2015 Oscar Circuit: Best Production Design

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Our annual look at the individual Oscar categories. If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Circuit 2015. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions page for Best Production Design.

I don’t often latch onto a below-the-line category as my “favorite” category of the year—I’m usually an acting or screenwriting fan. However, this year, I’ve got some skin in the game with the Best Production Design category. As an unabashed Wes Anderson fanboy, I really want a film of his to get some hardware, especially in a visual-based field like production design and/or costumes. I like all of this category’s nominees, but one nominee in particular is my favorite piece of production design in many years. And, thankfully, it’s the frontrunner to win.

Just as a side note, I like that Awards Circuit does this type of thing—highlight below-the-line races and talent. Sure, this post won’t get as many clicks as the Oscar Circuit for Best Director or Best Actor, but I like that we get to touch on both of Anna Pinnock’s brilliant acts of set decoration and sing the praises of the unsung hero of Interstellar, Nathan Crowley.

The precursors in Best Production Design have been pretty lock-step. The BFCA and BAFTA both went for Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock’s masterful creation of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Likewise, the Art Directors Guild (soon-to-be née?) went with The Grand Budapest Hotel in Period Film, and then non-Oscar nominees Guardians of the Galaxy and Birdman in Fantasy Film and Contemporary Film, respectively. Of most important note, Guardians of the Galaxy beat Into the Woods in Fantasy, the Stephen Sondheim musical being ponied as the chief rival to Wes Anderson’s sensationally symmetrical sets.

But who will win Oscar? We discuss anon.

The Nominees Are:

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel – Adam Stockhausen & Anna Pinnock
  • The Imitation Game – Maria Djurkovic & Tatiana Macdonald
  • Interstellar – Nathan Crowley & Gary Fettis
  • Into the Woods – Dennis Gassner & Anna Pinnock
  • Turner – Suzie Davies & Charlotte Watts

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The Grand Budapest Hotel – Adam Stockhausen & Anna Pinnock

Wes Anderson is one of the most distinctly visual filmmaker working today. Therefore, it’s a little shocking that The Grand Budapest Hotel is the first Anderson film to land a Best Production Design nomination. It seems downright foolish in hindsight that The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom didn’t land at the very least a nomination here. Nevertheless, it has finally occurred!

Why It Got Nominated: I mean…they created a hotel and it looks amazing. Color, scale, shape, it’s all there and it’s all glorious. And the miniatures!   Adam Stockhausen has his second nomination in as many years and Anna Pinnock is a double nominee this year alone—both are looking for their first win. The sets are masterful. From the hotel itself to the Desgoffe und Taxis mansion, to the four-fingered museum, to the mountain-high cathedral. It’s all beautiful, distinctive, and in service of the film.

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The Imitation Game – Maria Djurkovic & Tatiana Macdonald

Many are eager to roll their eyes at any nomination bestowed upon Morten Tyldum’s period war drama, but simply put: The Imitation Game’s production design is great. It spans three separate eras, each of which is clearly differentiated thanks to the sets. It’s not gaudy, but that doesn’t make it any less grand

Why It Got Nominated: Perhaps slightly due in part to its apparent love within the Academy’s membership, but I think The Imitation Game got nominated because it’s a very worthy nominee. The achievement is historically astute and impressive. It makes simple office rooms interesting and conveys a dissent into government-sanctioned madness and heartbreak without drawing too much attention to the sets.

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Interstellar – Nathan Crowley & Gary Fettis

How cool is it that the Academy continues to dip its toe into space-based films within Production Design? The design of Interstellar isn’t bombastic like space films often are. Rather, it conveys a sense of desolation when necessary and of wonderment when you stare into the heart of a black hole. Nathan Crowley is undoubtedly the unsung hero of Interstellar. And SO MUCH DIRT!

Why It Got Nominated: Crowley doesn’t always collaborate with Christopher Nolan, but when he does, he’s often nominated for an Oscar. The Production Design branch has grown more and more open to this vein of design, demanding less grand drawing rooms and enjoying more tech-savvy spaceship cockpits.

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Into the Woods – Dennis Gassner & Anna Pinnock

Musicals do very well in Production Design. Further, Dennis Gassner does very well in production design! He won this category in 1991 for Bugsy, beating himself for Barton Fink. The erstwhile Coen brother collaborator is now the resident designer of the Bond universe, but his dark and twisted reimagining of a beloved stage musical earned him his first nomination since 2008.

Why It Got Nominated: Because…musicals? This is a curious nomination because most of the productions design is designed outside! This branch often enjoys lavish interiors rather than twisted trees and weeping willows. Nevertheless, here we are.

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Mr. Turner – Suzie Davies & Charlotte Watts

Haven’t yet seen Mr. Turner (you can read Jack Moulton’s four-star rave or Clayton’s less than inviting review for clarification)…but yay for a Mike Leigh film in tech races!

Why It Got Nominated: Period piece? Is that too reductive? Yea, that’s too reductive. Tell me in the comments why you think Mr. Turner was nominated here.

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THE FINAL CALL

Will Win: This is The Grand Budapest Hotel’s to lose, and all signs point to Adam Stockhausen & Anna Pinnock winning in a walk.

Could Win: If there is a spoiler, I’d say something like The Imitation Game or Into the Woods would be the ones to do it. Otherwise…a Wes Anderson film is finally winning a production design Oscar!.

Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel!

Should Have Been Nominated: Charles Wood – Guardians of the Galaxy

  • theatregeek

    Into the Woods has more created sets than you think. Places like the castle or the waterfall in Agony were pre-existing places. But, the darker wooded environs were often created (for instance the ones in Last Midnight and Moments in the Woods). And even ones that are outside, I mean, someone had to construct that dangerous twisted arbor Little Red is skipping under. But Budapest is probably winning anyway so who cares haha

    • Sam Coff

      Oh I know Into the Woods had a lot of sets! I just meant…well, those sets are “outside” sets, and very often strictly “outside” sets don’t win this category, unless they are overtly gawdy.

  • Jamie Teller

    If anything but GBH wins this it’ll be a travesty. I loved Interstellar, but this is not the category for it.

  • This SHOULD have gone to Snowpiercer. It’s so strange that it didn’t even get nominated.