Let’s not make this category any more difficult than it has to be. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has this one in the bag, not because it’s the only Best Picture contender in the running, and not because it even has the best art direction on display. Oscar favors periods in both this and costume design, and while The Duchess and Changeling both contain the opulent flourishes and seamlessly accurate locations, respectively, from other eras that would normally take the prize here, the former missed out on a nomination by the Art Directors Guild, while the craftsmanship of the latter may simply be too subtle and lived-in to register with academy members. (That will almost certainly be the case with Revolutionary Road’s oppressively mundane suburban interiors; they serve their purpose and drive Kate Winslet justifiably bonkers, but Oscar voters often opt for sets that scream “Wish you were here!”) Lord knows why the academy decided to nominate the Batman franchise’s sets for the first time since the Tim Burton era; no other film in the series has more heavily leaned on existing (i.e. Chicagoan) urban decay. (It’s a wonder Slumdog Millionaire didn’t sneak in here in its stead.) So Benjamin Button has this one almost by default, but it would’ve probably coasted to a win in any number of years. There’s only one thing that can trump a period piece, and that’s a multi-period piece.
Will Win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Should Win: Changeling