2016 Oscar Circuit: Best Production Design

Welcome to our annual Oscar Circuit series, our deep down look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of AwardsCircuit.com will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Circuit 2016. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your predicted winners in the comment section too!

Sometimes the milieu becomes a major character in a film. And that is certainly the case for most of the nominees in this year’s Production Design category. All five films provide a visual splendor of terrains, spanning the course of centuries, from 1820s Montana all the way to a futuristic Mars. The question is will the Academy reward a first-time nominee like Colin Gibson (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) or go with a more experienced designer like Jack Fisk (“The Revenant”) or Adam Stockhausen (“Bridge of Spies”), who is also the only nominee in this category who’s taken home a statue before? Arthur Max (“The Martian”) also seems like a worthy contender who could take the gold. Meanwhile, Eve Stewart (“The Danish Girl”), who’s procured the most nominations over the years, might prove that fourth time is the charm.

Let’s take a further look at the nominees for this year’s Best Production Design.

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Bridge of Spies” – Adam Stockhausen (Production Design); Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich (Set Decoration)

We all know Spielberg is at his best when he’s recreating history, awards-wise that is. This is Stockhausen’s first collaboration with the venerable director, but he’s already proven himself as a gifted designer when he took home the Oscar last year – along with Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration) – for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” He was also nominated the year before for “12 Years a Slave” along with Alice Baker (Set Decoration). Being the only nominee in this category who has won before, this might give him some leverage, the Academy loves rewarding repeat winners, but “Bridge of Spies” doesn’t seem like the Spielberg vehicle Academy members were expecting. And although Stockhausen made visually dynamite images that leave indelible impressions of what Cold War Era Berlin might have looked like, it pales in comparison to his previous ostentatiously stellar work on “Budapest.”

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The Danish Girl” – Eve Stewart (Production Design); Michael Standish (Set Decoration)

“The Danish Girl” might not leave as big an impression as say “Mad Max,” but on paper it looks to be the one to beat. Much like Gerda Wegener’s paintings, Stewart turns every backdrop of the film into early-century European art, just like she did in “Les Misérables” and “The King’s Speech,” both films which also earned her nominations. This is Stewart’s fourth nomination, including a nomination in 2000 for “Topsy-Turvy” that she shared with John Bush (Set Decoration), the most nominations out of anyone else in this category. She’s clearly overdue to win, especially considering her work on “Les Misérables” and “The King’s Speech” that went unrewarded. It’s definitely looking like it’ll be a win for a “Girl” this year.

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Mad Max: Fury Road” – Colin Gibson (Production Design); Lisa Thompson (Set Decoration)

The miles of scarlet desert that stretched aridly in all directions during the film’s interminable car chase was one of last year’s most exciting cinematic experiences. George Miller’s post-apocalyptic wasteland was once again brought to life, this time by first-time nominee Colin Gibson. “Mad Max” is a favorite, certainly, especially in a stalemate year like this one where it could be anyone’s guess for the show’s biggest award. However, it’s looking like this film might have a better chance at winning in some of the more minute aesthetic and technical categories like Makeup and Sound Editing. It would be nice for “Mad Max” to take home a win, but considering this box-office hit was so heavily included at this year’s ceremony and lauded by both critics and fans is reason enough to celebrate. It’s not reason to discount it altogether, though. It could turn out to be this category’s dark horse contender.

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The Revenant” – Jack Fisk (Production Design); Hamish Purdy (Set Decoration)

While Stewart might have the most nominations under her belt, Fisk is easily the most accomplished veteran Designer whose past includes working with celebrated filmmakers like P.T. Anderson (“The Master”), David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”) and Terrence Malick (“The Tree of Life”), making it astounding that this is only his second nomination – he was previously nominated in 2008 for “There Will Be Blood.” His oeuvre makes him the ideal candidate to work with another masculine story-teller like Iñárritu. However, the Academy appears ready to reward “Master of light” D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki who created visual poetry once again, meaning they might want to give another film a shot in the visual/art department. But you never know, the film might end up nabbing the most awards of the night. Regardless, “The Revenant” is a serious contender against “The Danish Girl.”

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The Martian” – Arthur Max (Production Design); Celia Bobak (Set Decoration)

How does one recreate the enigmatic, pockmarked terrain of Mars? I guess you have to be Arthur Max and Celia Bobak because they made a convincing effort. Much like “Fury Road,” the magnificent badlands that occupy most of the space in the film are as memorable as the protagonists. Yet despite being one of the most critically and commercially successful films of the year, it’s probably not enough to upstage films like “The Revenant” or “The Danish Girl.” Too bad; “The Martian” marked director Ridley Scott’s honorable return to the genre that distinguished him as a powerful force in Hollywood. If only there was a “Best Production Design Comedy” category.

Predicted Winner: “The Danish Girl”

Alternate: “The Revenant”

Spoiler: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Should have been nominated: “Carol,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Crimson Peak”