LAMB (the Large Association of Movie Blogs for those keeping score at home) are once again putting forth their annual LAMB Devours the Oscars tribute. Some of us more fortunate LAMB members (member in good standing since August 2010) have been assigned an Oscar category on which to write. I have been handed the Art Direction segment (by request actually) and the following is my ever so humble contribution to the festivities.
The Art Direction Academy Award, given to both the Production Designer and Set Decorator, is an award handed out for the physical beauty of a motion picture. While the Cinematography Oscar is, theoretically speaking of course, is awarded to the best camera work and overall feel of the film, it is for the sheer beauty of the design of the film that the Art Direction Oscar is awarded. Past winners include Gone With the Wind, The Thief of Bagdad, An American in Paris, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The King and I, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Fantastic Voyage, Cabaret, Barry Lyndon, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fanny and Alexander, Amadeus, Dick Tracy, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Moulin Rouge (both the 1952 and 2001 versions actually), Pan's Labyrinth and, last year, Alice in Wonderland. Now some of these films may be quite lacking in other departments, but there is no denying the sheer physical beauty of each one. This is much the same case this year, as the five films nominated, some perhaps lacking in other areas (one especially so), they are all quite beautiful to look at. So, without further ado, let us take a look at each of these fabulous looking nominees.
The Artist - From the silent era period studio soundstages and backlots to the grand cinema palaces of yesteryear to the spacious Hollywood homes of the stars (Mary Pickford's former home was actually used for Peppy's mansion), The Artist is a veritable feast for the eyes. Gorgeously manicured in black and white and squared off in a period-appropriate aspect ratio, this French born homage to the silent film, playing out as, with minor exception, an actual silent film, is a film that has seemingly taken moviegoers by storm. This is mainly due to its silent era novelty but its real beauty comes in the way it looks, and even the film's braying naysayers will admit it looks damn good indeed.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - I have never been much of a fan of this franchise, but even so, I cannot deny how gorgeous the films look - or at least what I have seen of them (this is the one nominee I have not seen, having given up after the first three rather mundane entries in the series). With a look of dread and doom that one supposes is inherent in the ever-darkening tale of young Mr. Potter (I tried reading the books too but was bored), the film seems to visually engulf the audience. Granted, I cannot fairly judge this one, but nonetheless, from an Art Direction standpoint it seems a very viable nominee.
Hugo - My personal favourite of the nominated films (in fact overall it is my second favourite film of the year), this stunning Martin Scorsese homage to the birth of cinema, ironically using the most modern of technology, is a visual wonder to behold. I cannot stop praising this motion picture, nor should I have to. But even outside of my cinephiliac leanings (the picture just oozes film history), this picture is a designer's dream project. From the intertwining maze of the Paris metro station to the coming to life of long lost movies to the magical essence of the story itself, the sheer beauty of the images is what one would call pure cinema.
Midnight in Paris - It is strange to see a Woody Allen film nominated for Best Art Direction. Strange enough that this is but the fourth Allen film to nominated in this category. Usually more of a dialogue kind of director, Allen's ode to the magic of Paris and the literary dreams of the director's youth, is still a rightful nominee. Showing the magical world of 1920's Parisian life amongst the famed ex-pats that helped to make the city a Mecca for the arts, the shops, the cafes, the museums and cobblestone streets, this is more than mere dialogue driven cinema (though the screenplay is quite superb in its own right) and is a beauty to behold.
War Horse - I must admit to not liking much about this latest Spielberg opus. The story is trite and cloying and some of the supposedly emotional scenes are downright ridiculous. However, that being said, the one aspect of the film I did enjoy is the visual audacity that Spielberg throws at the screen. The man can definitely do war better than most anyone else out there these days, and the harrowing imagery that Spielberg and his artistic team put forth are brilliant enough to, at least momentarily, make one forget about all the other shortcomings in the film.
So which film do I think will take home the Oscar? It would seem this is pretty much a two way race between Hugo and The Artist, and I could feasibly see either film winning. Since The Artist is most surely going to beat out Hugo for the top prize, this could be thought of as a sort of consolation prize for the Scorsese picture, but then again, if The Artist is going to sweep, which seems to be a more and more distinct possibility, then it will take it. So to toss out an answer, I think The Artist will take home this particular prize (and I am sure, many more).