Film Bitch History
Oscar History

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Great Art Direction... According to Art Directors 

Just as soon as we reached the end of the Critical Pile-Up, we hit Guild Mania. Awards season is a chain leading us to Oscar. Like SAG, the various guilds don't have as much overlap with Oscar as people think. Generally speaking the size of the Academy (just under 6,000 last I heard) wouldn't even fill one of the guilds and that includes all types and not just one profession. But it's still quite interesting to see what various artists think of their peers -- it's especially interesting when they look beyond Oscar buzz, which they sadly do less of than they should.

So what did the production designers get excited about this year... at least enough to scribble it's name on a ballot? Let's see...

I'm sorry but how PERFECT is that painting for Celia Foote's home?

THE ARTIST Laurence Bennett
HUGO Dante Ferretti
THE HELP Mark Ricker
ANONYMOUS Sebastian Krawinkel

This is the category people tend to get most excited about given that it's the one that most closely corresponds to Oscar's way of thinking. Some are already griping that War Horse missed the list but doesn't the cozy pretty storybook look scream "fantasy" rather than "period" -- perhaps they couldn't choose where to put it? Even the barb wire battleground looks less flesh-tearing tangible than gothically spooky movie fantastical. I understand what the film is going for but the choice sometimes feel odd -- especially all the coy looking away at the horrors of war, though that's a directorial thing and has nothing to do with the sets.

On the other hand it's not like Hugo and Anonymous prefer realism to fantasy and they're present so let's move on. 

Nice to see Djurkovic score here as her consistent but rangey interiors work is the absolute best think about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy -- all those sad beige boxed-in prisons stuffed with information, from cubicles to shafts to bedrooms to libraries to board rooms.

Great Looking Period Films They Didn't Nominate: 
A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, The Tree of Life, and W.E. 

Good luck finding what you're looking for in the haystacks of information in "Tinker Tailor"

Fantasy and Contemporary Films after the jump...

HARRY POTTER 8 Stuart Craig
COWBOYS & ALIENS  Scott Chambliss

Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows: PART TWO! is, I suspect, Hugo's Dante Ferretti's only competition for the Oscar. Though Stuart Craig has won plenty of Oscars, he's never won for the Harry Potter franchise. I am not the biggest fan of those films as you know but if anyone from the franchise deserves a prize for a decade's worth of work, it's 150% him.

I was super happy to see Captain America here and am quite surprised about Cowboys & Aliens but to be fair to Mr. Chambliss I haven't seen it so perhaps this is a brilliant recognition of fine work within a film people aren't crazy about (a combo I always endorse since the opposite is too often the case, where mediocre work within a great movie is honored, quality by proximity you know).

Very Art-Directed Fantasies They Passed On: The Muppets (Steve Saklad), Thor (Bo Welch) and Hanna (Sarah Greenwood... doing her usual stellar work. She's a gutsy one!)

the set decorators went to town with Extremely Loud

DRIVE Beth Mickle
BRIDESMAIDS  Jefferson Sage

The contemporary category is where the guild tends to be most heartbreaking, demonstrating their reliance on Oscar buzz in a general sense rather than their own eyeballs in a craft specific sense. I do totally get the inclusion of K.K. Barrett who embraces the magpie like qualities of Extremely Loud's protagonist and though I had a fierce argument about the Drive sets and color palette the other day, but I love them (obviously). 

Notably Well Designed Films They Skipped:
Beginners (Shane Valentino), The Skin I Live In (Antxón Gómez), Martha Marcy May Marlene (Chad Keith) and Young Adult (Kevin Thompson) any of which I'd glady argue were equally strong (or stronger) examples of art direction contributing to the emotional DNA of their film.

Could you live inside any of these well-appointed films?

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Reader Comments (27)

Bridesmaids sure seems to be in the Best Picture discussion now, doesn't it? I don't think it will get in, but it is getting some pretty big nominations that typically bode well for Best Picture nominees.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I personally think "Moneyball" was also snubbed for Contemporary. The clubhouses, locker rooms and residences brought a lot of life to what could have been forgettable work.

I would have also considered "Hanna" to be more of a Contemporary choice, instead of Fantasy. Regardless, it was ROBBED in whatever category.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom C.

I dunno. Didn't everyone say the same thing about The Hangover? I don't really think this is anything other than the typical "what movie are people talking about?" situation. which is how one can theoretically explain Descendants too for art direction (???).

No offense to Jefferson Cage! I do love that Cake Baby signage and the gawdy nouveau rich decor (chocolate fountains for the win!) that Rose Byrne is always serving up.

January 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Yeah but The Hangover never made it as far as Bridesmaids already has. I mean with a strong contending acting nominee in McCarthy and a SAG Best Ensemble etc
I think it's unfair to compare them and I'm sure the Bridesmaids people get annoyed by the comparison. I couldn't even make it through Hangover and I've seen Bridesmaids several times. "/ If there were 10 nominees it would be in.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLola

Would love to hear your take on Drive. Was at a q&a last year and Refn actually said that he's colour blind. I was really fascinated by that fact and what he was able to do with Drive and his earlier films.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternic

Nic -- i've talked about DRIVE a lot... or do you just mean it's art direction?

January 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Snubbing The Skin I Live In just feels so wrong.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbia

Completely agreed about Bridesmaids making it far further than The Hangover and that being an undeserved comparison. Not only that, but in that year, we saw District 9, Star Trek and The Hangover all battling for the "populist" spot. The only films that have that same populist appeal this year are, theoretically, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (though the people seem to be rejecting that one) and Harry Potter and the Unnecessary Sequel, which hasn't been performing nearly as well in the precursors.

There was some talk yesterday after the PGA nominations that the Ides of March would be a dark horse, but I'd bet on Bridesmaids first. It's still buzzy, it now has the recognition of THREE guilds and the Globes--call me crazy, but I think it might get in.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

As much as I love everything Rose Byrne's character brings to the table art direction-wise, I'd like to think those art directors just went apeshit for Jill Clayburgh's celebrity caricatures :)

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

I don't think there will be enough Best Picture slots for Bridesmaids to get in. If there was a guaranteed 10-wide field, it would look much better. I don't think it'll reach the 5% threshold.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Sorry Nat, I should be more clear I do mean the art director. I thought the discussion you mentioned in the article was somewhere on this site or another.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternic

nic -- oh no. it was an argument with a friend offline who HATED drive. Yes, such people exist! weird, right ? ;)

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

I think Oscar Art Direction is definitely a battle between Hugo and Potter.

I would love to see some love for the production design in Midnight in Paris!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMat

"Melancholia" should've been a shoe-in for contemporary, or is it fantasy? Ugh *brain implodes* all I know is, that the castle's library was a thing of evil and ironic beauty.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJose

“Dragon Tattoo”, “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy”, “Deathly Hollows Part 2”

“The Descendants”, no “Dangerous Method”, “Tin Tin” over “Rango”

no “Skin I Live In, no “Tree of Life”, no "Hanna"

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRyanSt

"especially all the coy looking away at the horrors of war, though that's a directorial thing and has nothing to do with the sets."

Oh, for fuck's sake, it's a family movie.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGustavo

And also, you detractors say Spielberg lacks subtlety. When he suggests the horrors of war, like in War Horse, he is criticized. When he shows it, like in Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List, he is criticized. Apparently, he's the worst filmmaker ever. No artistic decision from him is ever right.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGustavo

A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre and The Tree of Life should have been contenders specially the first one which was incredibly meticulous without being too obvious.

I'm totally rooting for Tinker and that fascinating beige wall...

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Gustavo -- i have never criticized Schindler's List for showing the atrocities of war. I only have a few qualms (the pink coat makes me crazy). Great movie. I also think Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Close Encounters are great films. but since I am not brainwashed into thinking that everything he does is great -- usually with him i end up in a place where I think his movies have great moments but aren't great as a whole -- people say i hate him.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Potter 8 will win fantasy no doubt. Tree of Life gets robbed again. oscar loves those period pieces, ditto. It would be nice if a contemporary movie would be honored for a nomination.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlotr2001

Did anybody else notice and love the headboard to Kristen Wiig's bed in Bridesmaids?

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSoSueMe

Thank you for referencing A Dangerous Method. Although I haven't seen Anonymous (the only one the "Period" nominees I haven't), I can't imagine it would hold a candle to James McAteer's recreation of turn-of-the-century Zurich/Vienna.

P.S. Mark Ricker (The Help) is a fox. That's all.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Mareko -- that he is. I sat across from him at the Help luncheon ;) He and his set decorator were really nice too.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I am not a fan of Captain American, but I hope the costumes get guild recognition, too. Shepperd is always perfect in this time frame.

You know what I miss here? The Adjustment Bureau.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I have said before that my positive opinion of The Descendants is influenced, in part, by the fact that I lived for two decades in the neighborhoods in which it takes place. That both biases me and informs me, right? That said, I think its artistic design is notable and worthy of citation. Hawaii in this movie looks like Hawaii looks to me. The open interiors, the street scenes, the shabby underbelly of the tourist-friendly sites...the movie gets all that right. I am not an expert in art direction, so conversations about whether or not the guild knows what it is talking about are kind of beyond me, but when I saw the movie on this list, I was glad. The movie looks like the Hawaii I've lived in. Tangentially, I'd say the same thing about the music. There are differences between Hawaiian music, just as their are differences within any sub-strata of music. The musical choices in that movie are perfect. Again, I don't think the movie is flawless, but I feel a need to stand up for its look and its sound.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertimothy

The art direction of "Drive" is supurb. Love the kinda ugly colours that the apartments are wallpapered in (some sort of pale eucalyptus green) just like you;d expect an LA rental apartment to look like.

Shame about "Thor"'s gold-plated palaces.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

timothy -- interesting to hear that. I was waiting for someone to explain something about The Descendants love.

January 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R
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