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Oscars Look: Best Production Design

Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive 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 Look 2018. 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 own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the Nominees are:

  • “Black Panther” – Hannah Beachler (Production Design); Jay Hart (Set Decoration)
  • “The Favourite” – Fiona Crombie (Production Design); Alice Felton (Set Decoration)
  • “First Man” – Nathan Crowley (Production Design); Kathy Lucas (Set Decoration)
  • “Mary Poppins Returns” – John Myhre (Production Design); Gordon Sim (Set Decoration)
  • “Roma” – Eugenio Caballero (Production Design); Bárbara Enríquez (Set Decoration)

The Oscar for Best Production Design (originally Art Direction) was instituted at the inception of the Academy Awards in 1927, and honors excellence in a film’s interior design. The award is shared between the Designer and Set Decorator. The record-holder for both nominations (39) and wins (11) is Cedric Gibbons, who dominated the field throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

The coinciding association for this award is the Art Directors Guild (ADG), who recognizes production design in three separate categories: Period, Fantasy, and Contemporary films. This year, “The Favourite” (Period), “Black Panther” (Fantasy), and “Crazy Rich Asians” (Contemporary) all won citations from the ADG. This is important to note because the Oscar for Production Design has gone to an ADG winner 15 times in the last 22 years. With “Crazy Rich Asians” failing to yield a nomination, “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” look to duke it out come February 25th.

Another interesting stat to note is the film with the most total Oscar nominations has gone on to win this prize 11 times in the last 18 years, which bodes well for “The Favourite,” who tied with “Roma” (also nominated here) with 10 nods apiece.

Let’s take a closer look at the nominees…

Nominees: Hannah Beachler (Production Design); Jay Hart (Set Decoration) for “Black Panther”
Oscar Scene: The Throne Room

This is the first nomination for Hannah Beachler, who was the first female production designer to ever head a Marvel film. Her nomination is historic, as she becomes the first African-American nominated in this category.

Her set decorator, Jay Hart, receives his third nomination in this category, having previously been recognized for “Pleasantville” (1998) and “L.A. Confidential” (1997).

Aside from the pair receiving the aforementioned Fantasy Film prize from the ADG, “Black Panther” also received the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Production Design, as well as honors from several other critics groups, including Los Angeles. I have it listed as the alternative choice to win the Oscar at the moment, but its odds of winning should not be underestimated.

Nominees: Fiona Crombie (Production Design); Alice Felton (Set Decoration) for “The Favourite”
Oscar Scene: Her Majesty’s Chambers

This is the first nomination for both Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, who worked together previously on “Una” (2016) and “Macbeth” (2015). The pair might experience some beginner’s luck with Oscar, as they are out front to win this award at the moment. Aside from winning the ADG’s Period Film award (which of the three most often lines up with Oscar), “The Favourite” won more critics commendations in this field than any of the other nominees. It hearkens to the traditional winners in this category, as films like “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), “The Madness of King George” (1994), “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988), and “Amadeus” (1984) have taken home gold for similar set pieces.

It is currently my pick to win, but I’ll be looking to BAFTA to be the final harbinger for the eventual champion come Oscar night. Seven of the last ten winners there matched up with Oscar.

Nominees: Nathan Crowley (Production Design); Kathy Lucas (Set Decoration) for “First Man”
Oscar Scene: The Moon Landing

This marks the fifth nomination for Nathan Crowley, whose previous nods came for four Christopher Nolan films (“Dunkirk,” “Interstellar,” “The Dark Knight,” and “The Prestige”). It is his first collaboration with Kathy Lucas, who receives her first nomination for “First Man.”

If I was handing out Oscars, this would be my pick for the award. I know this comes as no surprise to anyone following my “First Man” rants via Twitter and our podcast for the past five months or so. My Chazelle-bias aside, “First Man” truly had some magnificent work not only on the moon sets, but in the shuttles and NASA training compound as well.

One last time – how it came up so short in this awards season is something that will baffle me for as long as I continue to watch the Oscars.

Nominees: John Myhre (Production Design); Gordon Sim (Set Decoration) for “Mary Poppins Returns”
Oscar Scene: The Painted Carriage

John Myhre is a six-time nominee and two-time Oscar-winner for Production Design, winning for “Chicago” (2002) and “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005). Gordon Sim has now been nominated three times alongside Myhre, winning for “Chicago” (2002).

The original “Mary Poppins” (1964) was an Academy favorite, nominated for an astonishing 13 Oscars, winning five. One of its many noms was Production Design, which it lost to “My Fair Lady.” The sequel showed up a little lower than expected this go-around, showing up four times at the final count. While the film showed up well where it mattered in the precursors (ADG, BFCA, and BAFTA), a nomination might be about as far as the love extends.

Nominees: Eugenio Caballero (Production Design); Bárbara Enríquez (Set Decoration) for “Roma”
Oscar Scene: Father’s Exit

This is the second nomination for Eugenio Caballero, who won the Oscar for his all-time great design of “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), working with another of the “three amigos,” Guillermo del Toro. It is the first nom for Bárbara Enríquez.

“Roma” is another dark horse here, as those who love the film (and there are a lot of you) might be inclined to chalk it up one more time on their ballots. The incredible design of the ’30s-built Cuarón family home and neighboring cosmopolitan streets might be both the biggest secret of the film and the biggest reason this otherwise humdrum selection received a nomination in this category. The intricate details of the interior are flush with most of the director’s childhood furniture amassed from his relatives. Streets and sideways had to be paved and recreated in order to sustain the feel of a worn 1970s Mexico City. For those unaware of the achievement, it’s quite a stunner, and one I wouldn’t bemoan seeing win on Oscar night.

Will Win: “The Favourite” (BAFTA will be key)
Could Win: “Black Panther”
Should Win: “First Man” or “Roma”

WHO DO YOU THINK WILL WIN BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN? SHARE YOUR PREDICTIONS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

Be sure to check out our Official Oscar Predictions Page!