My favorite segment of the Oscars, every year, is the “In Memoriam,” in which the ceremony takes a break from the terrible jokes and bloated musical numbers and faux displays of humility to honor those colleagues who have died in the past year. Unlike the rest of the awards ceremony, the “In Memoriam” doesn’t just honor the beautiful people—the Anne Hathaways and George Clooneys who light up the screen—but all the unsung heroes who toil in the backgrounds, or on the margins, of the industry.
The segment honors the experimental filmmakers (like Chris Marker, honored this year), the costume designers (the surrealist Eiko Ishioka, who was posthumously nominated for her work in Mirror/Mirror this year), and the dozens of unglamorous cinematographers, sound production engineers, and special effects gurus who give the movies so much of their magic.
This year’s tribute was particularly wonderful, because at the end Barbara Streisand emerged — wearing a diaphanous black gown and dripping in gold sequins and chains — to honor to the late songwriter Marvin Hamlisch. She performed one of his songs, “The Way We Were,” from the film in which she starred with Robert Redford.
I always like seeing (and hearing) Babs at these things. Not just because I was weaned on “Funny Girl” and “Yentl” as a girl, and not just because she’s a great performer, but also because her no-BS attitude, her brash diva fabulosity, and her unconventional (or, rather, non-Hollywood cookie cutter) beauty is a welcome respite from the sea of pale, delicate sylphs stalking the stage and red carpet.
Even Streisand’s outfit, with its unapologetic glitz and that rather ill-advised choker, injected some much-needed variation the standard fashion parade of pale pink confections and nude-colored gowns. That Streisand has managed to break into the industry, win awards, and stay relevant, without compromising or trying to hide her “otherness,” is awe-inspiring.
The Oscars red carpet has never been particularly diverse, and this year was no exception. Hathaway in pale pink Prada, next. Jennifer Lawrence in princess-like Dior. Yawn.
Charlize Theron, rocking her new short ‘do, but in standard white. Zzzzz. Perfectly pretty, but dulling in their sameness.
Some of the usual suspects—icy blondes Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman, for example—provided some wattage with their sci-fi-looking couture. But many of the most refreshing looks came from those who don’t fit within Hollywood’s narrow scope of beauty. These women — of different races, ages, and shapes—were the ones who had the most fun with their fashions, and consequently stole the show.
Best dressed of the evening: Django Unchained star Kerry Washington, who looked ravishing in an audacious, jewel-encrusted strapless bright pink Miu Miu gown. (Her male co-stars, Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson, also dressed to impress, wearing a sparkly bow tie and a red velvet smoking jacket, respectively.)
The 86-year-old French actress Emmanuelle Riva (the oldest-ever best-actress nominee for her role in Amour) looked devastatingly chic in an understated blue Lanvin dress with a cape and minimal makeup. Halle Berry sizzled in a sequined Versace dress that (somehow) winningly combined Art Deco design with Dynasty-era shoulder pads. British chanteuse Adele looked smashing in a ‘60s-style sparkly shift.
Adorable nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) carried the best accessory of the night: a puppy purse that matched her custom navy Armani gown. And Michelle Obama out-styled Tinsel Town (via satellite) in her silver Naeem Khan sheath.
Finally, no one was more sublime than the sequin-clad septuagenarian Shirley Bassey, who brought the house down with her performance of the vintage Bond theme “Goldfinger.” Glamorous, sexy, and timeless: everything a star should be. Just like Babs.
Raquel Laneri is a freelance writer and editor in Brooklyn. She has written about fashion and culture for ELLE.com, Newsweek International, Forbes, and The Daily, among other places, and she’s a contributing editor at Architizer.