2020 Oscar Category Breakdown: Best Production Design

Today is Best Production Design.

Funnily enough, when scheduling out these categories, I thought to myself ‘Costumes seem easier than Production Design, so I should put that first and then wait on BAFTA for Production Design’. Turns out, Production Design is one of the easiest categories on the night and Costumes is actually up for debate. Oh well.

Either way, we’ve gotta deal with this now, and based on how the precursors have gone, this should be a pretty straightforward one on the night. Which is good, since the more easy ones you have, it gives you more time to consider what you’re gonna do for the hard ones.

Best Production Design

The Father

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


News of the World


This was a fairly straightforward category throughout the race. Not the easiest to guess, but also not the most difficult either. Only Mank and News of the World hit all the precursors and seemed like locks, and Ma Rainey and Tenet both had two precursors, so you had to figure those would get on as well. After that, though — nothing else had more than a single precursor, so you were basically figuring out that final spot among about ten movies. I went with their penchant for space movies and figured Midnight Sky would get on, and also figured Trial of the Chicago 7, having the stature it does, could also make it. But in the end, they went with The Father, which is only surprising in that they rarely nominated contemporary films here without them having some sort of fantasy aspect to them (like La La Land). And while you could argue this does have that (it doesn’t really, but since most of this takes place inside Hopkins’ head as he undergoes memory lapses from dementia, you could view it that way), it’s still very contemporary and I wasn’t sure they’d do it. And they did. Which — it’s a great effort, so I’m happy for them, but not the easiest thing to guess. Either way, that’s how we got this category.

And ever since we’ve gotten it, it’s been one film winning everything the whole way through.

5. Tenet — It makes sense on paper… Christopher Nolan film. Of course, Inception, Tenet, even Dunkirk got nominated here. But this film… when you actually consider the production design, I’m not sure this is something that’s gonna engender a lot of people wanting to vote for it. It’s the least nominated film in the category and my way of thinking on this is… if Inception managed to lose this category, what chance does this have?

4. News of the World — Honestly this is only fourth because Tenet is fifth. I don’t see any reason why this wins this. They love outdoor films and westerns always get nominated here, but they never win. You could count Mad Max as a western (but it’s not). The last pure western to win here was Cimarron in 1931. So yeah. Don’t bet on the western.

3. The Father — The last purely contemporary movie to win this category was All the President’s Men in 1976, so the odds are stacked against it. But given the two films below it, I think you have to consider this a solid third choice in the category. The lack of precursors on top of it being contemporary gives this such a steep mountain to climb. But hey, anything’s possible, I guess.

2. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — With nothing else having any precursors, you’re left to figure out what makes the most sense as competition. And this feels like the most likely option. I don’t see how it truly contends, which is why I think this will ultimately be an easy category to guess, but of the other four options, this feels most likely?

1. Mank — It’s won all the precursors and it’s classical Hollywood, which they salivate over in this branch. La La Land won, and that’s current Los Angeles with some fantasy musical numbers thrown in, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood won, and that’s Hollywood from 1969. This is studio era Hollywood. Backlots. Black-and-white. How can you not consider this the favorite to win this?

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