Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

Best Art Direction

Alice in Wonderland, Robert Stromberg
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Stuart Craig
Inception, Guy Hendrix Dyas
The King's Speech, Eve Stewart (WINNER)
True Grit, Jess Gonchor

Two kinds of movies get nominated in this category: fantasy and period. Plain old handsome design, which ruled Academy choices in Oscar's early prime, hasn't stood a chance in ages: the last winning film set in the present without fantasy sequences was All the President's Men, in 1977. This year, Alice, Harry Potter and Inception are the fantasy pictures, King's Speech and True Grit the period pieces.

Fantasy: Eliminate Harry Potter immediately; this is the series' seventh episode, of which only two earlier entries were nominated, neither one winning. In Inception, the impressive art direction is subordinate to the wowwy special effects. If a fantasy film is to win, it should be Alice, whose elaborate and imaginative design is crucial to the movie's visual impact. But Alice, a mix of live action and animation, might be dismissed as a "mere" cartoon. And though the film grossed more than a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, it was not especially cherished; we're guessing that Oscar voters, most of them of advanced age, were cool toward the movie. They'd vote for it only if there were no suitable alternative.

That alternative is The King's Speech, which satisfies another rule of this category: it creates a sumptuous place the Academy members would like to live in. It's also the overall front runner, which means that many voters will check the box next to its name in categories they don't care or know much about.