Wednesday, January 20, 2016

OVP: Production Design (2014)

OVP: Best Production Design (2014)

The Nominees Were...

Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald, The Imitation Game
Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis, Interstellar
Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock, Into the Woods
Suzie Davies and Charlotte Watts, Mr. Turner

My Thoughts: As I continue on my quest of both blogging every single day and in general getting better at my life and actually crossing off To Do items and not just constantly repeating them (there's a post about this coming later this week), I figured it was time to get back into the swing of the Oscar Viewing Project, and where we last left off was 2014's Production Design (aka Art Direction) category.  If you like these kinds of posts (we've had more traffic in the past few days which I am super excited about) there's a whole bevy of links below where I have done past contests or you can just click here and peruse.

With this last year's Oscar contests, we had a bit of the same with very little interruption in Production Design.  It's worth noting that the following year we actually had a lot more focus on the great outdoors, but 2014 was more about the indoor space with the major exception of Into the Woods.  The film's motif is very much in-line with what we'd normally expect from this category; after all, it's set in a magical land of fairy tales and royalty, the latter of which is practically a default selection to get nominated in this category.  The film's sets aren't what I'd consider particularly inventive, however.  I love the waterfall scenes and generally the trees themselves are gorgeous and I'm aware that very little of it was probably filmed in the actual woods, so from a technical aspect there's something to be admired, but much like the film itself there's nothing really special about this production other than the wonderful lyrics, which have nothing to do with the set.  The film sort of skimps on the palace scenes and the woods themselves don't have the impending character-onto-themselves quality that I think Sondheim and even Rob Marshall was going for.  The film is too blase in this respect and the sets are merely there, fulfilling their duty but not really inspiring.

The same cannot be said for the marvelous Mr. Turner and the way that Davies/Watts incorporate themselves completely into the world of Mike Leigh.  Every single set on this film feels meticulously cluttered and exact.  We get the sense in Turner's flat that his maid, much maligned throughout the picture, doesn't even know what clean is and Turner doesn't seem to care, and that is reflected in the dusty, airy look that his apartment takes on and counters wonderfully with his lover (played by Marion Bailey) who keeps a tidy flat and puts more care into her surroundings because she gets more adoration from those around her.  I love the way that the sets really reflect the mindsets of the characters, and the way that our surroundings become a reflection of our self-worth.  That, plus the marvelous use of space during the Burlington House sequence dazzled me in this movie, and continues the strong streak from Leigh in this particular filmic department.

Mike Leigh rarely gets recognized for such things, and while Oscar hasn't taken a shining to him, the same cannot be said for Wes Anderson, who kind of had his "Oscar moment" last year to the point where it feels like he actually won a trophy for Grand Budapest Hotel.  The film's sets are indeed scrumptious, frequently veering into wonderful shades of burgundy and canary and plum as we pass through this opulent hotel and its many flourishes.  You know that he wants to make the hotel a character in the same way Marshall does the woods, but here Stockhausen/Pinnock actually succeed, and we get to love the hotel to the point that we realize why Gustave wanted to protect it so adamantly and why, even if it went out of fashion, people of its time came and adored it.  I loved the sparing use of the set in flash-forward scenes in conjunction to the film in its heyday, and though it's the only major trick in the film (none of the other sets scream "wow!" like the hotel), it's still fantastic punch.

The Imitation Game is a film that I've generally fallen out of favor with the more distance I put between it and myself, but I'll fully admit there are aspects of it I quite admired, and one of them was well-chosen here.  I love the way that the work spaces in the film reflect an office that is actually being used, and not just the ultra clean, perfectly-constructed sets we're used to in most cinematic endeavors where all you see are clean, bright desks.  The film's desks reflect the personalities of those involved (Alan's space being of the least interest to him, and therefore filled with no personal touches), which is something I'm looking for in grading for an Oscar, and I loved the pristine, repetitive detail that Christopher creates-you halfway feel like you could sit there and tinker with it for hours, which is what we're hoping to have in a film like this.  If only the film's script and acting would have been this precise, we might have had a different movie.

The final nominee is of course Interstellar, continuing what has become an odd trend of selecting space odysseys here that wasn't really something that the branch had gone for in the past (Interstellar is sandwiched between Gravity and The Martian for what it's worth).  It's worth noting that this is a worthwhile nomination despite my complicated reaction to the movie.  While I wasn't wild about the script of the final sequence, the way that the film folds in the bookcases is a neat trick, and perhaps even better still is the marvelously designed aesthetic of the three different planets that they are forced to visit in the quest to re-establish human life in the future.  The film's spaceship is hardly shooting into a hugely unique direction, but the planets themselves are such lovely creations and wonderfully imagined that I won't admit to caring, though it loses points for slouching prior to these scenes.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Art Directors Guild gives us fifteen nominees to sort through, in three separate categories: contemporary, fantasy, and period.  Period films weren't huge in 2014, however, not like they have typically been, and so we were given in addition to the victorious Grand Budapest and Oscar runner-up Imitation Game the gold-plated Inherent Vice, the drab Theory of Everything, and the "really?" nomination of Unbroken, a film with few interiors or exteriors that require bragging.  Fantasy went with Into the Woods, Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but in a first they skipped both Oscar nominees and picked Guardians for the win.  Contemporary was a who's who of Best Picture contenders, with Birdman overtaking American Sniper, Gone Girl, Foxcatcher, and Nightcrawler.  BAFTA was far more in-line with Oscar, substituting out only Into the Woods and picking Big Eyes in its place, with The Grand Budapest Hotel taking the trophy.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Only a fool would have excluded Snowpiercer, which I have to assume wasn't eligible because how else would this have happened?  I also loved the Middle Earth look more than pretty much anyone, but it's worth noting that I would have been challenged a bit to choose The Hobbit since the sets there weren't particularly new, which is why even the ADG skipped out on a citation.  As a result, I think the only other film that I'd really like to have seen was A Most Violent Year, where the dusty beige interiors popped in a way that I still recall memorably over a year after catching the film.
Oscar’s Choice: It was the Wes Anderson victory tour, and Grand Budapest continued to clean up over, I'm gonna guess, Into the Woods.
My Choice: Mr. Turner, for sure.  There's so much personality in the sets of this movie and detail (when it isn't being shoved down your throat) is what I'm looking for in this category.  I'll follow that with Grand Budapest, Imitation Game, Interstellar, and finally Into the Woods.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Are you with me that Mr. Turner deserved another trophy (this was my third for the film) or would you have given more love to Wes Anderson?  Am I the only person completely unimpressed with Into the Woods?  And how could they ignore Snowpiercer?  Share your thoughts and comments below!

Past Best Art Direction Contests: 20082009, 2010201120122013

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