Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Art (Direction) isn't Easy; Incoherent Oscar: Art Direction


Last year it wasn’t just the above the line Oscar categories that wrapped up early; was there anyone, for example, doubting that Hugo would be taking home the prize for Art Direction? This year I feel likes things are on much rockier generally although art direction is not as much of a free-for-all as other categories might be

Let’s examine.

The Nominees: Anna Karenina, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln

Three of five being Oscar nominees for best picture, with four of the last ten winners in this categories being for non-Best Picture nominees I say the picture factor does not mean much in either direction.

Anna Karenina (Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer)
This would probably win the Hugo award for production design which must not be ignored. Regardless of where you are on Wright’s film, he does ensure that this technical staff (all of them – sound cats, musicians, costume designers, art directors, photographers) get some time to shine and so much of Anna Karenina is about the stifling “muchness” of society the work here seems like an obvious horse to get behind. Both these ladies have been nominated for their work previous on Wright’s two other Keira Knightley ventures (Pride and Prejudice and Atonement and for superior work in the not-quite-superior Sherlock Holmes). The last time a female duo won for this category was in 2001 for the equally sumptuous Moulin Rouge!.

The Hobbit (Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright)
Blah, blah, blah – there’s nothing new to see here, and so on the criticism goes; to which I sort of shrug because I’m sort of blah on deciding whether or not the effect of the good work on the production of The Hobbit becomes less significant because it’s the fourth outing from the team. In fact arguing against this team in this category seems vaguely weird for me although vis a vis Oscar prediction it’s not a likely winner. Hennah is the one who has been nominated for all three previous incarnations of Middle Earth as well as for his work on King Kong, Vincent is enjoying his first citation and Bright was nominated for King Kong. Significantly, Hennah only won once (for The Return of the King) so an argument for him being over lauded is not likely.

Les Misérables (Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson)
Stewart has been collateral damage in the quest to annihilate Tom Hooper but I find her so generally good-humoured in interview and her work precedes so I have few qualms to air. On a rewatch my favourite single work of hers in the film is Cosette’s bedroom in “In My Life”. Unlike a similar time period in Anna Karenina Best’s film is being deliberately non-realist in its production so the art direction never becomes especially sumptuous – Best is a trooper, though. She was previous nominated with different partners for Topsy-Turvy and The King’s Speech. Her partner this year, Lynch-Robinson is enjoying her first citation.

Life of Pi (David Gropman, Anna Pinnock)
Aaah, the Art Directors’ Guild winner in Fantasy (besting fellow Oscar nominee The Hobbit; this has been compared to Avatar as a likely candidate for the prize. I wince not because the work here is poor, but I’m more willing to believe Cameron’s vision is more production designed focused than Li’s – although the dividing line between art direction, visual effects and cinematography becomes so difficult to define sometimes. Gropman was previously nominated for his work in The Cider House Rules and Pinnock for her work in Gosford Park and The Golden Compass.

Lincoln (Rick Carter, Jim Erickson)
And, speaking of Avatar Rick Carter won his lone Oscar for his work there (Erickson was nominated for There Wil Be Blood). Lincoln is all about rooms – empty rooms, filled rooms, rooms with secrets and the pair get prime chances to do good work. Certainly, the sombreness of it all does not position it in an obvious way like, say, Anna Karenina but in a year that could yield surprises this could be a somewhat left-field win that would not necessarily shock me.  

One, maybe two, of these make my actual slate of nominees but I’m generally pleased with the entire slate this year. All five films have benefited from the work of their production designers. Even though, yes, I’m still surprised the era traversing Cloud Atlas went unremembered.

Predicted Winner: I shall remain steadfast with Anna Karenina, which it seems almost foolish to bet against – although stranger things have happened than it losing.

Alternate: I say equally Life of Pi and Lincoln with an edge to the latter if they really want to reward it somewhere.

Any egregious inclusions or omissions or you? Is the female duo heading to the prodium?

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