TECH SUPPORT: Best Art Direction — Volume II

Posted by · 10:56 am · October 7th, 2010

Oh how things have changed since I last wrote in this space. In the past four weeks, Tech Support has taken a break, allowing the dust from the festival circuit to settle, and other titles to open. Over the next 10 weeks, we’ll take a second look at each of the crafts categories, finishing in mid-December – just as awards circuit takes hold.

Today, we take a second glance at Best Art Direction. As stated last time, this category tends to reward period and fantasy films.The branch  has some favorites, but it’s not overly incestuous. And while being a Best Picture contender certainly helps, nominees can often come from the surrounding fray.

Perhaps I’ll start with a film that I thought would score here, but came out of Toronto in even greater shape than I expected: Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech.” With prestige and period attached, I am virtually certain Eve Stewart, who was nominated in this category 11 years ago for Mike Leigh’s “Topsy-Turvy,” will be heading to the Kodak. Not only am I confident she’ll be nominated again, I think she has excellent potential to win.

As I mentioned last time, I continue to believe that two blockbuster titles we’ve already seen are still in great shape: Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” That having been said, I wouldn’t call either locked. The former’s Guy Dyas has had difficulty getting nominated in the past and the latter’s Robert Stromberg, despite coming off a win, could be harmed by a lack of critical respect for the film. That said, I think both are likely nominees, which means I think we can predict three of the final five with reasonable confidence.

On the other end of the spectrum of films already seen, the historical sets of “Get Low” are the sort that could find a home here. Geoffrey Kirkland was nominated for “The Right Stuff” 27 years ago, but was rather shamefully stepped over for “Children of Men” in 2006. Ultimately, I think this film will have a hard time getting anything outside of Robert Duvall (who I hardly think is assured, mind you). So I’d keep an eye on Kirkland but I’m still not banking on it.

Also seen already is year is Dante Ferretti’s detailed and chilling design for Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.” While the film is hardly classic Scorsese, many aspects of the production design are catnip for this branch. Given the respect level of Ferretti, I wouldn’t completely rule him out, even if I think the film will be forgotten for the most part.

Of films I mentioned last time, not all have caught on, while others, like Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator” and Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”, have been delayed until 2011.

I’m also beginning to doubt some other titles. Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest” still seems to be a visual feast, likely to earn the great Sandy Powell another nomination. Alas, I’m beginning to really doubt that Mark Frieberg – overlooked for amazing work in the past – will score his first nomination for this atypical take on Shakespeare.

I should also note we heard just this week that Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” will have an Oscar-qualifying run this year after all. Knowing the track record of Weir’s film, some Oscar attention seems almost certain. At the same time, the film seems to be very reliant on exteriors.

Even though it opens tomorrow, I’m still not quite sure what to make of “Secretariat.” It has received respectable, if not overwhelming, reviews. Tom Sanders was last nominated for “Saving Private Ryan,” a dozen years ago, complementing his previous nod for “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” in 1992. He could very well return for these elegant sets, but let’s see how this film catches on with the public first.

So what films are still to come? The trailer for “True Grit” recently hit the web and sent shivers down my spine. This looks to be one of the Coen brothers’ most handsomely mounted productions. Though I was originally skeptical that AMPAS would embrace what will be seen as a remake of an (unremarkable) Oscar-winning title, I’m now feeling I was wrong about that.  And Jess Gonchor, longtime Coen collaborator, is seemingly in good position for a first citation.

I’ll end by looking at two fantasy titles. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” will showcase yet more of the magical world legend Stuart Craig has designed for this series. After pulling off a surprise nomination for the franchise’s fourth installment in 2005, it would be wise to consider him firmly in the race this year. But I somehow think they’ll want to tip their hats next year, when he bows out for good.

Rather, I’m more intrigued by the potential of Darren Gilford for “TRON Legacy.” I’m still not the least bit confident the film will be very good. Moreover, Gilford is primarily a graphics designer and thus not really part of the club, so to speak. At the same time, that makes me really wonder what the design will be like; I could see it being truly innovative.

That’s it for now.  Next week we turn to Best Cinematography once again.

How do you see the art direction race unfolding now?  Have your say in the comments section below!

[Photos: Walt Disney Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures]

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17 responses so far

  • 1 10-07-2010 at 11:46 am

    Kevin Klawitter said...

    I know I’m probably alone in this, but what about “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”? The visual style of that movie was remarkable and fit the story perfectly. It was the most fun thing about it.

    If “Avatar” could win for this category (and it certainly deserved it), why couldn’t “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”?

  • 2 10-07-2010 at 11:48 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Because Avatar made over $2 billion and Scott Pilgrim is widely perceived as a box office failure.

    Dem’s the facts.

  • 3 10-07-2010 at 11:54 am

    Pete said...

    Two possible long shots are The Ghost Writer and Agora.

  • 4 10-07-2010 at 12:14 pm

    JJ1 said...

    As of now, I’d predict The King’s Speech, Inception, Alice, Harry 7, and Secretariat.

    True Grit (sight unseen, mostly) and Shutter Island would be my 6th and 7th in prediciton.

  • 5 10-07-2010 at 12:43 pm

    americanrequiem said...

    true grit is looking good for a nomination, i wish shutter island could show here but i dont see it happening. i dont think inception OR Alice are safe here. The kings Speech is probly a lock and id like for harry potter to get some traction here as the movies always have fantastic art direction

  • 6 10-07-2010 at 12:47 pm

    Graysmith said...

    Currently I’d go with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, The King’s Speech, Secretariat, Shutter Island and True Grit.

    Pretty unimaginative.. Not sure why I’m not feeling it for Inception here. Lots of varied sets and all that, yet I doubt it’s chances. Same with Alice in Wonderland, which was mostly CGI and really not on the level of art direction that Avatar had.. and you got to be really amazing if you want a nomination being an (nearly) all-CGI movie.

    What about Robin Hood? Not successful enough? Can’t argue with the craftsmanship though, even if it wasn’t flashy a la Gladiator.

    Also, how about something like Made in Dagenham? Too small a scope, not lavish enough? I also think Black Swan looks interesting, nearly every scene in the trailer makes it look like the sets are all black, white and grey. Can’t imagine a nomination though..

  • 7 10-07-2010 at 12:50 pm

    Graysmith said...

    Personally I don’t see how Shutter Island can miss a nomination here. Surely it’s come and gone, but as long as WB make sure to put on a campaign, people will remember just how finely crafted it was. Art Direction and Cinematography would be well deserving of a nomination.

    As for True Grit, I think it’s chances depend on how many sets and such there are. If it’s largely set out in the wilderness, it will probably miss out. I’ll need some really nice sets to get in.

  • 8 10-07-2010 at 1:12 pm

    Brady said...

    The King’s Speech
    Alice in Wonderland
    TRON Legacy
    True Grit

    If True Grit doesn’t get great reviews (which it will) and doesn’t take hold with the box office, that will change to HP7.

  • 9 10-07-2010 at 2:15 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I think I may be underestimating TRON Legacy by figuring it will just get the requisite sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects triad. Or as I call it, The ‘Iron Man’ triad.

  • 10 10-07-2010 at 2:31 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Graysmith: Paramount. And they’ll be pushing it with a big campaign, yes.

  • 11 10-07-2010 at 3:15 pm

    matsunaga said...

    Harry Potter better be nominated… The Art Direction of Craig in the trailer was really impressive…

    For now, I think Alie in Wonderland, The King’s Speech, True Grit, Get Low and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1…

    Inception, The Tempest follows next…

  • 12 10-07-2010 at 3:20 pm

    Graysmith said...

    D’oh. I could’ve sworn it was a Warner Bros. movie. Haha.

    But either way, that’s good to hear. It deserves recognition in several fields, particularly below the line.

    I’d love for Tron Legacy to have a real shot, but I can imagine it’s look might be too minimalistic for the Academy’s tastes.

  • 13 10-07-2010 at 5:45 pm

    Jake G. said...

    Shutter Island, Robin Hood, Inception, Kings Speech and Trug e Grit:)

  • 14 10-07-2010 at 11:50 pm

    Dan said...

    I wonder about the Narnia film? It could be really well designed.

  • 15 10-08-2010 at 4:42 am

    JJ1 said...

    Gah, I keep forgetting Dawn Treader, as well. Could pop-up in 2-3 places.

  • 16 10-08-2010 at 10:30 am

    Tye-Grr said...

    ‘Deathly Hallows Part 1’ would have my vote from the trailers alone.

    Hmmm… I hope ‘Inception’ makes it’s way in, as it’s very worthy, as well as ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Yeah, the film has many problems, but art direction ain’t one of them.

  • 17 10-10-2010 at 12:40 pm

    Leone said...

    I have to agree with earlier posts here and say Shutter Island is more than likely to get a nomination here. Dante Ferreti is hugely respected and his work on this film is impeccable. Rounding out the best art direction category for nominations, I would be on The King’s Speech, True Grit, Inception and Secretariat… not so sure about Alice in Wonderland. But I don’t see a world where Shutter doesn’t get in. I have a feeling this film is going to surprise people since the Kris says the studio behind it is running a campaign and the guilds are going to be very friendly to it. Scorsese’s crew are some of the best in the business and the film’s belowtheline work was really impressive.