2017 Oscar Circuit: Best Production Design

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The Academy Award for Best Production Design honors achievement in art direction and interior design. The award’s name recently changed in 2012 from Art Direction to the formerly mentioned title. Many members of the Designer’s branch of the Academy are also members of the Art Director’s Guild (ADG), who annually recognize the best in their craft with the ADG Excellence in Production Design award. This year, “The Shape of Water” and “Blade Runner 2049” received citations from ADG, putting them out in front as the smart bets to compete for the Oscar (Oscar has matched ADG 14 of the past 21 years).

And the Nominees Are:

  • Beauty and the Beast (Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (Dennis Gassner and Alessandra Querzola)
  • Darkest Hour (Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer)
  • Dunkirk (Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis)
  • The Shape of Water (Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeffrey A. Melvin)

Let’s start at the top, shall we?

“The Shape of Water” has surfaced as the front-runner to win the Oscar for Production Design, winning both the Critics’ Choice and BAFTA in this field, as well as one of the aforementioned ADG awards. With 13 total nominations, “Shape” is the most nominated film this year. Funnily enough (or not), the film with the most total nominations has won this award 10 times in the last 17 years.

Since this is the first nomination for the Austerberry/Vieau/Melvin trio, it would, of course, be their first win as well. If “Shape” were to take this category and then go on to win Best Picture, it would be the first time since 2003 that the winner of the big prize took Production Design as well (“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”).

Fantasy/effects-driven films have a history of doing well here. Recent winners include “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Alice in Wonderland,” ” Avatar,” and another Guillermo del Toro film, “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Look for “The Shape of Water” to walk away with Oscar gold on March 4.

If there were a spoiler, I suppose most would say it is Dennis Gassner and Alessandra Querzola’s dazzling work on “Blade Runner 2049.” The set designs on this Ridley Scott sequel range from lush metropolises to barren wastelands, and pair with Roger Deakins’ brilliant cinematography to provide the most lavishly shot film of the year. This is the first nomination for Alessandra, and the sixth for Gassner, who was previously recognized for “Bugsy,” “Barton Fink,” “Road to Perdition,” “The Golden Compass,” and “Into the Woods.”

“Blade Runner 2049” received more critics awards for production design than any other film, and is the biggest threat to pull a “Mad Max: Fury Road” in the below the line categories.

While “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour,” and “Beauty and the Beast” are long shots to win, it should be noted that all three were ADG and BAFTA nominees, which keep them in the discussion, no matter how long the odds.

Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis’ detailed work portraying the trenches and beaches of Northern France make them worthy nominees for “Dunkirk.” It is both Crowley’s (“The Prestige,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Interstellar”), and Fettis’ (“The Godfather Part Three,” “Changeling,” and “Interstellar”) fourth nods.

Double nominated, Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer recreate the intricate aesthetics of 1940s British Parliament in “Darkest Hour,” as well as a desolate and enchanted French castle in “Beauty and the Beast.” The two nominations mark the fifth and sixth nomination for the duo, who received previous nominations together for “Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “Anna Karenina.”

Production Design has a very strong slate of nominees this year, with one very strong favorite out in front.

Will Win/Should Win: “The Shape of Water” (Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeffrey A. Melvin)
Could Win: “Blade Runner 2049” (Dennis Gassner and Alessandra Querzola)
Should Have Been Nominated“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Rick Heinrichs)

CLICK THE CATEGORY TO SEE THE OSCAR PREDICTIONS:

MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |

ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT | LIVE ACTION SHORT |