"I'd like to say that we have all this insider information and it's totally top secret and there's this underground bunker where we all meet," he said, "but actually, it's really educated luck."
As they watch movies throughout the year, they note the costumes that "make those characters leap off the screen," Jones said, with an experienced eye for excellence that usually overlaps with the film academy's costume designers' branch.
This year's nominees are particularly diverse costumes from 1850s England to 1930s China to New York in 1978, which Jones said reflects an appreciation of designers' increasing sophistication in creating realistic or stylized looks for any era or atmosphere.
"It's not so much just (that) it's an old movie set in the 18th or 19th century so therefore it's worthy of being nominated," he said, adding that some of the costumes for "American Hustle" are original pieces from the 1970s. "I love it because it's (recognizing) a broader range of what costume design represents."
Michael Wilkinson, who created the costumes for "American Hustle," said it was exciting to see his work in a museum setting.
"It's great to see them as a lineup," he said. "Because when you're on set, you never get to see five Amy Adams costumes all at once."
There's the gold lame dress she topped with a fur coat, the turquoise wrap dress she accessorized with a Gucci python purse and Wilkinson's favorite: a silver sequined gown with a plunging neckline.
"It was something I designed for the film especially for her," he said. "We knew we had to make a big impact with this costume in the film, and with this very dramatic line and this fabric I found that had just the right amount of stretch and sheerness to it to really hug all the right spots, I think it was a pretty memorable moment."
Wilkinson, whose credits also include "TRON: Legacy" and both parts of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn," said he was impressed by the costumes in fellow Oscar contender "The Grandmaster."
"It's set in China, in the north and south in the '30s and '40s, and the designer does such an incredible job of capturing all the different worlds. The beauty of all the fabrics is incredible, and it's a real lesson in fabric and movement because it's a martial arts movie, so everything flows and has such a dramatic edge to it," he said. "I'm so glad a film of such merit rose to the top."
Also included in the exhibit: the supersuit from "Man of Steel," another Wilkinson design; a dress embellished with embroidery and appliques worn by Lawrence in the most recent "Hunger Games" movie; and a pair of poufy gowns from last year's costume design Oscar winner, "Anna Karenina."
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy