Editor’s note: Welcome to the first of a multi-part series dissecting the 2008 Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every weekday for the next couple weeks, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category (or more) of the Oscars (there are 24 in all). To read any other posts regarding this event, please just click on the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!
By Nick from Boomstick Reviews
What in the heck is Art Direction, and what does an Art Director do? Those are the questions I had to ask myself when I was assigned Best Art Direction for the LAMB Oscar Nomination Massive Writing Project Thing. The Oscar homepage obviously doesn’t have descriptions of what each category looks into, so I went to my good friend Google, who directed me to our mutual friend Wikipedia, and I found an answer. Notice I said an answer, and not the answer. What I got basically said that an Art Director works below a Production Designer, but above a Set Designer and Set Decorator. They are responsible for keeping budget and scheduling, assigning tasks, and act as a liaison between other art-like departments. So how did all this help me in figuring out how to judge what movie had the best art direction? It didn’t, really.
So from what I figure, Best Art Direction looks at the overall package: The costumes, the sets, the props, the drawings of how things look before it goes to CGI, and everything that makes a movie pretty or gritty. In other words, it’s kind of like Best Picture, where a good movie is only as good as the actors, actresses, script, etc., and each of those get their individual awards; likewise, the costumes and sets and all that good stuff get their own awards, as well, but it all ends up falling under Art Direction. If you aren’t confused by now and still know what the heck I’m talking about, that’s awesome, and we can finally get into the good stuff.
This year, the following five movies have been nominated for Best Art Direction: American Gangster, Atonement, The Golden Compass, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and There Will Be Blood. Unfortunately, for those of you who regularly read my own blog, you’ll know how bad my small town is about getting Oscar-y movies here. In other words, the only movie on this list that I’ve actually seen is The Golden Compass. But this might be a good thing, because I can do just like the normal Oscar people and only watch a small clip (I’ll be watching each movie’s trailers) and base my entire opinion solely on that… with the exception of The Golden Compass, as I’ve actually seen it. So without further ado, here are the nominations for Best Art Direction:
First I’ll start with American Gangster. This movie’s pretty or gritty (as a noun), as I’ll call it, looks relatively boring. Sure, they’re wearing some… black/tan suits and collared shirts… and the diner looks like a diner… and that’s about it, really. From what I saw, I’m not exactly sure how this made it in Best Art Direction. Weren’t there any other more stylish movies out there? What about Juno with those hamburger phones and knee-high running socks? It really just looked like your everyday cop/detective movie or TV show, but with a bigger budget. I have to admit that this one did come to my town when it first came out, but I didn’t go see it because, frankly, it looked boring. And if it looks boring or unappealing, that’s probably a fault with the Art Director, wouldn’t you think? I can’t see American Gangster winning this one.
Next is Atonement. I really hadn’t heard much of anything about this movie until maybe about a month or two before it came out. And, of course, it didn’t come out here. From the trailers, I still have no idea what it’s about, but that’s not important for this category. What is important is how it looks, the pretty or gritty. And from what I saw, it had both. The costumes looked great for the time period, and the settings and locations and such look wonderful and appealing to the eye. Everything just seemed to work together nicely to make it look both pretty and gritty when the respective moments arose.
Now for The Golden Compass. This is the biggest contender, I think. And I’m not saying this because it’s the only movie on the list I’ve actually seen. I honestly think it has the most eye-candy and is the most appealing. From everything about Jordan College to the ice lands to the dresses and outfits to the alethiometer (Golden Compass) itself—and everything in between—this movie is by far the best to look at. It’s going to be a tough contender with the other four.
Fourth will be a movie I was really upset about not being able to see, Sweeney Todd. There’s really only one thing to say about this movie: Tim Burton. He has a style, and it’s a very beautiful and unique style. He uses color contrasts. There are the bleak blacks and whites and grays, and then there are the incredibly bright reds and yellows and such in contrast to really make them pop out. It’s like forced beauty, but it works. This is in a similar fashion, from what it seems, to Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow, both also starring Johnny Depp. The sets are dark and gloomy, and the outfits rightfully match the gloom. If any movie would give The Golden Compass a run for its money, it would be Sweeney Todd.
Finally, we are left with There Will Be Blood. This is another movie I hadn’t really heard of until right before it came out. From what I’ve seen, much like Sweeney Todd, it leans more toward the gritty than the pretty. But it works, too. There wasn’t much to see from the trailer, but the costumes looked good for the period, the barren location/set was nice to look at, empty though it may be. Even the houses looked good. However, this movie might get a load of Oscars in other areas, but I don’t think Art Direction will be one of them. It was good, but not as good as the previous two.
All that said, I believe it’ll be a close race between The Golden Compass and Sweeney Todd. I honestly don’t know which one might win over the other. The Golden Compass has the pretty, while Sweeney Todd has the gritty, so their Art Direction is good, but in different ways. If it were up to me, I would say The Golden Compass for a few different reasons. First would be that Sweeney Todd looks like a bunch of other Burton films, and those haven’t really won in the past, so why would one win now? Plus, The Golden Compass has a lot more to offer. It has numerous different locales and props and outfits and this and that, while Sweeney Todd mainly seems to stick with the really dank colors or the really bright colors. As such, my vote goes to The Golden Compass. But who will actually win? I’m not sure, but I feel it will be one of these two.