By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood February 6, 2014 at 2:28PM
The five Oscar nominees for production design ("American Hustle," "Gravity," "The Great Gatsby," "Her," and "12 Years a Slave") certainly capture the zeitgeist of the season in a variety of creative ways. They're about survival, self-invention, reinvention, and rebirth, and we reflect on this with all the nominees.
For "American Hustle's" Judy Becker, it was very personal to get to play with the diversity of this social strata of New York and New Jersey in the late '70s -- a time of cultural and political upheaval. And you see it reflected in the homes and the clubs and in the layering of detail that help make Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence and company such complex con artists on the cusp of change.
Likewise, Becker believes her fellow nominees used design quite well in expressing the world of the characters and their habits. "I was impressed with how restrained the design was in 'Her,' and how it captured a different Los Angeles in a very subtle way," she offers. "I particularly like the office that they work in; I liked the graphic work that was done by Geoff McFetridge and I liked the use of colored plexiglass. I liked the train scenes a lot. That's a kind of conceptual design that is not often recognized but that is an important part of production design.
"I thought the exteriors were quite stunning in '12 Years.' What stood out to me were the wide, exterior field shots. There's definitely production design that goes into that: the scenes of picking cotton, the scenes of the trees and the flowers -- the greens were really beautiful and the cinematography captured it well.
"I liked how gritty and used the space stations looked in 'Gravity.' I really believed that they were real space stations and that somebody was really in them. I liked the little personal touches. They didn't go over the top with dressing them up. That brought me back again to the original 'Alien,' where they have these little drinking bird that goes into the cups and that's a touch of humanity in the space ship. That's always good to bring into these space movies something the audience can relate to from their daily lives but in this other context."