It’s time for the Golden Globes, that shot across the bow of awards season that offers us our first real glimpse of the public images the potential awardees are going to be wearing this year.
As always, if you’re worried I’m making fun of outfits on the red carpet because I think it’s fancy dresses and frivolous nonsense, and somehow my previous rundowns don’t convince you, never fear: I wrote two novels about weaponized public image as the world’s most bulletproof cover for political machinations, so probably not. (Those novels are Persona [Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon] and Icon [Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon].) Icon opens on a red carpet. I respect the red carpet. It is a merciless machine of celebrity and its power only grows.
(My favorite red carpet game: How Many People in This Picture are Actually the Celebrities? I see one. I thrill to the idea that she might be the only celebrity in this picture.)
If you’re here, you probably know all that already. However, because I welcome any behind-the-scenes footage that demystifies the sense of celebrity prom fun-time evenings that announcers suggest, here’s two minutes of Emily Ratajkowski, not even nominated for anything, making her way past photographers.
— Golden Globe Awards (@goldenglobes) January 8, 2017
And lest you think the red carpet is easy, after all that, here’s an official photo she ended up with.
Red carpets are brutal.
On the other hand, they are not insurmountable. If you possess the very particular skill set necessary to navigate the red carpet, it looks easy and marvelous.
Is that a nice dress? You can’t even tell, can you? She’s at “heading to the front door to accept delivery of a modest bouquet of flowers you already know is coming to the surprise is gone, but it’s nice to be thought of, just on principle” levels of casual. You’d buy anything she was wearing.
More often, however, it’s impossible to not make a statement on the red carpet, even if your statement is “This dress is what I am supposed to wear, I don’t care, please take the minimum of photos and forget this dress immediately.” Clothing is communication.
Take Octavia Spencer.
The jacket has smart tailoring, except for the decision to cut away from the crotch area. (You either do that starting mid-hip, or you do the preferable thing and just cover your fly area to keep the line clean.) The fabric on the pants isn’t particularly forgiving under the press lights, either, but it looked richer elsewhere, and even if it didn’t I’m excited about this look for her. The primary reason is that an actress of her age is under pressure to look as young as possible as long as possible, and Young in red-carpet speak often translates to a very narrow range of feminine expression – particularly if you’re not white. Octavia wearing this suit is a gesture of confidence, not least about her career; this suit suggests she doesn’t need to wear the formal standard to be taken seriously. I would love if she’s right.
Anna Chlumsky, with a lesson in how crucial the right red-carpet dress is, why there’s such pressure to be at minimum weight for things like this, and why poses are so rigidly controlled. On the left-hand photo, the dress is fine; it pulls a bit across the chest, but she was always going to luck out this year given Anna Kendrick’s turnout. The dress has an interesting but not over-the-top asymmetric detail, a nipped waist, a little skirt draping but nothing outrageous. She clearly didn’t even sit down in the car; that thing is creaseless. She’s done this before, she knows the drill.
On the right…well. A degree off, a flash too soon, the minor tilt of laughing, and you’re suddenly a Don’t.
Of course, some people navigate the red carpet so well they manage to promote the thing they’re nominated for and simultaneously audition for something else, which suits me just fine, considering what I’m casting.
A little while ago, on Twitter, I mentioned that someone had asked offhand about my dream Catwoman casting for the new movie, and I went into my usual spiral of overthinking something trivial until it haunts my dreams. Part of the problem is that there are so many factors that would change the nature of the story and thus the ideal cast. How old is she supposed to be? (Margot Robbie is 25, but that’s younger than Harley Quinn’s supposed to be, surely – she’s a doctor!) Is Selina 35? 45, like Affleck’s Batman? Has she known him long (I assume yes) or is she young enough that she’ll be having her first run-ins with him? Are we thinking of actresses who have yet to really break out, or are we picking someone who’s done enough recent big-ticket work that the studio feels like she’ll bring in an audience? What’s her narrative position – mentor? Reluctant ally? Antagonist? I had a spread of 20 actresses before I realized I should probably just cool it.
However, two of the women who were very high on that list came to the Golden Globes (if Rachel Weisz had shown up we’d have had the lock on the top three), and honestly, they might as well have been auditioning for the part.
Thandie Newton. (She auditioned for the part way back in Mission: Impossible 2, but she’s only gotten more suited since.) A Catwoman who’s been doing this a long time. She’s on-again off-again with Batman, but obviously knows better than to rely on his feelings for anything less than a life-or-death situation. Has given up the more athletic heisting at this point, and just enjoys big-ticket sleight of hand right out from under the noses of rich people who should probably keep a better eye on their stuff. Is always a little bit angry; struggles with appetites for power and freedom in equal measure.
Ruth Negga. A younger Catwoman (but has the circles under her eyes I think are mandatory on any screen Catwoman – no matter her age, she’s come from rough places, and she doesn’t sleep enough). Her relationship with the Bat is more sarcastic than fond, though they have moments of understanding. (Those moments often surprise her.) She’s the scrapper; angry in a more straightforward way than Thandie’s Catwoman. She robs to survive, and only cares how delicately it’s done if she thinks her victim has the taste to appreciate how, exactly, they’ve been had.
Sadly, the red carpet was not just a collection of all the women who I think would make interesting iterations of Selina Kyle. Many of them looked nice, though!
LOOKING GREAT DIVISION
Priyanka Chopra, closest to the Catwoman division for a reason. She’s featuring one of the big trends on this carpet, the plunging neckline; unlike most people who participated in this trend, she actually has a sculptural chest to negotiate, but her team has balanced it all perfectly; no skin anywhere else, Carelessly Casual Yet Vaguely Virginal loose hair. Priyanka Chopra is not here to fight youths; she’s here to remind you she’s a star.
Issa Rae, wearing this textured formal as casually as if it was a sweater. Clean and modern but really eye-catching; a fantastic Golden Globes debut.
Teresa Palmer. Understated but luxe; beautiful dress.
Evan Rachel Wood. Okay look. This is a beautiful tux (though in the interest of insufferable nitpicking, those pants are one fingerwidth too long; ideally the tip of your shoe juuuust peeks out from under to remind people you have feet). The look is better than her commentary, in which she said she’d worn the tux to show young girls that dresses aren’t mandatory – you can wear pants. Ah yes, Evan Rachel Wood bravely showing girls that even if you’re a young thin well-off white woman, you can slightly bend sartorial expectation. Second of all, Janelle Monae would like to speak with you.
Janelle Monae, who carries that look effortlessly from head to toe, as always.
Lily Collins. This a really smart dress for someone who doesn’t have a project going as of red-carpet time: You’re going to have to talk about something; you might as well make it your dress. It’s gigantic and fancy and pretty in a fairly memorable way (it was one of the biggest circumferences on the carpet), but also in a way no one takes particularly personally. It’s an event dress made for the red carpet, and she’s letting it do what it was designed to do.
Angela Bassett, continuing the trend of showing up in an of-the-moment color and quietly ruining it for half the other women who show up in it.
She called Viola Davis about it. Davis is in.
Tracee Ellis Ross, in a deconstructed-Versailles sheath; the look is made by the eight platinum-knuckle rings she’s wearing. (I’m curious about this hem length, which we also see later on Kerry Washington; it eliminates the hassle of a train, but it is also a very specific length. How fast does a hem age? The mullet skirt has already cycled out of favor so fast Janelle Monae looks retro for wearing one.)
Naomie Harris, who looks like a roll of tin foil being held together with barbed wire, but in an incredibly chic way. (There’s some level of insider baseball going on with a lot of the metallic dresses on this red carpet. Whether or not you plan on appearing on other red carpets has some effect on which carpet you choose as your venue to go all-out; whether you consider metallics All Out or if that’s some other variable – ball gowns, bright colors – varies enough that I’m just going to leave this here while reserving the right to nod grimly as other awards nominations roll out.)
In the absence of a special award for Harriet Walter looking just this side of throttling ol’ Churchill for ten hours, have Claire Foy, who everybody knew was going to walk off with the statue. This is the perfect “You remember me, I play the Queen” dress while shifting the overall impression sixty years forward in time. (That tousled hair and eyeliner combo is deliberate. Claire Foy is not going to play be-cardiganed monarchs forever; she is prepared to be sexier at a moment’s notice.)
Trace Lysette, in a great color. Interesting to see how the sleeve detail keeps the length from feeling t-shirty.
But there’s more to the red carpet than looking great. There’s also, honestly, more to it than just avoiding looking terrible. Most people on the red carpet are aware they’re sending a message; whether the dress looks good takes a backseat to whether the message comes across.
LET’S PLAY DIVISION
Olivia Culpo. Who?, you might ask. Answer: Does it matter? She got her picture taken in this dress, so she has done her job. With every photo op, more pop-culture osmosis. Soon she’ll be famous enough that designers will let her hem her loaners.
Gal Gadot is pregnant. She definitely didn’t gain ten pounds like some kind of monster; she’s pregnant.
Jessica Chastain. Her team wisely picked a color nobody else is wearing, which makes her easy to identify on a crowded carpet, there’s enough glitz to make us think she’s taking this seriously, and they tapped the plunging-neckline trend early. The flip side of this is that Jessica Chastain’s red-carpet dresses tend to wear her; this dress is no exception.
Did you know Natalie Portman is in a movie that takes place in the 1960s? Well, you do now, asshole. Portman styling team out.
Winona Ryder, in a dress that’s ostensibly nice enough to make her invisible but deliberately not showy enough that anyone would be even slightly tempted to ask if she stole it.
Kerry Washington, doing the thing she does where she picks a very fashion-forward garment that is interesting and somehow goes off the rails at the last second in a way that isn’t always easy to even explain, but in your heart you know that if someone’s going to sell you that medallion lace, the least they can do is make the underlayer one color so you’re not facing a Sudden Bosom Change. (Adore the shoulders, for the record.)
Did you know Brie Larson is prepping for a skintight-suit movie? Well, you do now, asshole. Larson body-sculpting team out.
Millie Bobbie Brown, who arrived separately from the rest of the Stranger Things kids because her management team has realized the value of having the next great ingenue and are going to set her apart until she’s old enough to sign an advertising deal with a designer. And I genuinely can’t tell if Millie Bobbie Brown is taking the piss out of red-carpet poses or if the camera caught her just before she was ready. I’m leaning toward the former, because she already seems like someone who beats awkward moments to death and stomps over them. The dress is lovely and age-appropriate; I suspect so are her poses, when she feels like it.
Blake Lively. Part of me has a soft spot for this dress, which looks like something an alien queen would wear in a 1950s B-movie. “Because I’m a matriarch, I have these pockets; because it’s the 1950s, they’re clearly ceremonial and now my hands are stuck and somebody has to carry me.”
Did you know Isabelle Huppert is nominated for playing an ice queen in a psychological drama? Actually, you might not know; this is a wintry dress but she looks so pleased you’re forgiven for not being sure whether she’s nominated for the heartwarmer or the queasy one.
Felicity Jones. Is this the red-carpet-gown equivalent of a t-shirt printed with a tux? It kind of is, right? Do we think she knows? (Related, taking bets on this: Is it in her contract that she has to have those two “Who, me? But I’m a Hollywood It Girl!” hair hanks on every red carpet until Rogue One leaves theaters?)
Nicole Kidman, in a dress she has to know is a Moulin Rouge callback. Her night-sky McQueen was beautiful on the Met Gala carpet, where “trying too hard” doesn’t quite mean what it means on the Golden Globes carpet. (Honestly, if she just lost the puff-top gauntlets she’d have been unremarkable; however, Terrible Sleeves were a trend on this carpet, and Nicole Kidman would always rather be remarkable, so here we are.)
Nicole barely missed being swept up in one of the more interesting subtrends this year, which is avoiding any hint of 1950s The Crown ballgowns (too cosplay? Why? Do we hate ballgowns now? Are we saving them all for the SAG Awards?) and hitting the 1970s instead. Might as well, I guess! Much easier to negotiate your dinner-table seat when you’re not negotiating a crinoline.
1970s SOAP OPERA DIVISION
Kristen Bell. PTA rich-bitch by day; competitive disco judge by night. Corrupt as all hell. She’s ruined three national teams. Watch out.
But not this year. Not if Drew Barrymore has anything to say about it. She may look like a washed-up singer whose last tour was a disaster, but she’s had enough of slimy people on power trips. She’s going to clean up the competitive disco world or die trying.
Michelle Williams. Poised to win last year’s Disco Championships, but Kristen Bell got to her scores. The loss was so depressing it knocked her right into 1985. Those Terrible Sleeves are a reminder of her broken disco dreams; she’ll never lift those arms again.
Mandy Moore. She’s not going to be put off by the rigged judging. Her heart is pure, her sternum unafraid. She wants to dance; she’ll find a way.
Since the ingenue slot is already taken and women on TV operate on a moral binary, Emma Stone is probably a cannibal. (The 70s competitive disco scene was a weird time.)
Hailee Steinfeld, a Greek goddess who descends from Olympus with a mandate to help someone succeed at this disco championship. As a reminder that this is a punishment, Hera gave her that bodice detailing.
Gillian Anderson, the last goddess who got sent down here. She pre-noped. Nobody should get help with disco. Nobody. She’s all done.
Gina Rodriguez. She runs the nightclub where the best and brightest come to dance. She’s killed three men. Almost no one suspects it, with that smile; those that do suspect it will never, ever ask her about it.
Sophie Turner. Sometimes people on the show do a lot of drugs, and when they do, this is what other people’s clothes look like to them.
(Title of show TK. I’m thinking “The Bump,” but only if Kristen Bell gets murdered during sweeps week and they have to decide if Mandy Moore or Emma Stone did it.)
Of course, for some, the need to make a statement ends up backfiring. Most of the time I respect what they’re going for; sometimes we all get a wonderful mystery.
MAYBE NOT DIVISION
Riley Keough. The pressure to look alluring yet a little edgy is incredible on a carpet like this (a more “fun” carpet than, say, the Oscars), especially when you’re new and your main body of work is in television and you’re trying to level up to more movie work. You want to be stylish enough that you look too cool for TV, somehow. This is not that how, and Riley Keough knows.
Anna Kendrick, demonstrating that these dresses always have a Gothic cathedral’s worth of architecture in them even when it looks like they’re made of gauze and dreams, and that if you twist your bodice half an inch while getting out of your car, you can ruin your whole night. She will regret that, and the severity of that diagonal, for a while.
Sarah Jessica Parker. She does not care what you say about her picture, only that you do say something. Oh, Sarah Jessica Parker; not all the doubled-up trends in the world can save you now.
Carrie Underwood. This was a trend a few carpets back, and it was hit-or-miss then. It was definitely more likely to miss the closer it got to the face. I think this is The Most, The Closest I’ve yet seen. I guess Carrie Underwood can be proud of that, which is nice, since she’ll need something to be proud of out of this ensemble.
Zoe Saldana. Why would you. Why. I don’t know, she doesn’t know, nobody knows. It’s a long, long season; someone’s bound to slip up. It was just Zoe Saldana’s turn, and so here we all are, conveniently reminded of the difference between dully serviceable and genuinely bad. In some ways, it’s a public service, really. Look upon her and realize we’re in for a long, weird season.