Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2015: 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. Adam Stockhausen & Anna Pinnock

2. Nathan Crowley & Gary Fettis

3. Maria Djurkovic & Tatiana MacDonald

4. Suzie Davies & Charlotte Watts

5. Dennis Gassner & Anna Pinnock

Many scenes from Into the Woods were filmed in actual woods in England (Rapunzel’s tower? A great find), but quite a bit of the “natural” set of the film (more than half the trees) was actually manufactured. While this created for some stunning backdrops like the waterfall in “Agony,” which was completely man-made off of a lake, a good portion of the design looked exactly like what it was: a forest built on a soundstage (see “Hello, Little Girl”). Not exactly the stuff of fairytales (why so anti-CGI, Into the Woods team?), yet Into the Woods is set firmly in the #2 spot, ready to spoil should voters tire of Wes Anderson’s film.

A lot of Suzie Davies’s initial research was done for her. After all, the subject of Mr. Turner is British painter J.M.W. Turner, and so Davies and Charlotte Watts built upon the eccentric Turner’s own vibrant palette and atmospheric drawings  to create his skylit studio and Chelsea workspace. But, given the competition, Davies and Watts are the least likely winners.

What’s special about  first-time nominees Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana MacDonald’s obsessively researched design for The Imitation Game is that it actually incorporates Alan Turing’s work. A sequence of complex drawings that he created whilst studying morphogenesis inspired the design of his home (used in the early scenes in the film), including the illustrations by biologist Ernst Haeckel that adorned the walls. But what’s most impressive about their work is that it utilizes a warmer, brighter palette than most WWII films (see the muted, dull Unbroken for an example). The color red is a theme that runs throughout – also inspired by a red and black drawing by Turing – such as in the cables for Enigma. It’s thorough and accurate work (unlike, ahem, the screenplay), but it won’t earn Djurkovic and MacDonald their first Oscars.

Maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot for saying this, but as nice as Crowley and Fettis’s spacecrafts and icy planets look, Gravity‘s realistic depiction of space looked even better. And if the unparalleled Gravity couldn’t nab this award, it’s hard to believe Interstellar will.

Designer Adam Stockhausen (12 Years a Slave) transformed a cavernous German department store into the The Grand Budapest Hotel. Replete with grand stairways, old-fashioned elevators, and atrium inspired by the German artistic style Jugendstil (mid-1890s – early 20th century), Stockhausen visited and researched luxury hotels like Berlin’s Hotel Adlon in Berlin and London’s Savoy Hotel before settling on the 1960s-styled functional design (all of those humorous arrowed signs pointing which way to the toilets, etc.). But it’s set decorator Anna Pinnock’s – yes, she’s a two-time nominee this year – unusual, eye-catching pieces that really make Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic world come alive: Deputy Kovacs’s whimsical antler desk, a hand-painted mural of the Alps in the dining room, dozens of prettily detailed, pastel-colored pastries and sweets, and more. It’s a huge, complicated design that looks like it’ll pay off: Stockhausen and Pinnock are this year’s frontrunners.


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