Art direction, in this context, generally encompasses the visual design elements of a film but most specifically the set design and to some extent the props and costumes as well. This year the category is dominated by period pieces and science fiction films, but I guess that is sort of to be expected given the design requirements of those two genres.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel: Aside from maybe Tim Burton I can’t think of a single director who has tied their signature to art direction to the extent that Wes Anderson has. That’s especially true with The Grand Budapest Hotel which needs to create from scratch as sort of fantastical fictional 1930s Europe. On top of that, the movie needs to then recreate those same hotel sets in a different condition for framing stories. It’s an interesting case where the art direction plays a rather intrinsic role in a film’s humor.
- The Immigrant: The Immigrant is set in a 1920s that isn’t so roaring. The film needs to recreate a very specific type of New York neighborhood from the era. I don’t necessarily know how accurate the period detail is but it certainly matches the image most have of what tenement life in the era looked like. That the film was able to do this on a relatively low budget is pretty cool because it looks like they put a lot of resources into creating these buildings and apartments in great detail.
- Interstellar: There have been quite a few space movies lately and each one comes with its own set of challenges and Interstellar had more than most. On Earth it needed to walk a fine line between futuristic technology and desolate dust bowl conditions. In space they needed to create detailed spaceships that looked functional and also unique. And most importantly the film needed to create two alien planets as well as a cool looking space station at the end. The movie succeeds at some of these better than others, but the degree of difficulty more than earns it a nomination.
- Mr. Turner: Mr. Turner is set in the early Victorian era, which I suppose places it squarely in Masterpiece Theater territory, but it does a lot to set itself apart from the competition. The most memorable set is probably a strange gallery in the Royal Academy of Arts where the walls are covered with hundreds of paintings to the point where there are even paintings on these odd slants at the top of the wall. There are a number of other very notable period sets elsewhere like Turner’s house.
- Snowpiercer: Snowpiercer is entirely set in a futuristic community that happens to be on a very long train that’s traveling through an otherwise post-apocalyptic world. The first third of the movie looks at dingy sections of the train meant to house the poor masses, but things get really interesting later on when they start going through train cars that are meant to house the wealthy passengers in luxury. There’s a nightclub car, a steambath car, a school car, a damn aquarium car… pretty much anything you could think of.