The LAMB Devours the Oscars 2020 – Best Production Design

by Rob · February 9, 2020 · LAMB Devours the Oscars, Periodic Features · No Comments

Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:

Today, Doug Jamieson of The Jam Report is here to look at the nominees for Best Production Design.

Thanks Doug!

Production Design

Best Production Design 

This category is generally one that’s fairly easy to predict by virtue of picking whichever film has the most lavish and elaborate production design, especially when period pieces are amongst the nominees. It’s a shame really, as more subtle contemporary production design can often be just as impressive as more bombastic work. With four period films in contention this year, we could be heading for another expected victory for one of them. But hold your horses. There’s a contemporary spoiler waiting in the wings. 


When a war movie finds itself in contention for awards season, there’s a very high chance its production design will be acknowledged with a nomination. And it’s easy to see why. Re-creating war landscapes is an arduous and extensive task, especially for those films with large-scale set-pieces that rely on physical filmmaking. In 1917, that task fell to seven-time nominee Dennis Gassner (he won way back in 1991 for Bugsy) and two-time nominee Lee Sandales, who re-create the expansive battlefields of World War I with impressive skill. At its heart, 1917 is a technical marvel, and Gassner and Sandales’ contributions are no exception. If the 1917 sweep is truly on, they could very well walk away with this one. 

The Irishman 

Given Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic The Irishman takes place over several decades, the production design is a constantly evolving beast that needs to match each time period in both intricate and elaborate ways. Just the sheer magnitude of work required to capture the evolving style and designs from 1950 to the early millennium is worthy of acknowledgment. In total, there were 295 different sets and locations used during production, all meticulously crafted by two-time Emmy Award winner Bob Shaw and Regina Graves. If the award was given for most production design, these two would win hands down. 

Jojo Rabbit 

Films set during World War II are usually crafted with a rather muted colour palette, but Jojo Rabbit is far from your ordinary World War II film. Under the direction of Taika Waititi, production designer Ra Vincent and set decorator Nora Sopková were instructed to create designs in a brighter, more optimistic fashion. There’s a decidedly art deco tone to their work here, crafting something far more inviting than possibly expected. The Betzler house itself was built from scratch on a 7,000 square-foot soundstage, allowing the action to flow organically from one room to the next. With intricate period decorations to evoke an authentic aesthetic that perfectly captures 1930s Germany. 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 

Quentin Tarantino has always been a filmmaker with a dazzling visual aesthetic, but his collaboration with production designer Barbara Ling and set decorator Nancy Haigh is on an entirely new level. To capture Tarantino’s love for late 1960s Hollywood, Ling and Haigh have meticulously recreated Los Angeles in dazzling ways. It’s this painstaking work which blesses the film with such spectacular authenticity, it’s often hard to remember we’re watching a film made in the 21st century. Whether we’re cruising past grand movie theatres along the Sunset Strip, witnessing sunset bring a series of flashing neon signs to life or stopping by the backlot of a fictional movie studio, Ling and Haigh have recreated this era in stunning style. With a key win for Excellence in Production Design for a Period Film from the Art Directors Guild, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is undoubtedly our frontrunner here. 


But if there’s anything that could stop Tarantino’s masterpiece from taking home this award, it could be Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite. While its contemporary production design may be far more subtle than its grandiose period film rivals, the expert work of production designer Lee Ha-jun and set decorator Cho Won-woo deserves equal acknowledgement. What may not be obvious to many is the impressive feat performed by Lee, who crafted the homes of both the Kim and Park families from scratch on soundstages. The Park home is almost a character entirely of its own, as it plays a key role in the film’s constantly evolving narrative. It’s a spacious and sleek palace where dazzling granite, concrete, rock, and glass ultimately hide a dark secret within. It’s a jarring polarity to the Kim’s subterranean, dilapidated slum, crafting inescapable symbolism which evokes so much through visuals alone. Is that not worthy of an Academy Award? 

Parasite took home Excellence in Production Design for a Contemporary Film from the Art Directors Guild, so it’s clearly a two-horse race here. While it’s difficult for a contemporary film to best its period film rivals, there’s no doubt Parasite is well in the hunt for a “surprise” win. NEON have been tirelessly pushing the behind-the-scenes narrative of the film’s exhaustive production work, and that could be enough to convince voters who appreciate what it took to bring Parasite to life. However, for those who weren’t listening, the temptation to acknowledge Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s gorgeous production values could prove too strong to resist. Hollywood loves films about Hollywood, so the smart choice for your prediction ballot is Tarantino’s opus.

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