The Art Directors’ Guild Awards give some clarity to the Oscar race for Best Production Design. While ADG has three categories compared to just one at the Oscars, one of them tends to repeat at the Academy Awards. This year’s ADG champs are “Anna Karenina” (Period), “Life of Pi” (Fantasy), and “Skyfall” (Contemporary). Since “Skyfall” didn’t snag an Oscar nomination, that means “Anna Karenina” or “Life of Pi” will probably prevail on Feb. 24 while competing against “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “Les Miserables,” and “Lincoln.”
Since 1996, the winner of the ADG Award has gone on the win the Oscar 10 times: “The English Patient” (1996), “Titanic” (1997), “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), “Moulin Rouge” (2001), “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003), “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005), “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008), “Avatar” (2009), and “Hugo” (2011). The ADG Awards narrow this race down to “Anna Karenina” and “Life of Pi.”
Below, some thoughts on all five Oscar nominees for Best Production Design:
“Anna Karenina” (Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer)
Sarah Greenwood’s collaborations with director Joe Wright have reaped three of her four Academy Award nominations: “Pride & Prejudice” (2005), “Atonement” (2007), and now “Anna Karenina” (2012); she was also nominated for “Sherlock Holmes” (2009). This could finally be her year, with so much of the praise for “Anna Karenina” having to do with the radical decision to set so much of it on a stage. This, as well as Costume Design, could be the perfect place to reward a film that was shut out of the top categories. However, voters may take this as an opportunity to reward Best Picture nominees “Les Miserables,” “Life of Pi,” or “Lincoln” since neither film seems poised to win the top prize.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright)
Dan Hennah is a veteran of Middle Earth, having been nominated for all three “Lord of the Rings” films and won for “The Return of the King” (2003). He was also nominated for Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” (2005). Hennah took a more whimsical approach in the set design for “The Hobbit,” trying to distinguish it from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Yet voters may have a feeling of been-there-done-that when filling out their ballots. Plus, it lost the fantasy category at the ADG’s to “Life of Pi,” an award it needed to win to make a dent in this race.
-ADDPREDICTION:85:14:What will win Production Design Oscar?:ADDPREDICTION-
“Les Miserables” (Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson)
This is Eve Stewart’s second consecutive nomination for a film directed by Tom Hooper: she was nominated for “The King’s Speech” (2010), as well as for Mike Leigh’s “Topsy-Turvy” (1999). Stewart’s production design helped liberate “Les Miserables” from its stage roots while still retaining a certain theatricality in the design. Yet it lost the ADG to “Anna Karenina,” and could face unfair comparison to that film’s theatrical design. Once again, the nomination may be Stewart’s reward.
“Life of Pi” (David Gropman, Anna Pinnock)
David Gropman’s only previous nomination in this category was for “The Cider House Rules” (1999). “Life of Pi” beat “The Hobbit” at the ADG’s in the fantasy category and, if the film becomes a tech juggernaut, Gropman could be carried along for a win. Standing in its way could be a bias against set design created primarily through visual effects. The precedent for its winning is “Avatar” (2009), so it wouldn’t be unheard of. Plus, it could be the perfect place to reward a film that is obviously loved by the Academy, but will miss out in the top categories.
“Lincoln” (Rick Carter, Jim Erickson)
Rick Carter previously won this category for “Avatar” (2009) and was nominated for “Forrest Gump” (1994) and “War Horse” (2011). Carter’s meticulous recreation of Civil War-era Washington would win this category in a heartbeat in a less competitive year. If “Lincoln” were more of a front-runner to win Best Picture, Carter could be carried along in a sweep. Yet while the film seems poised to take several major categories, the techs look poised to go to other films.