Art direction, or production design, generally refers to set decoration but can be expanded to the entire mise-en-scène of a film including the props, the design of certain visual effects, and even the costumes to some extent. This year’s crop of nominees were surprisingly mainstream and featured a lot of expensive tentpoles, perhaps signaling what a little extra cash can get you when staging a production.
- Carol: There were a lot of good movies this year set in the mid-twentieth century America and this was probably my favorite. Todd Haynes was really careful to meticulously reconstruct 1950s New York in a way that is never needlessly flashy and never calls too much attention to itself. Special kudos for the design of the department store that Therese works for.
- Crimson Peak: If ever there was a movie that could almost coast on art direction alone it was probably Guillermo del Toro’s gothic horror film Crimson Peak. Specifically the film get a lot from having one of the cooler looking haunted houses I’ve seen in a while vis-a-vie the titular manor. Having very bloodlike clay coming out of the ground at this estate was a stroke of genius and the creepy corridors in general were just really strong.
- Jurassic World: If you look back to the trailers for this movie you’ll remember that what really enticed people about it wasn’t the opportunity to see dinosaurs (we’ve seen those before) but the opportunity to see what Jurassic Park would be like if it had opened as planned. The film’s production design delivers on this with some interesting ideas like a glass spherical ride and a giant fish tank for a prehistoric alligator thing. Best of all these ideas also seem interestingly functional.
- Mad Max: Fury Road: You don’t often see a film set almost entirely in exterior locations become a strong contender for this category but low and behold we have a contender. Here we are looking beyond basic set decoration and into other design elements of the film including the elaborately designed vehicles and to some extend the costumes and character designs. The art department at large almost certainly had a field day expanding on the aesthetic George Miller invented.
- Tomorrowland: This movie had… problems, but there were a couple of things it did very well and one of them was the design of the titular city designed by scientists. This is exactly the kind of tantalizing vision that would spark in the film’s protagonist the determination to get there that drives much of the film’s plot. If there’s a key problem it’s that we don’t get to spend much time in that amazing city, but what we do see is tantalizing and creative.