Production Design is my favorite technical category at the Oscars. I love a well-constructed world, and a movie that is aware and careful of the way the environment its characters inhabit can be huge asset in terms of storytelling. That is why I love Wes Anderson, and why I am so frustrated by the constant repetition of Tim Burton in recent years. As with Costume Design, when it comes to Production Design, the Academy prefers its nominees as period and fantasy pieces. Although unlike Costume Design, the production designers are not as keen on nominating movies that are a) movies that are not up for the “big” categories or b) box-office or critical flops that nevertheless show outstanding craftsmanship. This year, the only movie nominated for Production Design that is not a Best Picture nominee is Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. It is also probably going to win. Luhrmann is well-known for his visuals, and Gatsby is a major feast for the eyes, so the most likely scenario is Catherine Martin wins a second Oscar in this category (she won for Moulin Rouge! in 2001).
Now, you would think the Production Design in Gatsby is spectacular enough for it to easily manage a win, but I would have said the same thing about last year’s Anna Karenina (which shows the most amazing Production Design in ages, and I can’t still believe it lost, and yeah, let’s not talk about that just now), which somehow ended up losing the award to the more Best Picture-friendly Lincoln. The question, then, is: With the three Best Picture front-runners nominated in the category, will the Academy want to award any of them? 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and American Hustle all stand a chance at stealing enough votes from Gatsby, and I would not be surprised if one of them pulled an upset. Especially Gravity, since Production Design and Visual Effects winners have been lining up in the past years (Lord of the Rings, Benjamin Button, Avatar, Hugo).
Still, if there is a movie that deserves to take the prize from Gatsby’s glitzy re-imagining of the roarin’ twenties, it’s K.K. Barrett’s use of Los Angeles and Shanghai to create a futuristic utopia in which lonely men fall in love with their phones. I am not a big fan of Her, but I definitely appreciate the minutia Barret is working with to create its futuristic world. Not that this is surprising at all, considering Barrett is responsible for such beautiful work as Marie Antoinette and Where the Wild Things Are (both of which he should, and was not, nominated for).
Will Win: Catherine Martin (The Great Gatsby)
My Vote: K.K. Barrett (Her)