Oscars Lowdown 2014: Best Production Design - Will 'Gatsby' bling its way to the win?
In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!
As in Best Costume Design -- the category with which its outcome so frequently goes hand-in-hand -- ornamental period pieces and extravagant fantasies tend to dominate the Best Production Design category. So it's nice that the Academy gave us a fairly varied field this year: period pieces may still make up the majority of the field, but one is of a recent vintage, while the others could hardly be more opposed in their approach to days of year. Meanwhile, neither the futuristic fantasy nor the hi-tech outer-space adventure are as excessively designed as you might expect from nominees in this race. Moreover, for the first time since the ADG created three separate categories, all the Guild winners are represented here.
The nominees are...
"American Hustle" (Judy Becker; Heather Loeffler)
I'm pleased Becker and Loeffler made the cut, since this is the kind of artfully ugly 1970s evocation that can often miss with a branch that tends to like their design work either perfectly pretty or super-slick -- that miss for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" two years ago being a good example. Bar the hideous, literally gilded suburban birdcage constructed for Jennifer Lawrence's trophy wife, the sets of "Hustle" aren't as flashy or knowingly gaudy as Michael Wilkinson's costumes, but Becker does revel in the oppressive textures of dark wood panelling, flock wallpaper and grimly practical office furniture of the era -- while no smaller detail, be it chunky beige telephone, over-aspiration modernist painting or early science oven, is neglected. It's the least attractive work here, which probably makes it the least likely to triumph, but a worthy nominee. (Check out our interview with Becker here.)
"Gravity" (Andy Nicholson; Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard)
The production designers' branch has been quite open to digitally augmented work in recent years, as exemplified particularly by Robert Stromberg's back-to-back wins for "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland." So it's not technical uncertainly that Nicholson, Goodwin and Woollard (nominated 26 years ago for far more old-school work on "Hope and Glory") have to overcome so much as voters' inclinations toward more fanciful work -- "Gravity's" space-station recreations could hardly be more intricate, exacting or authentic, and deserve a significant amount of credit for the film's tactile immersiveness, but they are neither fantastical nor especially decorative. So convincing are they, in fact, that some voters may even forget to observe them as a feat of design. The Art Directors' Guild gave Nicholson their Fantasy award, which isn't really the correct classification; an Oscar win, is quite possible if many many voters are wowed into checking if off across all technical categories.