By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 15, 2012 at 12:58PM
Friday sees the release of Joe Wright's version of "Anna Karenina," a film which, over the last few months, has become something of a Playlist favorite. A bold, non-naturalistic take on Tolstoy's classic, it's proven to be hugely divisive -- some have mocked it as near-disastrous, some (including this writer, and several other senior Playlist staff members) consider it among the finest films of the year. As such, this divisiveness has likely, and sadly, put paid to the film's chances in most of the big ticket Oscar races. Best Picture, Director and Screenplay are very long shots at this stage, and even Keira Knightley, a presumptive frontrunner for Best Actress before the film was seen, may find herself outside the final five when all is said and done.
But we suspect that it may do better below the line. We already predicted last week that DoP Seamus McGarvey would end up with a cinematography nod, and, as is so often the case with lavish period pieces (though ideally not ones with Brechtian distancing techniques), it's got an excellent chance in the design categories, and in fact, is looking like the most likely winner for both costume and the newly renamed production design category. But is it already all sewn up, (excuse the pun)? Or are there some serious threats that could see Wright's Russian romance go home empty-handed?
Production design-wise, Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer's work in "Anna Karenina" is among the showiest on display, with the team having built a multi-purpose Russian theater at Shepperton that's converted into a train station, an ice rink and even a racetrack. It's genuinely spectacular stuff, and is certainly a nominee. But it doesn't have the field all to itself.
Working Title's other major period piece could be the film's major competition. Tom Hooper has taken almost the opposite approach to Joe Wright for "Les Misérables," with a gritty, hand-held feel that's something quite different for a movie musical. But what's been glimpsed of the sets so far suggest impressive pieces of work, so Eve Stewart is likely to end up with a second nomination after picking one up for "The King's Speech" two years ago. And again, if the film sweeps the board, a victory here could follow.
The third serious challenger is Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master." Its stylish look at the 1950s looked especially terrific in 70mm, and veteran production designer Jack Fisk (Terrence Malick's long-time designer, and as the husband of Sissy Spacek, Hollywood royalty) picked up a nod -- curiously, his only one -- for Anderson's "There Will Be Blood." It's a likely nominee, and potentially another spoiler for "Anna Karenina," but the film's fading awards traction may put paid to that, unless the Art Director's Guild come through (they announce nominations the day Oscar ballots close, but the ceremony takes place in time to influence voters).
So three slots that are essentially locked up, with two to play for, and the field is a bit more wide open. Although Steven Spielberg hasn't had a nominee in the category since "Saving Private Ryan," "Lincoln" certainly has a good shot. From the big budget world, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy went three-for-three in this category, so, while original production designer Grant Major didn't work on the new films, the returning Dan Hennah could well repeat, even if we're skeptical of the film's award prospects elsewhere. From the blockbuster world, "Prometheus" also has a damn good shot, while Dennis Gassner (one of the few previous winners in the line-up) is an outside bet for his fine work in "Skyfall."
Many tipped "Cloud Atlas" as a potential early on, and clearly the diversity and scope of the design work puts it in with a good shout. But designers Hugh Bateup and Uli Hanisch aren't really in the club, with no previous nominations, and given the film's less-than-sterling box office, it may struggle, unless the branch give it a second look. "Life of Pi" will do well in the technical categories, but with much of the film set on a raft, may not be wide-reaching enough for a nomination, but what work is there is impressive enough that could still figure in. The interior work on "Django Unchained" looks impressive, but if memory of the script serves, there's not all that much of it, so we're not convinced it'll be a big player.
Longer shots but potentially ones to keep an eye on include the impressive devastation of "The Impossible" -- though it's worth noting that no contemporary-set film has won since "All That Jazz" -- as well as the usual immaculate art direction of Wes Anderson's world in "Moonrise Kingdom." There's also "Argo," which has some impressive '70s work from Sharon Seymour and Jan Pascale, but the mostly office-bound environments likely count it out here. Kicking around the outskirts are also "A Royal Affair," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Dark Shadows" -- all strong work, but we wouldn't advise putting money on it.
Our five predictions at this stage in the race are below, head over to page two for a look at the costume category.
"Anna Karenina" - Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
"Les Misérables" - Eve Stewart
"Lincoln" - Rick Carter, Jim Erickson, Peter T. Frank
"The Master" - David Crank, Jack Fisk, Amy Wells
"Prometheus" - Arthur Max, Sonja Klaus