The art direction category offers up subtlety and bombast — sometimes in the same film. And one such pic, “The Aviator,” comes into the race with the best Oscar pedigree. Dante Ferretti (art direction) and Francesca LoSchiavo (set decoration) have racked up a previous five Oscar noms with no wins.
A well-researched and executed homage to old Hollywood glamour, “Aviator” resurrects such jewels as the opulent Cocoanut Grove nitery and 1920s-era Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Executed with a dazzling and unerring eye, movie might catch Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters in a sentimental mood.
“Aviator” scored 11 mentions total, and history has shown that the Academy likes to ride a bandwagon: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” “Chicago,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Titanic” all took home art direction trophies in the years they dominated in total noms.
Bombast is the word with “The Phantom of the Opera.” Anthony Pratt (art director) and Celia Bobak (set decorator) stayed on message with the wildly popular stage show’s design, bringing Victorian layer-cake opulence to the screen. “Phantom” has a great shot at Oscar, as its showy sumptuousness provides much to feast upon.
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” art director Paul Heinrichs and set decorator Cheryl A. Carasik had no real-world touchstones to start from, so they created a whole reality from scratch and relied on such “old-fashioned” techniques as elaborate set building and matte paintings.
But Oscar doesn’t always go for the obvious: Period films have a better track record than fantasy pics — “Out of Africa,” “Howards End,” “The Madness of King George” among many others — in the wins column, even with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” winning last year. So the subtle work and research of art director Gemma Jackson and set decorator Trisha Edwards in “Finding Neverland” might trump all.
“Neverland” is quite effective in conveying the social strata of Edwardian London, from the shabby upper-class Llewellyn Davies home to the polished perfection of the Barrie house.
“A Very Long Engagement” might seem a long shot, but it has qualities that Oscar voters like: It’s a period piece with flights of fancy. Art director Aline Bonetto mixed World War I horror with the natural beauty of France for an effective aesthetic. Acad voters like costumers, and “Engagement” offers era-specific locations and fantasy.
Dante Ferretti (art direction), Francesca LoSchiavo (set decoration)
Current kudos: Art Directors Guild (nom), BAFTA (nom), Golden Satellite (nom), Los Angeles Film Critics (win)
Oscar pedigree: “Gangs of New York” (nom), “Kundun” (nom), “Interview With the Vampire” (nom), “The Age of Innocence” (Feretti shared nom with Robert J. Franco), “Hamlet” (nom), “The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen” (nom)
Why they’ll win: Ferretti and LoSchiavo’s work has been nominated five times, and they have never won. The historical research in re-creating old Hollywood might put the pair into the winner’s circle.
Why they won’t: The Acad loves period pieces so “The Aviator” faces tough competition in “Finding Neverland” and “A Very Long Engagement.”
Gemma Jackson and Trisha Edwards
Current kudos: Art Directors Guild (Jackson; nom), BAFTA (Jackson; nom)
Oscar pedigree: None
Why they’ll win: Period piece. Period. The road to Oscar is littered with fantasy films, while dramas set in a specific historical era have triumphed. The Edwardian London depicted in “Neverland” plays directly to that.
Why they’ll lose: Big competition from “Aviator,” which is a period piece that shines up historic Hollywood.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Rick Heinricks and Cheryl A. Carasik
Current kudos: Art Directors Guild (nom)
Oscar pedigree: “Sleepy Hollow” (Heinrichs shared win with Peter Young); “Men in Black” (nom), “The Birdcage” (nom), “A Little Princess” (Carasik shared nom with Bo Welch)
Why they’ll win: A fantastical fractured fairy tale with all its stage craft on display, “Snicket’s” Heinrichs and Carasik have the Hollywood track record and kudos to overcome the Acad’s aversion to fantasy.
Why they’ll lose: It might be too showy, maybe too over the top for an org that likes its historical epics.
The Phantom of the Opera
Anthony Pratt and Celia Bobak
Current kudos: Art Directors Guild (nom), Golden Satellite (nom)
Oscar pedigree: “Hope and Glory” (Pratt shared nom with Joanne Woollard)
Why they’ll win: The beloved stage musical comes to the screen and does not disappoint: the lush sets and old-fashioned soundstage look might captivate voters with a sentimental streak.
Why they’ll lose: The overripeness of the production might turn off voters looking for a more authentic experience.
A Very Long Engagement
Current kudos: Cesar (nom)
Oscar pedigree: “Amelie” (nom)
Why she’ll win: A period piece with fantasy elements combines for a strong look. Bonetto’s aesthetic has clicked with Oscar before, as she was nommed for “Amelie.”
Why she’ll lose: Picture has lost momentum since its release, and that does not bode well for a win, even in below-the-line categories.