As I mentioned in my review of Best Camera at the Oscars, production design is so creatively intertwined that all five films nominated there are also nominated here. That Oscar goes to the film’s production designer and set designer, both very important roles for any film, which is why (like the cinematography) four of the five films nominated for production design are also nominated for best picture.
It may not come as a surprise that the Gold Derby experts have done so Denis Villeneuve‘s “Dune” — the only film this year to be nominated in every single below-the-line category (except for best original song) — came forward to win for production design, though some of them went to “Nightmare Alley” or “West Side” trend history.” But this isn’t about who will Gain just as much about why all the nominees are already real winners.
As of this writing, the production design category has been relegated from the main Oscars to pre-show, but make no mistake, none of these films would look as good if it weren’t for the talented people in the art department, the sets and the settings would design and build for each film.
“Dune” – Production Designer: Patrice Vermette; Set Designer: Zsuzsanna Sipos
“Dune” has thrilled moviegoers worldwide with $400 million. Many craftsmen are responsible for this, along with Villeneuve, who unfortunately was not nominated by the Oscars for his direction. Vermette had to take charge of Villeneuve’s adaptation Frank Herbert‘s novel (co-written with Jon Spahts and Eric Roth) and create a new look for the world of Arrakis and its strongholds, as well as design the fantastic technology of this world. With his art department and visual effects team, Vermette helped Villeneuve realize his otherworldly vision, earning Vermette his third nomination, his previous being for Villeneuve’s “Arrival” (and before that, “The Young Victoria”).
While many of the locations are bland, enough detail was added by set decorator Sipos and her team to fully furnish the Atreides and Harkonnen mansions and bring them to life. Although this is her first Oscar nomination, she performed similar roles in Villeneuve’s previous sci-fi film, Blade Runner 2049.
“Nightmare Alley” – PD: Tamara Deverell; SD: Shane Vieau
The first half of Guillermo del Toro‘s noir thriller, based on a William Lindsay Graham Roman, set at a carnival in the late 1940’s Bradley Cooper‘s Stanton Carlisle arrives, penniless and looking for a job. For the next hour we’ll explore every nook and cranny of this carnival, from the “geek pit” to the stage on which Tony Collette‘s Madame Zeena enters. Deverell and Vieau’s work to create a fully-functional carnival — a set built before the COVID pandemic halted production for six months — is only half the story, as the film’s second half sees Carlisle as a successful performing medium in follows the city of Buffalo .
Aside from the amazing locations where Carlisle performs, anyone watching the film should be stunned by the amazing art deco buildings and spaces, like the office’s wood paneled walls Cate Blanchettfrom Dr. Lilith Knight. The work of first-time nominee Deverell and her set designer is a marvel, something that lends atmosphere to Del Toro’s vision as it is captured in classic noir style by the camera and cinematographer’s lights Dan Lautsen.
“The Power of the Dog” – PD: Grant Major; SD: Bernstein Richards
This was a surprising nomination. Jane CampionThe leader of Oscar nominations (at 12) didn’t even get an offer from the Art Directors Guild, despite Grant Major being a two-time ADG winner for his work on Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings movies. But he’s also a four-time Oscar nominee, winning in 2003 for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won the Oscars at the 2004 awards.
The production designer’s job involves more than creating fantastical worlds or environments like in Dune and Nightmare Alley. In this case, it was a matter of finding the beautiful locations and building what was needed to create the perfect setting for an intense family drama that also needed to capture the Montana setting despite being filmed in New Zealand.
set designer of the major, Amber Richardsis her first Oscar nomination, but the way she’s populated the various locations and sets with period-specific props and details tells us so much more about it Benedict Cumberbatchby Phil Burbank, Kirsten Dunst‘s Rose and her son Peter played along Kodi Smit McPhee. Richard’s work just received the Best Picture Award from the Set Decorators Society of America in addition to her Oscar nomination, so it’s obvious how much all of these elements influence every aspect of Campion’s emotional film.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” – PD: Stefan Dechant, SD: Nancy Haigh
If you want to discuss some absolutely stunning production and set design work, you don’t need to venture too far Joel Coen‘s Shakespeare adaptation of Dechant, who received his first Academy Award nomination after working in the art department on a number of Academy of Production Design-nominated films, including Tim Burton‘s “Alice in Wonderland” and JamesCameronis “avatar”.
What Dechant did to his set designer Nancy Haicreates a striking, expressionist backdrop for the dramatic performances of artists such as Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, unlike any production that has ever adapted the bard’s masterpiece. And this despite the fact that – or perhaps because – Coen’s film is presented entirely in black and white.
“West Side Story” – PD: Adam Stockhausen; SD: Rena DeAngelo
Stockhausen’s work on West Side Story was nominated by the Art Directors Guild before he received his Oscar offer. The work he did with his set decorator, DeAngelo, to recreate 1950’s New York City when developers began destroying the Upper West Side and threatening the Polish and Puerto Rican families who lived there is quite stunning if she was first established by the film’s opening dance number.
From there we get a bunch of great places like the drugstore we run Rita Moreno‘s Valentina – a beautiful example of DeAngelo’s set decoration – and other locations like the alley behind Maria and Anita’s apartment, the high school gym and more. These sets and backdrops allowed Spielberg’s retelling of this award-winning musical (the 1961 version won the Oscar for Art Direction) to blaze its own unique path.
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