The Academy Award for Best Production Design can be a tricky one to predict, as it oftentimes doesn’t correspond with the leading contender for Best Picture. In order to correctly predict it, let’s turn first to the Art Directors Guild Awards: since 1996, the ADG has rewarded the eventual Oscar winner a total of 11 times.
A little bit of background: from 1996 to 1999, the ADG gave out only one award for Feature Film. From 2000-2005, they gave out two prizes: one for Period or Fantasy Film, the other for Contemporary. Beginning in 2006, the award for Period or Fantasy was split in two, thus creating a total of three categories in which films could compete.
In addition, starting in 2007, the award went solely to the production designer:
1996: Stuart Craig, et al, “The English Patient”
1997: Peter Lamont, et al, “Titanic”
1999: Rick Heinrichs, et al, “Sleepy Hollow”
2001: Catherine Martin, et al, “Moulin Rouge!” (Period or Fantasy)
2003: Grant Major, et al, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (Period or Fantasy)
2005: John Myhre, et al, “Memoirs of a Geisha” (Period or Fantasy)
2006: Eugenio Caballero, “Pan’s Labyrinth” (Fantasy)
2008: Don Graham Burt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Period)
2009: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, “Avatar” (Fantasy)
2011: Dante Ferretti, “Hugo” (Period)
2013: Catherine Martin, “The Great Gatsby” (Period)
This year, the ADG awarded the frontrunner, Adam Stockhausen for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Period), as well as the not-nominated “Birdman” (Kevin Thompson, Contemporary) and “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Charles Wood, Fantasy). Let’s take a look at the five nominees in this category and examine each of their chances for taking home the gold:
Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Wes Anderson is known for his striking sets, and Adam Stockhausen – who also worked with the director on “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) – has supplied him with some of his best for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Stockhausen received his first Oscar nomination last year for “12 Years a Slave,” and his work on “Budapest” is like catnip for voters: sumptuous period sets with striking colors and ornate set decorations, provided by five-time nominee Anna Pinnock – she also contended for “Gosford Park” (2001), “The Golden Compass” (2007) and “Life of Pi” (2012), and is nominated again this year for “Into the Woods.” The two currently hold the lead with odds of 1/10, and wins at the ADG and BAFTA only help seal the deal. It’s hard to think of a reason why they won’t win, other than competition.
Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana Macdonald, “The Imitation Game“
First-time nominees Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald were tasked with recreating three different time periods for “The Imitation Game,” their main focus being England during World War II. Djurkovic adds splashes of bright color to the usual earth tones associated with films set during the ’40s, giving it a unique visual style. Yet the film lost the ADG Period award to “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and as it stands right now, Djurkovic and Macdonald are currently ranked in last place with odds of 100/1. Like every other nominee in this category, they picked a bad year to compete against a Wes Anderson film.
Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis, “Interstellar“
After creating a dark and brooding Gotham City for director Christopher Nolan, Nathan Crowley turned his attentions to outer space and beyond for “Interstellar,” for which he and set decorator Gary Fettis crafted several unique planets and spaceships, as well as a bleak future on Earth not too far off from our own. Crowley was previously nominated for his work on Nolan’s “The Prestige” (2006) and “The Dark Knight” (2008), while Fettis competed for “The Godfather: Part III” (1990) and “Changeling” (2008). While the two are currently ranked in third place with odds of 50/1, voters may feel a win for Visual Effects will be reward enough. As well, the last time a sci-fi film won this prize was “Star Wars” all the way back in 1977, which doesn’t help their chances.
Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock, “Into the Woods”
It’s a good year for Set Decorator Anna Pinnock: two nominations in one year, and both for the leading contenders in the category, no less. Here she’s joined by old-pro production designer Dennis Gassner, who won the Oscar for “Bugsy” (1991) and has also been nominated for “Barton Fink” (1991), “Road to Perdition” (2002), and “The Golden Compass” (2007). Earlier in the season, it appeared Gassner could very well win his second Oscar for the fantastical sets of “Into the Woods,” showcased in the frightening and mythical forest of the title. However, the film lost the ADG Fantasy award to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and while it’s currently ranked in second place with odds of 20/1, that’s a loss that really hurts.
Suzie Davies, Charlotte Watts, “Mr. Turner“
Production designer Suzie Davies and set decorator Charlotte Watts both received their first Oscar nominations this year for “Mr. Turner,” which captures the world of 19th century Britain through the life and work of Romantic landscape painter J.M.W. Turner. The sets are exquisitely crafted, creating a sense of reality in every frame: generally speaking, this should be right up the academy’s alley. Yet much like Mike Leigh‘s “Topsy-Turvy” (1999) – which lost this award to “Sleepy Hollow” – Davies and Watts’s achievement may be overlooked in favor of flashier designs. The lack of an ADG nomination doesn’t help matters. Thus the two are currently ranked in fourth place with odds of 100/1.
The winner for Best Production Design has also taken Best Picture 26 times (in years when the award was split between Color and Black-and-White, the winner of what award is noted):
1930/31: “Cimarron” (Max Rae)
1932/33: “Cavalcade” (William S. Darling)
1939: “Gone with the Wind” (Lyle Wheeler)
1941: “How Green Was My Valley” (Cedric Gibbons, Nathan H. Juran, Thomas Little) (Black-and-White)
1948: “Hamlet” (Carmen Dillon, Roger K. Furse) (Black-and-White)
1951: “An American in Paris” (E. Preson Ames, Cedric Gibbons, Edwin B. Willis, Keogh Gleason) (Color)
1954: “On the Waterfront” (Richard Day) (Black-and-White)
1958: “Gigi” (William A. Horning, E. Preston Ames, Henry Grace, F. Keogh Gleason)
1959: “Ben-Hur” (William A. Horning, Edward Carfagno, Hugh Hunt) (Color)
1960: “The Apartment” (Alexander Trauner, Edward G. Boyle) (Black-and-White)
1961: “West Side Story” (Boris Leven, Victor A. Gangelin) (Color)
1962: “Lawrence of Arabia” (John Box, John Stoll, Dario Simoni) (Color)
1964: “My Fair Lady” (Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton, George James Hopkins) (Color)
1970: “Patton” (Urie McCleary, Gil Parrondo, Antonio Mateos, Pierre-Louis Thevenet)
1973: “The Sting” (Henry Bumstead, James W. Payne)
1974: “The Godfather, Part II” (Dean Tavoularis, Angelo Graham, George R. Nelson)
1982: “Gandhi” (Stuart Craig, Robert W. Laing, Michael Seirton)
1984: “Amadeus” (Patrizia von Brandenstein, Karel Cerny)
1985: “Out of Africa” (Stephen Grimes, Josie Macavin)
1987: “The Last Emperor” (Ferdinando Scarfiotti, Bruno Cesari, Osvaldo Desideri)
1993: “Schindler’s List” (Allan Starski, Ewa Braun)
1996: “The English Patient” (Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan)
1997: “Titanic” (Peter Lamont, Michael D. Ford)
1998: “Shakespeare in Love” (Martin Childs, Jill Quertier)
2002: “Chicago” (John Myhre, Gordon Sim)
2003: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee)
Oftentimes this award is given to a top contender that is exquisitely crafted, yet not quite in the lead to take Best Picture (unless, of course, it wins in a sweep). That seems to be the case this year with “Grand Budapest Hotel,” a film voters clearly love, yet not enough to give it the big prize.
Do you think “Grand Budapest” has the Production Design Oscar in the bag? Use our drag-and-drop menu below to make or update your predictions. And click here to make your picks in all Oscar races.