Saturday, July 19, 2014

OVP: Art Direction (2013)

OVP: Best Production Design (2013)

The Nominees Were...

Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler, American Hustle
Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, and Joanne Woollard, Gravity
Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn, The Great Gatsby
K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena, Her
Adam Stockhausen and Alice Baker, 12 Years a Slave

My Thoughts: The final of the visual tech categories, it's time to dive into the world of plush bedrooms and gothic houses, that of art direction (I don't care what they rename the category-it will always be art direction to me).

Perhaps the strangest on-paper nomination in this group would be Gravity, and indeed, it puzzled me at first too.  While the other films had opulent sets and, well, buildings, Gravity was at most a series of space stations.  And yet, those space stations are incredibly realistic.  Part of what I personally judge Art Direction on is whether or not the work looks like it could exist within the confines of the film's environment-it's not enough to be opulent, the sets of a film ground the characters-you have to believe that those people actually live and breathe there, that they exist when the camera doesn't roll.  This seems quite true for the sparse but realistic space stations-you have a feeling that everything on those stations is vitally important and used for everyday life.  In the end this may have been simply a nomination for a film that was collecting them like Pokemon, but it was a surprisingly intelligent and clever one.

American Hustle is able to have actual buildings to exhibit its sets, and the hotel rooms are quite spacious and divine-I love the way that they managed to truly capture the vintage looks of these spaces.  That being said, this doesn't have the genius of something like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy did a few years back when you truly felt people inhabited these spaces.  Here it felt like the sets were mere decoration, and not practical.  Everything is too clean, too perfect-you just don't quite believe that, say, Jennifer Lawrence would keep a bedroom that well-dusted.  If it's not going to be stunningly real, it should at least be outstanding, but it's not that either-it's above average, and that's about it.

The Great Gatsby is hardly what you could call realistic either.  Maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald attempted to live in these houses, but it's not quite something that you believe these characters inhabit, but merely that these actors do.  While there are great moments in the art direction-I loved Myrtle's apartment-there isn't anything as exciting or remarkable as Gatsby's pink suit or some of the other costumes, and so I have to mark this one down a bit for Catherine Martin-still not bad, but hardly something that I want to celebrate (and it also doesn't help that the film suffers from all of the excess, so the set design loses points for making it a poorer film).

I genuinely wasn't expecting a nomination for the futuristic sets of Her, but it does seem like the sort of thing that should be recognized by the Academy.  After all, this is genius work.  I love, for example, how they don't abandon current styles completely (fashion doesn't change into a hard, plastic space pod like Star Wars so quickly), but build and morph off them.  See how all of Theodore's rooms are built entirely around his electronic devices and how the more and more things are digitized the less clutter there is in his life.  I could have done without the iKea-inspired furniture wherever they seemed to go (in the future not everyone is going to have a yen for Piet Mondrian tables and meatballs), but all-in-all bravo to the Academy for thinking outside the box and not just going with another period piece.

Speaking of period pieces, let's not forget the one that screams "AMPAS Art Direction nominee," 12 Years a Slave.  While Oscar prefers his mansions be European, he'll settle for the Deep South when British country manor isn't available, and the movie does do wonders with the houses on display.  I loved the way that certain things in the Epps' house, for example, seem a bit worn and constantly used-these are not the O'Haras, but middle class farmers, and their houses must reflect this.  I also loved how you could practically feel the heat sweating from the houses, and the way that the wood would expand with so much moisture.  Like so much of this film, the art direction is filled with character, occasionally ruthlessly (look at the way they used proximity to the main house to underscore the helplessness of Patsey's plight), but always steeped in fact.  This isn't merely more fancy decorating-it's drawing rooms and front porches that add something to the story being told.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Art Directors Guild gives us fifteen nominees to sort through, in three separate categories: contemporary, fantasy, and period, meaning all five of our Oscar nominees made the cut.  The Period nominees included The Great Gatsby (the winner), American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, and 12 Years a Slave.  Her somehow qualified for Contemporary Film (which allowed it to win), beating out August Osage County, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, and The Wolf of Wall Street.  In reality Her should have been in Fantasy, and they could have swapped Gravity (which is quite realistic and has few fantasy elements) in its place, but instead they gave it the prize over Elysium, The Hobbit, Oblivion, and Star Trek.  The BAFTA Awards also went with Gatsby, and substituted out Her in favor of their favorite, Behind the Candelabra.  In sixth place one assumes that you would find The Hobbit, considering this is the first time the series didn't score a nomination in this category.  
Films I Would Have Nominated: I'm not blown away by any of these nominees, though I would probably keep my top two and toss the rest in favor of three very diverse films.  The Hobbit may be treading on familiar territory, but the frozen city of Esgaroth is one of the greatest set achievements in the series so far, so I would have certainly nominated it (probably giving it the award).  Saving Mr. Banks definitely most deserved a nomination here, with the wonderful way that it recreated vintage Disney rides and Disneyland itself.  And finally we have The Conjuring, where the house is a key element of what is going on on screen, and is wonderfully lit with different frightening touches.
Oscar’s Choice: Oscar loves his excess in this category, and so there was no way that The Great Gatsby wasn't going home with yet another shiny gold man, with 12 Years a Slave just missing yet another trophy.
My Choice: Like Oscar, I'm going to match up my Costume and Art Direction winners, but I'm going with 12 Years a Slave for this trophy once again.  I'd follow it with Gravity, Her, American Hustle, and Gatsby.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Anyone else putting Gatsby in last (the second time this OVP I have put Oscar's choice in the bottom position)?  Anyone else have 12 Years winning this trophy?  Do you think The Hobbit will make a comeback in this category in its final installment?  And what film had the best production design of 2013?  Share in the comments!

Past Best Art Direction Contests: 2009, 201020112012

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