According to our current combined predictions, “Babylon” is the frontrunner to win Best Production Design with 10/3 odds at this year’s Oscars. However, it is the only contender in the lineup that does not have a corresponding Best Picture nomination. Each of the other four nominees — “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Elvis,” and “The Fabelmans” — do. Can “Babylon” overcome that hurdle?
Set in Los Angeles during the 1920s, “Babylon” traces the rise and fall of multiple characters at a time when the film industry was transitioning from the silent era to the talkies. On paper, you would think the work on display in “Babylon” should easily appeal to older academy members like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Mank” did. What they have in common with “Babylon” is that they successfully recreated the world of Los Angeles showbiz from a certain era. Although the difference is that both of those previous movies were also Best Picture nominees.
Since the number of Best Picture contenders expanded in 2009, only two films have managed to win Best Production Design without a corresponding Best Picture bid: “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010 and “The Great Gatsby” in 2013. The former was from Tim Burton, who already had a great track record with directing movies to Production Design wins with 1989’s “Batman,” 1999’s “Sleepy Hollow,” and 2007’s “Sweeney Todd.” The latter was from Baz Luhrmann, whose extravagant visual style is catnip to voters, as evidenced by each of his films since 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet” at least receiving nominations here and/or Best Costume Design.
It’s also worth noting that director Damien Chazelle‘s three previous movies each won Oscars in different categories. 2014’s “Whiplash” won Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. 2016’s “La La Land” won Best Director for Chazelle, Best Actress for Emma Stone, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song for “City of Stars,” and Best Production Design. 2018’s “First Man” (which also wasn’t a Best Picture nominee) only won Best Visual Effects. So his films have yet to prevail in the same category at the Oscars multiple times.
In second place with 19/5 odds is “Elvis,” which is from the aforementioned Baz Luhrmann. He’s not only directed “The Great Gatsby” to a win in this category, but also “Moulin Rouge!” back in 2001. The production designer on all of his movies happens to be his real-life wife, Catherine Martin. It’s possible she could prevail both here and in Best Costume Design like she did twice before.
In third place with 4/1 odds is “Avatar: The Way of Water.” The first film did win this category back in 2009. The sequel does expand upon the world of Pandora from the original, showing audiences brand new locations that hadn’t been previously explored. Plus, movies set in fantasy worlds have a good track record of winning this award — not just the original “Avatar” and the aforementioned “Alice in Wonderland,” but also 2003’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” 2018’s “Black Panther,” and 2021’s “Dune.” If “The Way of Water” does prevail, this would be James Cameron‘s third film in a row to have won Best Production Design (the first being “Titanic” in 1997).
Rounding out this category are “All Quiet on the Western Front” in fourth place and “The Fabelmans” in fifth place. Both of them currently have 9/2 odds. At BAFTA this past weekend, three of the Academy Award nominees for Best Production Design also happened to have been nominated there. “Babylon” managed to prevail over “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “The Batman,” “Elvis,” and “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.” Like the Oscars, the winner in this category is voted on by the organization’s entire membership. So winning across the pond might actually bode well for “Babylon” here.
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