Every one of the films nominated for best production design has a distinct look and feeling that makes them some of the most visually dynamic of the year.  Not an easy category to predict all of these films brings something to the table in terms of storytelling, and craftsmanship.

Anna KareninaSarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer
Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer work in Anna Karenina is stunning.  Setting the Russian novel inside a theater stage proved to be quite a challenge, and the result definitely paid off.  Anna Karenina was one of the most beautiful films of 2012, and much of what’s memorable about it is due to the art direction.  Karenina has a pretty good shot at taking home the Oscar, but its ho-hum critical reception of the film as a whole might hinder its chances of winning.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  – Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, and Simon Bright

Returning to Middle Earth in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is Peter Jackson’s trusty production designer Dan Hennah, and art directors Ra Vincet and Simon Bright. They defiantly step up their game in part one of the three films. It’s easy for audiences to take for granted what these art directors do. Building an iconic fantasy universe from the ground up is quite an accomplishment, and most of the film’s success can be seen by how flawless the production design looks on film.  The only Oscar in this category that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films won was for The Return of the King, it was edged out by two musicals (Moulin Rouge, Chicago) the previous years.  Going head to head with a crowd favorite musical Les Misèrables might prove to be a difficult hurtle to win this category.

Les Misèrables – Eve Stewart and Anna Lynch-Robertson

As learned with both Moulin Rouge and Chicago musicals usually win this category. The beautiful production design of Les Misèrables will be the one to beat in this category.  Production designer Eve Stewart was nominated in this category for The Kings Speech two years ago, and Anna Lynch-Robertson has worked as a set decorator for a number of nifty British films such as In Bruges and An Education. Filming any successful Broadway musical is a tricky endeavor, but everything paid off in the end results of Les Misèrables adapting to screen. The magnificent sets of nineteenth century Paris do justice to stage production, as well as expanding its universe outside a theatrical set.

Life of Pi – David Gropman and Anna Pinnock

As an overall look of a film David Gropman and Anna Pinnock work on Life of Pi is absorbing to take in.  The art direction added to the transcendent mood, and look of the film.  As one of the best uses of 3D perhaps ever Life of Pi is an impressive cinematic experience that’s only made better by Gropman, and Pinnock’s art direction. If Life of Pi ends up sweeping the technical categories look for it to win this category.

Lincoln – Rick Carter and Jim Erickson

What makes Lincoln such a great film is without a doubt its authenticity. Art director Rick Carter and set decorator’s Jim Erickson’s work in Lincoln transports its audience to 1865.  All the sets capture the look, and feeling of the Lincoln’s age perfectly. The production design is never overly showy, but stays true to its simplistic period aesthetic. The recreation of the White House, and the House of Representatives are the true centerpieces of the film.  Lincoln would be the underdog pick for the Oscar in this category, but one that would be worthy of a win.

Prediction: While any of these nominees could very well win two lead the pack as front runners.  Life of Pi and  Les Misèrables are the films to beat. Narrowing it down to one Les Misèrables might  have upper hand for a win since musicals have won this category in the past.

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 6: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 8: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards