Today begins our two week countdown to the Academy Awards wherein we will highlight 2-3 categories per weekday with analysis and predictions.
Best Art Direction
The Academy Award for Best Art Direction is notoriously hard to predict. Unlike other technical categories, there is not one definitive precursor award that gives a strong indication of the Academy’s current feelings. The Art Directors Guild has split their awards into Best Period Film, Best Fantasy Film, and Best Contemporary Film since 2006 so there are three winners every year. It is not uncommon for none of the three winners to win the Oscar like last year when Alice in Wonderland took home the prize or in 2007 when Sweeney Todd upset the other contenders in the category.
The Oscar winner for Best Art Direction is almost exclusively a Fantasy Film or Period Film with a nearly even split between the two. This year there are more period films among the Academy’s nominations than Fantasy Films, although it is often hard to differentiate between the two. Let’s take a look at those nominees:
This is the first Oscar nomination for Production Designer Laurence Bennett and the second for set decorator Robert Gould. Among the multitude of technical achievements in The Artist, the Art Direction is certainly one of the more impressive. Not only do Bennett, Gould, and team do an effective job of re-creating the look of early 20th Century silent cinema, but they use the set pieces to effectively progress the story. There is a brilliantly constructed staircase in the studio that is used to literally show George Valentin descending while Peppy Miller ascends. Bennett and Gould also revert to pre-HD Hollywood when sets were constructed for convenience instead of realism.
This is the tenth Oscar nomination for Production Designer Stuart Craig and the fourth for Set Decorator Stephenie McMillan. If there is one category where the Harry Potter films deserve to receive some recognition, it is the Art Direction. This is the fourth nomination that the pair of Craig and McMillan have received from working in the Potter franchise, but they have yet to hear their names read on Oscar night. That cold streak might end this year if the Academy realizes that they have never given an Oscar to the very impressive technical work done in the Harry Potter series. Craig, McMillan, and team have done wonders to craft an original and imaginative world of Wizardry. Their work is now iconic as numerous reconstructions of the Potter universe continue to appear at theme parks around the world.
This is the eighth Oscar nomination for Production Designer Dante Ferretti and the seventh for Set Decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo. Hugo is the undeniable favorite for numerous technical categories at the Oscars this year. The dream team of Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo have already won the Art Directors Guild award for Best Art Direction in a Period Film, beating out several of the other films in this category. It seems like the factor that wins a film an Oscar in this category is having an instantly recognizable set piece (or related group of set pieces). The variety of clocks in Hugo allow for some brilliant imagination and create a recognizable visual theme.
This is the first Oscar nomination for Production Designer Anne Seibel and Set Decorator Hélène Dubreil. It was somewhat of a surprise when Midnight in Paris was announced as a nominee in this category. Even the most adored Woody Allen films rarely receive nods in the technical categories. However, upon further reflection it makes complete sense to see the work of Seibel and Dubreil (fun names to say together) get recognized. Not only does the film effortlessly float through artistic periods, but with no special effects used, it’s the mise-en-scene that actually transports Gil and the audience through time. The film also deserves bonus points for the intricately designed Renaissance costumes and scenery that are only employed for a brief joke.
This is the third nomination for Production Designer Rick Carter and the first nomination for Set Decorator Lee Sandales. The Art Direction excellence in War Horse exists in the fact that the film takes place in such a variety of locales and each is given an equal amount of care in design. The munition strewn battlefield nicely contrasts the picturesque windmill and cottage in the French countryside. Carter and Sandales were not nominated for an Art Directors Guild nomination, but as mentioned above, that has never prevented a film from losing in this category before.
Who Will Win?
Despite the fact that I appreciate the work done by Stuart Craig and Stephenie McMillan in Deathly Hallows, Part 2 the best, I believe that the criminal Harry Potter shutout will continue. This year Dante Ferretti and Frances Lo Schiavo will pick up their third combined victory for their work on Hugo. The Artist and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 are the alternates.
There are a number of working cinematographers who have never won an Academy Award. The most egregious snubs are frequent Coen Bros’ collaborator Roger Deakins, the man behind the camera for Wong Kar-Wai’s films Christopher Doyle, and the multi-talented Emmanuel Lubezki. Deakins and Doyle will have to wait for another year, but the Academy has the opportunity to make things up to Emmanuel Lubezki after failing to reward him in 2006 for his work on Children of Men.
The American Society of Cinematographers gave their annual award to Lubezki over the weekend, making it seem like the award is his to lose. The ASC award and the Academy Award have only lined up five times since the year 2000, meaning that one is not necessarily dependent on the other. Lubezki has won the ASC award in the last decade, but not the Oscar. Before we determine if the Academy has something against The Tree of Life‘s cinematographer, let’s take a look at the entire field:
This is the first Oscar nomination for Guilliame Schiffman. If The Artist pulls off a Return of the King style sweep, then there is a chance that it could win in this category, but otherwise it is unlikely. The work done by Schiffman is not incredibly subtle, but that should not detract from the brilliant achievement that it is. There is some fantastic crane work done and the lighting perfectly emulates the work done in the latter part of the 1920s.
This is the second Oscar nomination for Jeff Cronenweth in as many years. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did not score as well in the major categories as many expected it would, which makes a victory here seem unlikely. Cronenweth’s work on Fincher’s latest film is strong and he continues the same style that they established with The Social Network. However, with such a lukewarm reception and few nominations for the film, this seems like it might be the biggest long shot.
This is the seventh Oscar nomination for Robert Richardson. Throughout his career the much sought after Richardson has enjoyed tenures as the favorite cinematographer for Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, and now Martin Scorcese. The legendary collaborations have lead him to two previous Oscar wins in this category and a third could be in the near future. If the Academy continues their egregious snubbing of Emmanuel Lubezki, Richardson is the most likely to rise up for the win.
This is the fifth Oscar nomination for Emmanuel Lubezki. Terence Malick, Alfonso Cuaron, and Michael Mann are all filmmakers who are well-known for the visual sensibility of their films and Lubezki has contributed to work by all of them. He was viciously snubbed for his magnificent tracking shots in 2006’s Children of Men and overlooked several times before and after that. Despite the varying opinions on The Tree of Life, I have not heard many who don’t admire the gorgeous photography that significantly contributed to the storytelling. Lubezki deserves this award.
This is the fifth Oscar nomination for Janusz Kaminski. The longtime Spielberg collaborator has enjoyed wins for the films Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. He was ignored this year by the ASC awards, but managed to ride the War Horse wave to yet another Oscar nomination. The visual scheme in War Horse is decidedly different than his work in the other war film Saving Private Ryan and Academy members may be tempted to reward him simply for the contrast.
Who Will Win?
There are a lot of skeptics out there who still believe that the snubbing of Emmanuel Lubezki will continue, but I am not one of them. This will be the only award that The Tree of Life wins at the Oscars and it is definitely the one it most deserves. Alternates are Hugo and The Artist, respectively.
Stay tuned for the Supporting Actor and Actress races to be broken down tomorrow.
Who do you think will win Best Art Direction and Cinematography?