Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2014: Best Production Design

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.



1. HER
K.K. Barrett & Gene Serdena

Catherine Martin & Beverly Dunn

Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin & Joanne Woollard

Adam Stockhausen & Alice Baker

Judy Becker & Heather Loeffler

For its so-’70s-it-hurts sets and the film’s overwhelming love from the community, American Hustle certainly has a decent shot here. Just take a look at Irving and Rosalyn’s home: Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler slathered the ranch-styled house in vintage patterned foil wallpaper; metallic-gold lighting fixtures; red-velour couches with gold throw pillows; and heavy, carpet-like drapes… Dear god, the tackiness of it all. The office and club settings are equally (and horrifically) as period-specific.

Oscar loves period pieces when it comes to, well, everything, but especially the design categories, and the most period of all (i.e. the oldest era represented) is 12 Years a Slave. Depicting the 1840s-50s, when photography was still nascent, makes for a tough gig, with designer Adam Stockhausen (a frequent Wes Anderson collaborator) and decorator Alice Baker having to reference images from the decade following and then removing them of any anachronisms. The result is a film full of still-existing, sprawling Louisiana plantations, but also shacks that act as slaves’ quarters; downtown Sarasota Springs, NY with its streets of dirt and carriages and wooden storefronts; and the bustling, dusty docks of Louisiana. It’s a less showy portrayal of the period than of, say, Gone with the Wind, but it’s a finely detailed one all the same.

Gravity‘s place mid-list is because it’s the least obvious in its design, not because it’s not worthy; it did, after all, win the Art Directors Guild Award for fantasy film. Production designer Andy Nicholson and set decorators Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard were in charge of creating the interiors and exteriors of the various space stations, and while, sure, some liberties were taken to further the fictional story, the vast majority of this work is intricately authentic. Particularly impressive is the Russian Soyuz space station, where we get an up-close look at the ship’s complex dashboard: the translations and the sequence of buttons are entirely accurate. Surprisingly, folks don’t seem to be confused about what is visual effects and what is production design — or, perhaps, they simply don’t care — whatever the case, Gravity’s win here in inevitable.

Her, a period piece in its own way (though it won the ADG for contemporary film), appears as though dreamt up entirely by the folks at Apple. Theodore’s office is an airy, open space sprinkled with colorful gel-based panels that reflect light, altering the tone of the space based on the time of day. Outside is a sprawling, pedestrian-friendly city (no Back to the Future-esque cars here), but one that we don’t see much of. Though this film, centered around one man and his relationship with an operating system, could be claustrophobic and cold, it’s the opposite. The minimalistic style, with its clean lines and lots of windows and light, feels friendly and endless. K.K. Barrett (Lost in Translation) and Gene Serdena’s design is a gorgeous physicalization of a dual technology: one that liberates rather than constricts, but also one that connects, even as it inherently separates.

But let’s be honest: Who can see the subtle, sherbet future of Her behind the glittery excess of The Great Gatsby Two-time Oscar winner (Moulin Rouge) Catherine Martin (the only previous winner/nominee here) pulls double-duty, designing both set and costumes (closely-linked categories) for husband-director Baz Luhrmann. For Gatsby, Martin oversaw 42 sets created in and around Sydney (on location and on sound stages), and it took her, decorator Beverley Dunn, and their team 14 weeks  to build and decorate Gatsby’s mansion (not to mention Nick’s homey cottage and Daisy’ not-exactly-second-rate estate). This included a ballroom, library, master bedroom, entrance hall, garden, etc., replete with monogrammed marquetry floors, gold-filigreed ceilings, ornate spiral staircases, gigantic crystal chandeliers and every other decadence the disgustingly wealthy Gatsby could imagine. It’s the kind of design that causes jaws to drop and eyes to hungrily scan for more. It’s not simply eye candy; it’s an eye feast, and if anything beats Gravity on Oscar night, this is it. (It has already won the ADG for period film.)


2 comments on “Oscars Predictions 2014: Best Production Design

  1. A-Ron
    January 21, 2014

    Ugh. I want nothing to do with that Gatsby mess.


    • Julie
      January 21, 2014

      I know, but…. Leo ❤


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