The art direction category is one of the more easily grasped craft categories and this has been a particularly strong year for them. The award covers design elements of a given movie, particularly the sets but also any special props and even the costumes to some extent if they feel applicable. There was an embarrassment of riches and I needed to make some difficult cuts. Please note that I’ve opted to exclude animated movies here, but honorable mention for Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings.
- 10 Cloverfield Lane: Movies that are set largely in a single building tend to be great showcases of set design simply because you spend so much time in that location and get to know it. That’s certainly true of the underground bunker where the bulk of 10 Cloverfield Lane is set. The team behind the film’s art direction are meticulous both in giving this building a logical geography while also decorating it with a number of interesting things like a jukebox and a set of puzzles all inspired by the ego of its builder.
- Doctor Strange: Comic book adaptations would generally seem to be ideal sources of art direction, but the Marvel movies never quite seem to stand out enough. That was not the case of their latest film, Doctor Strange, which featured a number of interesting sets and design elements. In particular, the various sanctums in Nepal, London, and New York are all very interesting sets and the less showy elements like Stephen Strange’s hospital are also better designed then they could have been. If you also consider other elements like the trippy magic effects and some of the costumes, this becomes a pretty easy nomination.
- Everybody Wants Some!!: Though it doesn’t have fantasy elements or take place in a mansion or something, Everybody Wants Some!! remains a very impressive display of recent history period detail. Set in 1980, a year that director Richard Linklater clearly remembers vividly, the movie features a meticulous to the point of obsessive recreation of what a college campus looked like in that year. With well-chosen posters on every wall and every bar and dance club specially reworked nothing here looks modern and you can tell that there was a degree of love put into this that’s missing from other movies set in years like this.
- The Handmaiden: The Handmaiden is based on a book set in Victorian England but it moves the action to Korea under Japanese occupation during World War II. As such we get a blending of three different cultures and two different times. This becomes most apparent in the mansion that much of the film’s first third is set in, which is explicitly built to encompass those three cultures but there are other locations that also have a certain cross culture aesthetic like the Dickensian hideaway that Sook-Hee lives in at the start, and then there’s that room where Count Fujiwara and Uncle Kouzuki have their final encounter.
- Warcraft: Warcraft was a weird disaster of a movie, but there was clearly a vision at its center and there was clearly a lot of creativity in it on the part of the design team. The castles that the humans live in look like something out of a particularly ambitious storybook and the knights wear suits of armor that feel complex and detailed (and not terribly historical) while the world of the orcs is also distinct and interesting. It’s a pretty interesting movie to look at any way you cut it… shame about the rest though.