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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Production Design

The ultimate takeaway here is that predicting this category is a total crapshoot—that, or we don’t know shit.

The Great Gatsby
Photo: Warner Bros.

In 2010, we asked, “How do you solve a problem like Avatar? How do you hold a fluorescent, floating anemone in your hand? Well, you can’t. Because it exists in hexadecimal code on a hard drive somewhere in Silicon (or is it Uncanny?) Valley.” So we threw our vote to Sherlock Holmes and shook our heads on Oscar night when James Cameron’s Epcot Center diorama was awarded. The lesson? That Gravity, even though it’s the Mission: SPACE to Avatar’s more elaborately designed Universe of Energy: Ellen’s Energy Adventure, shouldn’t be too quickly discounted. Two years earlier, we thought the category would break toward Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood’s Wild West City attraction only to see it (rightfully) lose to Tim Burton’s Broadway-ed Dickens funhouse Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Meaning that the benefits of being a Best Picture frontrunner in this category are negligible. And so we put our money on Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina last year only to see it toppled by the Lincoln Logs of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Meaning that being a politely revered or disliked Best Picture nominee is also negligible.

The ultimate takeaway here is that predicting this category is a total crapshoot—that, or we don’t know shit. Gravity’s undeniable popularity has made it a frontrunner in almost all of Oscar’s tech categories, but will AMPAS recognize that the Intel Inside its art direction appears to predate both Avatar and the non-winning Life of Pi’s? Like Lincoln, 12 Years a Slave’s production design is all pine and cedar, meaning that it must be seen as a viable contender, but what does it mean that Steve McQueen’s critically acclaimed historical drama ostensibly leads the Best Picture race with the court still out on the nature of its actual likability? But, in the end, the history of winners in this category points to a coronation for The Great Gatsby. Like The Aviator and Hugo before it, it’s a gilded lily of impeccable precision that, like Moulin Rouge and Chicago, also happens to be, to quote our own Eric Henderson again, “a playground for Broadway showtune queens.” It’s not a playground most of our gurus care to play inside, but we didn’t mind gawking at it through its slightly less technically realized pearly gates when it first came out.

Will Win: The Great Gatsby

Could Win: Gravity

Should Win: The Great Gatsby

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