels, but the sheerness starts just a little too high up for good taste. The giant silver-spangled black tulle hip puffs a la Marie Antoinette are so voluminous that they tend to overwhelm Monae. Similarly, the heavy gold and black choker collar is lovely, but disproportionately large and bulky for a gown that is already too busy. I do, however, love the black and gold tiara/headband. I would love to see this look without the black tulle and without the necklace. Those two changes could have made this look into one of the top looks of the night. 

Emma Roberts: Gown by Armani Prive; earrings by Swarovski
I loved a lot of the features of this gown: the delicate vintage lace, the two-tiered A-line skirt, the crushed black sash. But the skimpy bodice, while it looked pretty when Roberts was posing for photos, bunched awkwardly and suffered from "double-stick-tape-itis" when she moved. A modesty panel holding it in place might have prevented those issues, but without it, the best hope of saving the look was these striking crystal earrings. I love the look of long wavy hair tucked behind one ear to expose a large, simple drop earring, and these earrings fit the bill perfectly, calling attention to her gorgeous hair and echoing the lines of her narrow face and the plunging neckline. A good look made even better by the choice of jewelry. 

Faye Dunaway: Gown by Esteban Cortezar; jewelry by Bulgari
Dunaway's red carpet gown was an interesting cut; deep blue satin in a fitted double-breasted jacket dress style, but dropping into swirls of alternating satin and sheer panels from above the knee, with an angled opening in front. It was very flattering and had lovely seaming and tailoring. But what set off the whole look and brought out the glam factor was the almost Egyptian-looking sapphire and diamond necklace and matching earrings. Styled as a narrow collar with a curved triangular pendant composed of four diamond triangles with sapphire centers, it was geometric enough to work with the angled tailoring of the gown, but also soft enough to avoid being stark. A really flattering and age-appropriate look. 

Emma Stone: Gown by Givenchy; earrings by Tiffany & Co.
Much like Nicole Kidman, Emma Stone often wears nude and gold tones and generally pulls them off well (must be a redhead thing). I absolutely adored Stone's metallic gold lace, art deco gown with layers of fringe from just below the hip, and high side slits. I loved the contrast of the lace scallops at the top with the straight lines of the fringe, and the darker gold at the tips of the fringe, which emphasized its graceful movement. Like the other Emma (Roberts), I loved the contrast of the softly waved hair tucked behind one ear and the long, straight, sparkling earrings. Stone's lovely auburn hair and deep coral lips added just enough color to draw attention up to her face, where it belongs. A really gorgeous, flattering, and well-balanced look, and probably my favorite of the evening. 

Karlie Kloss: Gown by Stella McCartney; jewelry by Nirav Modi
Kloss' white column had potential, but I felt like it suffered from a severe lack of supportive undergarments and a bodice that looked droopy. I loved the overall silhouette of the dress, and even the one-shouldered long cape worked for me. But Kloss's bust looked unsupported and uncomfortable, and visible nipples in a white gown is never elegant. The round neck and shallow armholes emphasized the sagginess. Kloss hit it out of the park, however, with a perfectly paired diamond and silver wide choker with a flower motif, and diamond earrings echoing the blossom. The jewelry helped, but didn't quite bring the dress to the level of success it might have reached with a little structural improvement.

Jessica Biel: Gown by KaufmanFranco; collar by Tiffany & Co.
I hated this dress. From the moment I saw it, I just absolutely hated it. (I believe I remarked, "I think she mugged a mummy.") But once I realized that the collar detail was actually a necklace that was completely separate from the dress. I decided that the gown itself was actually rather attractive. I liked the texture of the metallic gold column, and the fabric clung beautifully to Biel's curves, but the long sleeves were bland and the fringed gold collar was not the right detail to add interest to the look. Instead, it looked ragged and mismatched. Losing the collar and adding long drop earrings, perhaps even with a hint of color, could have turned this mess into a winner, but as is, this was not a good pairing of gown and glitter. 

Octavia Spencer: Gown by Marchesa; jewelry by Forevermark
Spencer's red carpet looks can be hit or miss, so I was delighted to see her in this lovely silver ballgown. I'm not generally a fan of marabou or eyelash fabric, but the trim here was subtly added to emphasize the graceful metallic silver patterning on the skirt, and the softness of the wrapped satin bodice worked well with it. I loved the way her tiny but long drop earrings peeped out from under her sleek bob - anything fussier would have competed with the skirt. Her purple eye makeup was all the added color she needed. A truly gorgeous look, and a well-chosen pairing. 

Olivia Culpo: Gown by Marchesa; rings by Neil Lane
Culpo's silver art deco gown featured a plunging lace bodice and multi-tiered skirt covered in fringe. The design was meant to represent water - both drinking water and tears - and was a combined effort of designer Marchesa, the makers of Stella Artois beer, and Matt Damon's non-profit foundation, in support of a clean drinking water campaign. The gown is partly made from pieces of the "chalices" being sold by Stella Artois as part of the "Buy a Lady a Drink" campaign. The dress had plenty of sparkle on its own, so Culpo wisely opted to accessorize with only a few understated rings, a black beaded clutch, and a tiny black ribbon belt. Well played, ma'am. On several levels. (Please click on the links above for more information about the campaign or to donate to the cause.)

Hailee Steinfeld: Gown by Ralph & Russo; bracelet(s) by Neil Lane
Steinfeld's gown was a combination of really great details and design missteps. The fabric and general silhouette of the gown worked well together; the soft fabric moved well and had a subtle metallic and peach floral pattern that caught the light nicely. However, whether by accident or design, there were silver patches over each breast that caught the stage lights like headlights, and the skirt became perfectly sheer under the bright lights, transforming the delicate, ethereal gown into a rather trashy one. The high ruffled neckline and slicked-back hairstyle with heavy eye makeup did not lend themselves to eye-catching earrings or a necklace, but the bare arms were nicely accessorized by a graceful, linked-teardrop diamond bracelet and a tennis bracelet (it's not clear whether this was two separate bracelets or whether they were joined together, but they worked perfectly as a pair). If only this gown were as lovely on the stage as it was on the red carpet. 

Rosalind Ross: Jewelry by Bulgari
Mel Gibson's companion looked unhappy and uncomfortable during most of the awards ceremony, but she was luminous on the red carpet in a strapless ice-blue ballgown with a multi-seamed top, ribbon belt, and full skirt. Ross' deep blue, nearly violet eyes and dark hair were set off perfectly with a two-toned jewel necklace with ice blue stones matching her dress and violet stones matching her eyes, and matching earrings peeking out from behind a few dark tendrils escaping her ladylike updo. The combination drew focus to her lovely face, exactly where it should be.

Ruth Negga: Gown by Valentino; tiara and earrings by Irene Neuwirth
I am apparently one of the few who did not love Negga's Victorian-inspired scarlet gown. I found it to be unflattering and overwhelming on her slight figure, making her appear even tinier than she actually is. The scarlet was too bright and coral-toned for her complexion, and would have been much more flattering in a bright cranberry or burgundy. But the ruby (or possibly garnet) tiara and dangling earrings were sheer perfection in her dark hair and against her pale gold skin. Had the color of the gown been matched to the jewelry more closely, and perhaps the high neckline been converted to a sweetheart neckline, this look would have been a real winner. 

 What was your favorite gown + glitter combination of the evening?

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Best Picture Oscar Nominees: A Cocktail Guide

There are a whopping nine - NINE!!! - nominees for the 2017 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. I thought it might be fun to vote via cocktail for your favorite movie. With that in mind, here is the list of nominated films, along with a brief summary of each, and a suggested cocktail to enjoy during the ceremony, based on your vote for the Best Picture winner.

La La Land

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Original Music Score, Best Film Editing, Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Director, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing

Synopsis: An aspiring actress and a jazz pianist who wants to open his own club fall in love and support each other's career aspirations, at the expense of their own relationship. This musical pays homage to a number of classic movie musicals.

Cocktail: With its wonderful jazzy score and retro feel, I had to pair this film with a jazzy and retro cocktail, the Gin Rickey, said to be a favorite of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Combine 2 oz. gin and 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice in an ice-filled highball glass; top with seltzer or soda water. Garnish with lime.

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Director, Best Sound Editing, Best Writing Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing

Synopsis: A dozen alien spacecraft land on earth and a team of experts, led by a linguist, attempt to decode their language in order to understand why they're here and what they want, before the paranoia of some of earth's governments start a war.

Cocktail: It doesn't get much more exotic than aliens, so for this film, I suggest a Caipirinha, which requires a Brazilian liquor similar to rum, called cachaca (rum is made from boiled sugarcane juice, or molasses; cachaca is made from fresh sugarcane juice). Cut half a lime into wedges and muddle in an old-fashioned glass along with 2 teaspoons of sugar (or a generous splash of simple syrup). Fill the glass with ice and add 2 oz. of cachaca. Stir and garnish with lime.

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Writing Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman), Best Original Music Score

Synopsis: A young boy in Calcutta becomes lost and is eventually adopted by an Australian family. He returns to India as a young adult looking for his birth family.

Cocktail: Naturally, an Indian cocktail is appropriate, so I chose the Tamarind Margarita, a recipe from Tabla, a "New Indian" restaurant in New York. The only exotic ingredient needed is the tamarind paste, which is available in the international section of most grocery stores. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add 1-1/2 oz. tequila, 1 oz. triple sec, and 0.2 oz. tamarind paste, and shake until paste is dissolved. Add 2 oz. fresh lime juice, 1/2 oz. orange juice, and 1/2 oz. simple syrup. Shake well and pour into a salt-rimmed double rocks glass over ice. Garnish with lime.

Hell or High Water
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing

Synopsis: A ex-con and his brother scheme to save their family's Texas ranch.

Cocktail: The Texas setting calls for a "manly" Texas cocktail, so pair this film with a Texas Whiskey Revival. Obviously, Texas whiskey is best, but I won't tell if you use something else. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add 3/4 oz. whiskey, 3/4 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur. 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice, and 1/4 oz. simple syrup and shake until well chilled. Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with candied orange peel and a cherry.

Hidden Figures
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Best Writing Adapted Screenplay

Synopsis: The story of the team of African-American female mathematicians, known as "human computers", who worked at NASA during the early years of the US space program and had a key role in sending John Glenn into orbit - and bringing him safely home.

Cocktail: The film is set in the early 1960s, so I have to go with one of the most classic 60s cocktails, the Manhattan. Combine 2 oz. bourbon, 1 oz. sweet vermouth, and two dashes of Angostura bitters in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake well and serve in a chilled martini glass with a maraschino cherry garnish.

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Original Music Score, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Writing Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris), Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing

Synopsis: The story of a young black man growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami and trying to find his place in the world.

Cocktail: The most classic Miami cocktail has to be the Papa Doble (also called a Hemingway Daiquiri), so this is the cocktail to pair with Moonlight. In a cocktail shaker of ice, combine 4 oz. white rum, the juice of 2 limes, the juice of half a grapefruit, and and 6 drops of maraschino liqueur. Serve in a chilled martini glass garnished with lime.

Hacksaw Ridge
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Sound Editing, Best Actor (Andrew Garfield), Best Sound Mixing, Best Director, Best Film Editing

Synopsis: An army medic in World War II refuses to kill anyone, and becomes the first man in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot.

Cocktail: The World Peace Cocktail. No explanation needed as to why. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add 1-1/2 oz. gin, 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice, a splash of St. Germaine, 2 drop blue Curacao, and 2 drops orgeat syrup (or almond extract). Shake well and serve over ice in a rocks glass with a lemon twist.

Manchester by the Sea
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Casey Affleck), Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Lucas Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams)

Synopsis: A man is asked to take in his teenaged nephew when the boy's father dies.

Cocktail: I lived on Cape Ann for a number of years, and I can still smell the salt air. So the Salty Dog is the natural cocktail to pair with this film. Coat the rim of a cocktail glass with kosher salt, fill with ice, and add vodka (or gin) and grapefruit juice in a 2:3 ratio


Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis), Best Writing Adapted Screenplay

Synopsis: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Cocktail: The film is set in Pittsburgh, so I checked out the cocktail menu of The Livermore in Pittsburgh, and the Redwood Spritz jumped out at me. It doesn't give a recipe, but based on a "standard" spritz and the listed ingredients, this is my version: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add 3 parts bourbon, 1 part sweet vermouth, and 1 part fresh lemon juice, and shake well. Serve in a chilled martini glass and garnish with a sprig or two of fresh rosemary.

The red carpet coverage has begun, so I'm off to make myself a cocktail and start commenting on the fashions! Good luck to all the nominees!

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