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Oscars 2018 Category Breakdown: Best Production Design

So what we do here each year as a warm up for the Oscars is, I break down each of the 24 categories. The idea is to both familiarize everyone with the category and its history. I look at what the major trends are throughout the past bunch of years, how the precursors tend to go, whether they matter or not, that sort of stuff. I look at how the category came to be this year, and just anything else that seems totally pertinent about it. Then I rank each of the nominees and tell you what their likelihood (at this particular moment in time) of winning is.

This is all prelude to my giant Oscar ballot that I’m gonna give you. But I figure, if you have these as the warmup, it’s not as intimidating. You’ll have seen a lot of the pertinent trends here and we’ll all be able to reference these as a sort of cheat sheet. Plus it shows you where my head is at for how I think each of the categories are gonna go, and you can see me working my way up to all the bad decisions I usually make while guessing. Pretty much, with this, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the category is gonna turn out.

Today is Best Production Design. Probably one of the few categories with any real intrigue in for me this year.

Year Best Production Design Winners Other Nominees
1927-1928 The Dove & Tempest Seventh Heaven

Sunrise

1928-1929 The Bridge of San Luis Rey Dynamite

Alibi

The Awakening

The Patriot

Sunrise

1929-1930 King of Jazz Bulldog Drummond

The Love Parade

Sally

The Vagabond King

1930-1931 Cimarron Just Imagine

Morocco

Svengali

Whoopee!

1931-1932 Transatlantic À nous la liberté

Arrowsmith

1932-1933 Cavalcade A Farewell to Arms

When Ladies Meet

1934 The Merry Widow The Gay Divorcee

The Affairs of Cellini

1935 The Dark Angel The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Top Hat

1936 Dodsworth Anthony Adverse

The Great Ziegfeld

Lloyd’s of London

The Magnificent Brute

Romeo and Juliet

Winterset

1937 Lost Horizon Conquest

A Damsel in Distress

Dead End

Every Day’s a Holiday

The Life of Emile Zola

Manhattan Merry-Go-Round

The Prisoner of Zenda

Souls at Sea

Vogues of 1938

Wee Willie Winkie

You’re a Sweetheart

1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Alexander’s Ragtime Band

Algiers

Carefree

The Goldwyn Follies

Holiday

If I Were King

Mad About Music

Marie Antoinette

Merrily We Live

1939 Gone With the Wind Beau Geste

Captain Fury

First Love

Love Affair

Man of Conquest

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

The Rains Came

Stagecoach

The Wizard of Oz

Wuthering Heights

1940 Black and White: Pride and Prejudice

Color: The Thief of Bagdad

Black and White: Arise, My Love

Arizona

The Boys from Syracuse

Dark Command

Foreign Correspondent

Lillian Russell

My Favorite Wife

My Son, My Son

Our Town

Rebecca

The Sea Hawk

The Westerner

Color: Bitter Sweet

Down Argentine Way

North West Mounted Police

1941 Black and White: How Green Was My Valley

Color: Blossoms in the Dust

Black and White: Citizen Kane

The Flame of New Orleans

Hold Back the Dawn

Ladies in Retirement

The Little Foxes

Sergeant York

Son of Monte Cristo

Sundown

That Hamilton Woman

When Ladies Meet

Color: Blood and Sand

Louisiana Purchase

1942 Black and White: This Above All

Color: My Gal Sal

Black and White: George Washington Slept Here

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Pride of the Yankes

Random Harvest

The Shanghai Gesture

Silver Queen

The Spoilers

Take a Letter, Darling

The Talk of the Town

Color: Arabian Nights

Captains of the Clouds

Jungle Book

Reap the Wild Wind

1943 Black and White: The Song of Bernadette

Color: Phantom of the Opera

Black and White: Five Graves to Cairo

Fight for Freedom

Madame Curie

Mission to Moscow

The North Star

Color: For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Gang’s All Here

This Is the Army

Thousands Cheer

1944 Black and White: Gaslight

Color: Wilson

Black and White: Address Unknown

The Adventures of Mark Twain

Casanova Brown

Laura

No Time for Love

Since You Went Away

Step Lively

Color: The Climax

Cover Girl

The Desert Song

Kismet

Lady in the Dark

The Princess and the Pirate

1945 Black and White: Blood on the Sun

Color: Frenchman’s Creek

Black and White: Experiment Perilous

The Keys of the Kingdom

Love Letters

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Color: Leave Her to Heaven

National Velvet

San Antonio

A Thousand and One Nights

1946 Black and White: Anna and the King of Siam

Color: The Yearling

Black and White: Kitty

The Razor’s Edge

Color: Caesar and Cleopatra

Henry V

1947 Black and White: Great Expectations

Color: Black Narcissus

Black and White: The Foxes of Harrow

Color: Life with Father

1948 Black and White: Hamlet

Color: The Red Shoes

Black and White: Johnny Belinda

Color: Joan of Arc

1949 Black and White: The Heiress

Color: Little Women

Black and White: Come to the Stable

Madame Bovary

Color: Adventures of Don Juan

Sarabond for Dead Lovers

1950 Black and White: Sunset Boulevard

Color: Samson and Delilah

Black and White: All About Eve

The Red Danube

Color: Annie Get Your Gun

Destination Moon

1951 Black and White: A Streetcar Named Desire

Color: An American in Paris

Black and White: Fourteen Hours

House on Telegraph Hill

La Ronde

Too Young to Kiss

Color: David and Bathsheba

On the Riviera

Quo Vadis

The Tales of Hoffmann

1952 Black and White:  The Bad and the Beautiful

Color: Moulin Rouge

Black and White: Carrie

My Cousin Rachel

Rashomon

Viva Zapata!

Color: Hans Christian Andersen

The Merry Widow

The Quiet Man

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

1953 Black and White:  Julius Caesar

Color: The Robe

Black and White: Martin Luther

The President’s Lady

Roman Holiday

Titanic

Color: Knights of the Round Table

Lili

The Story of Three Loves

Young Bess

1954 Black and White: On the Waterfront

Color: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Black and White: The Country Girl

Executive Suite

Le Plaisir

Sabrina

Color: Brigadoon

Désirée

Red Garters

A Star is Born

1955 Black and White: The Rose Tattoo

Color: Picnic

Black and White: Blackboard Jungle

I’ll Cry Tomorrow

The Man with the Golden Arm

Marty

Color: Daddy Long Legs

Guys and Dolls

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

To Catch a Thief

1956 Black and White: Somebody Up There Likes Me

Color: The King and I

Black and White: Seven Samurai

The Proud and the Profane

The Solid Gold Cadillac

Teenage Rebel

Color: Around the World in 80 Days

Giant

Lust for Life

The Ten Commandments

1957 Sayonara Funny Face

Les Girls

Pal Joey

Raintree County

1958 Gigi Auntie Mame

Bell, Book and Candle

A Certain Smile

Vertigo

1959 Black and White: The Diary of Anne Frank

Color: Ben-Hur

Black and White: Career

The Last Angry Man

Some Like It Hot

Suddenly, Last Summer

Color: The Big Fisherman

Journey to the Center of the Earth

North by Northwest

Pillow Talk

1960 Black and White: The Apartment

Color: Spartacus

Black and White: The Facts of Life

Psycho

Sons and Lovers

Visit to a Small Planet

Color: Cimarron

It Started in Naples

Pepe

Sunrise at Campobello

1961 Black and White: The Hustler

Color: West Side Story

Black and White: The Absent-Minded Professor

The Children’s Hour

Judgment at Nuremberg

La Dolce Vita

Color: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

El Cid

Flower Drum Song

Summer and Smoke

1962 Black and White: To Kill a Mockingbird

Color: Lawrence of Arabia

Black and White: The Music Man

Mutiny on the Bounty

That Touch of Mink

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm

Color: Days of Wine and Roses

The Longest Day

Period of Adjustment

The Pigeon That Took Rome

1963 Black and White: America America

Color: Cleopatra

Black and White: 8 ½

Hud

Love with the Proper Stranger

Twilight of Honor

Color: The Cardinal

Come Blow Your Horn

How the West Was Won

Tom Jones

1964 Black and White: Zorba the Greek

Color: My Fair Lady

Black and White: The Americanization of Emily

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte

The Night of the Iguana

Seven Days in May

Color: Becket

Mary Poppins

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

What a Way to Go!

1965 Black and White: Ship of Fools

Color: Doctor Zhivago

Black and White: King Rat

A Patch of Blue

The Slender Thread

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Color: The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Inside Daisy Clover

The Sound of Music

1966 Black and White: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Color: Fantastic Voyage

Black and White: The Fortune Cookie

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

Is Paris Burning?

Mister Buddwing

Color: Gambit

Juliet of the Spirits

The Oscar

The Sand Pebbles

1967 Camelot Doctor Dolittle

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

The Taming of the Shrew

Thoroughly Modern Millie

1968 Oliver! The Shoes of the Fisherman

Star!

2001: A Space Odyssey

War and Peace

1969 Hello, Dolly! Anne of the Thousand Days

Gaily, Gaily

Sweet Charity

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

1970 Patton Airport

The Molly Maguires

Scrooge

Tora! Tora! Tora!

1971 Nicholas and Alexandra The Andromeda Strain

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Fiddler on the Roof

Mary, Queen of Scots

1972 Cabaret Lady Sings the Blues

The Poseidon Adventure

Travels with My Aunt

Young Winston

1973 The Sting Brother Sun, Sister Moon

The Exorcist

Tom Sawyer

The Way We Were

1974 The Godfather Part II Chinatown

Earthquake

The Island at the Top of the World

The Towering Inferno

1975 Barry Lyndon The Hindenburg

The Man Who Would Be King

Shampoo

The Sunshine Boys

1976 All the President’s Men The Incredible Sarah

The Last Tycoon

Logan’s Run

The Shootist

1977 Star Wars Airport ‘77

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Turning Point

1978 Heaven Can Wait The Brink’s Job

California Suite

Interiors

The Wiz

1979 All That Jazz Alien

Apocalypse Now

The China Syndrome

Star Trek

1980 Tess Coal Miner’s Daughter

The Elephant Man

The Empire Strikes Back

Kagemusha

1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Heaven’s Gate

Ragtime

Reds

1982 Gandhi Annie

Blade Runner

La traviata

Victor Victoria

1983 Fanny and Alexander Return of the Jedi

The Right Stuff

Terms of Endearment

Yentl

1984 Amadeus The Cotton Club

The Natural

A Passage to India

2010

1985 Out of Africa Brazil

The Color Purple

Ran

Witness

1986 A Room with a View Aliens

The Color of Money

Hannah and Her Sisters

The Mission

1987 The Last Emperor Empire of the Sun

Hope and Glory

Radio Days

The Untouchables

1988 Dangerous Liaisons Beaches

Rain Man

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

1989 Batman The Abyss

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Driving Miss Daisy

Glory

1990 Dick Tracy Cyrano de Bergerac

Dances with Wolves

The Godfather Part III

Hamlet

1991 Bugsy Barton Fink

The Fisher King

Hook

The Prince of Tides

1992 Howards End Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Chaplin

Toys

Unforgiven

1993 Schindler’s List Addams Family Values

The Age of Innocence

Orlando

The Remains of the Day

1994 The Madness of King George Bullets Over Broadway

Forrest Gump

Interview with the Vampire

Legends of the Fall

1995 Restoration Apollo 13

Babe

A Little Princess

Richard III

1996 The English Patient The Birdcage

Evita

Hamlet

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

1997 Titanic Titanic

Gattaca

Kundun

L.A. Confidential

Men in Black

1998 Shakespeare in Love Elizabeth

Pleasantville

Saving Private Ryan

What Dreams May Come

1999 Sleepy Hollow Anna and the King

The Cider House Rules

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Topsy-Turvy

2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Gladiator

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Quills

Vatel

2001 Moulin Rouge! Amélie

Gosford Park

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

2002 Chicago Frida

Gangs of New York

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Road to Perdition

2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Girl with a Pearl Earring

The Last Samurai

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Seabiscuit

2004 The Aviator Finding Neverland

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Phantom of the Opera

A Very Long Engagement

2005 Memoirs of a Geisha Good Night, and Good Luck.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

King Kong

Pride & Prejudice

2006 Pan’s Labyrinth Dreamgirls

The Good Shepherd

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

The Prestige

2007 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street American Gangster

Atonement

The Golden Compass

There Will Be Blood

2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Changeling

The Dark Knight

The Duchess

Revolutionary Road

2009 Avatar The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Nine

Sherlock Holmes

The Young Victoria

2010 Alice in Wonderland Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Inception

The King’s Speech

True Grit

2011 Hugo The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Midnight in Paris

War Horse

2012 Lincoln Anna Karenina

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Les Misérables

Life of Pi

2013 The Great Gatsby American Hustle

Gravity

Her

12 Years a Slave

2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel The Imitation Game

Interstellar

Into the Woods

Mr. Turner

2015 Mad Max: Fury Road Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

The Martian

The Revenant 

2016 La La Land Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar

Passengers

2017 The Shape of Water Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Production Design is one of those categories that you kind of need the precursors to help with, otherwise you could, in a vacuum, talk yourself into anything. Though sometimes (like 2012), the precursors don’t really help and you just get caught. So it’s kind of a case by case basis. Last year we got lucky with an easy one. This year, I’m curious.

But we’ll start by looking at the main guild, ADG, and how they do vs. the Oscars since their inception:

  • 1996 — The English Patient won both.
  • 1997 — Titanic won both.
  • 1998 — Shakespeare in Love won the Oscar, What Dreams May Come won ADG.
  • 1999 — Sleepy Hollow won both.
  • 2000 — Crouching Tiger won the Oscar, Gladiator won ADG.
  • 2001 — Moulin Rouge won both.
  • 2002 — Chicago won the Oscar, The Two Towers won ADG.
  • 2003 — Return of the King won both.
  • 2004 — The Aviator won the Oscar, A Series of Unfortunate Events won ADG.
  • 2005 — Memoirs of a Geisha won both.

After 2005, they split the categories into the three we know them as today, Period, Fantasy, Contemporary.

  • 2006 — Pan’s Labyrinth won both.
  • 2007 — Sweeney Todd won the Oscar. There Will Be Blood won ADG Period.
  • 2008 — Benjamin Button won both.
  • 2009 — Avatar won both.
  • 2010 — Alice in Wonderland won the Oscar, The King’s Speech won ADG Period and Inception won ADG Fantasy.
  • 2011 — Hugo won both.
  • 2012 — Lincoln won the Oscar. Anna Karenina won ADG Period, Life of Pi won ADG Fantasy.
  • 2013 — The Great Gatsby won both.
  • 2014 — The Grand Budapest Hotel won both.
  • 2015 — Mad Max: Fury Road won both.
  • 2016 — La La Land won both.
  • 2017 — The Shape of Water won both.

So in 22 years, ADG is 15/22. So 2/3. Not terrible. And 9 of the last 12, so 75% since they split the categories.

Of the seven times they did not match the Oscar winner:

  • 1998 — The Best Picture winner won.
  • 2000 — The Best Picture winner won ADG but lost the Oscar to a Best Picture nominee
  • 2002 — The Best Picture winner won.
  • 2004 — The Best Picture nominee won.
  • 2007 — A Tim Burton film wins.
  • 2010 — A Tim Burton film wins.
  • 2012 — A Steven Spielberg wins (generally surprising people, given that it won none of the precursors)

BAFTA, meanwhile, is 7/10 the last ten (missing 2016, 2012 and 2010, so two of the same three ADG missed), and the only ADG miss that they picked up was The Aviator. Every other one they also got wrong (including Shakespeare in Love).

And BFCA has been handing out an award for production design since 2009, and they’ve only missed twice. They’re 7/9 in the last ten years, and haven’t missed since 2012. Their two misses are 2010 and 2012. They had Inception (along with everyone else) in 2010, and Alice in Wonderland came up and surprised, and they had Anna Karenina in 2012 (along with most people, though Les Mis and Life of Pi also had precursors, and then Lincoln jumped up and won).

Generally, what this means is, unless it’s gonna go completely off book, the precursors will usually tell you (along with general observation) what the contenders are.

Best Production Design

Black Panther

The Favourite

First Man

Mary Poppins Returns

Roma

This is one of the categories that went entirely as expected. These were the films that got nominated pretty much across all the three precursors and made the most sense. So not a whole lot to talk about in the way of how the category became the category. The only possible alternative was Fantastic Beasts, but when faced with that vs. Black Panther… the choice was obvious. So no surprises here.

The precursors so far:

  • ADG Period: The Favourite
  • ADG Fantasy: Black Panther
  • ADG Contemporary: Crazy Rich Asians
  • BAFTA: The Favourite
  • BFCA: Black Panther

I think that about tells us everything we need to know, don’t you?

Rankings:

5. First Man — It’s the only one where you can’t really remember a set piece from it, can you? Like, yeah, there’s the spaceships and stuff, but it’s all so tight on Gosling a lot of the time, you don’t really remember it. And then everything else just feels kind of like “generic 60s” sets. So I don’t think anyone’s rushing to vote for this. They love space movies in this category, but they never win. Passengers, The Martian, Interstellar, Gravity, even Apollo 13 — all lost. This as a fifth choice makes total sense in the absence of any precursors.

4. Mary Poppins — It’s Mary Poppins, so you know it’s got that aura of having good sets and things. And Disney, so a lot of people might vote for it on principle for that. Still, no precursors, and I don’t think anyone saw/has love for the movie to the point of it picking up categories. So it feels like an “also ran.” Maybe I try to sneak it third come Oscar night just because I wouldn’t want to get caught with it winning, Lincoln-style. But honestly, I doubt this category gets past the top two. That’s a hell of a vote split to get past those two.

3. Roma — It’s tied for most nominations, and it’s a Best Picture frontrunner. Can’t not show it respect in other categories, even though the Academy is very good about giving awards to things only “when it makes sense.” They don’t just sweep vote anymore. So that makes this an unlikely winner. Plus, so much of Roma is about the cinematography and the vérité feel that some people might take the production design of it for granted. Mary Poppins is much more showy, which is why I might say that’s a third choice over this. Still, no precursors outside of the top two, so at that point, we’re splitting hairs and just covering for possible eventualities. Don’t see the vote getting this far.

2. Black Panther — It’s got a guild win and it’s got BFCA. That’s something. Could snag a few extra votes in an open vote, but it’s not the frontrunner. Could easily win, but you cannot call it the favorite to win here. You just can’t. The thing with Hollywood is, they’re only doing this to seem like they care. They’ll clap for it, but they truly don’t want to vote for this. They’ll vote for it where it “makes sense.” So maybe it’ll win Score, maybe it’ll win Costumes, maybe it’ll win one of the Sound categories, maybe it’ll win this. I can’t see it getting more than one or two wins at most. This one is in play, but I feel like it’s one of the lesser probability ones.

1. The Favourite — It’s got the guild (Period, too, which is the big one) and it’s got BAFTA. Hard not to see this as (insert title here) to take this one down. It’s a toss up of a category. This vs. Black Panther. All things being equal, this has the better precursors and makes more sense for them because this one isn’t loaded with CGI. This seems like the probable winner. Either way, this is a clear frontrunner.

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