Best Art Direction – 1980

Official Nominations: Tess. Coal Miner’s Daughter. The Elephant Man. The Empire Strikes Back. Kagemusha.

I can see why Tess wins this. A literary adaptation and a costume drama given the Polanski treatment. It had to win something, right? I can’t deny the skill involved in making it look so good. But there’s at least two films officially nominated which it doesn’t stand a chance against. Coal Miner’s Daughter – it’s here to top up the number of nominations The Academy felt it should receive. The Elephant Man is on a level with Tess if not a step above, while Kagemusha benefits from Kurosawa’s switch to colour and Yoshiro Muraki’s attention to detail. You could say this was a veteran nod, but it’s deserved as the entire film is a feast for the eyes. Your only winner, surely, has to be The Empire Strikes back, expanding the living, breathing Star Wars universe to an endless array of locations each with their own design hinting at cultures stretching back centuries.

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

The effect of 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back' can still be felt after 40 years | Space

My Nominations: The Empire Strikes Back. Kagemusha. The Changeling. City Of Women. Tess. The Elephant Man. The Fog. Inferno. The Shining.

I Bring over four of the official choices and add a batch of horror movies. City Of Women isn’t a horror movie but its dreamlike qualities and dazzling Circus like style certainly warrants a nomination. While Inferno is not as visually daring or dazzling as Suspiria, it does take things up a notch with its abstract stage like vision of New York complete with abnormal shadows and lights, curtains, apartment blocks, books, and cellars. The Changeling is quant by comparison but is more of an updated version of the creaking haunted house movies of the 60s. It retains much of the style of those movies with the grand old house set up to look as foreboding and as ominous as possible. The Shining takes the haunted house idea further, instead placing a familiar story inside the confines of a sprawling, senseless hotel, a labyrinth of illogical corridors and the excess of a world long dead. Finally, The Fog takes the ghost story to its next logical step by haunting an entire town, the seaside idyll of Antonio Bay with the vengeful spirits too busy stabbing and scaring than stopping to appreciate the boats, lighthouses, streets, homes, and churches which Carpenter, Cundy, and Wallace provide for us.

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

Let us know in the comments which movie you would pick!

Best Art Direction – 1979

Official Nominations: All That Jazz. Alien. Apocalypse Now. The China Syndrome. Star Trek.

A decent list of nominees for a change, with The Academy fully embracing genre movies. They still picked the musical for the win, but what are you gonna do. All That Jazz deserves a nomination of course, but it pales in comparison to Alien. The set design of the Nostromo and beyond in Alien takes the work of 2001 and Star Wars to the next level. The film looks both futuristic and familiar, advanced and run down, human and alien. It’s the obvious winner.

Apocalypse Now succeeds in every level – Art Direction is no exception, while Star Trek advances upon the work of the series and takes inspiration from the big hits of the interim. Finally, The China Syndrome is the Chernobyl of 1979, and as such is tense and authentic.

My Winner:  Alien

Ridley Scott's Alien Created Its Own Genre 40 Years Ago | Consequence of Sound

My Nominations: All That Jazz. Alien. Apocalypse Now. Star Trek. Dracula. Escape From Alcatraz.

I add a number of notable choices to my list. 1979’s Dracula is an exercise in style and eroticism more than anything else, with a style not truly replicated until Coppola’s 90s effort. Escape From Alcatraz is impressive due to the work to authentically recreate and capture the look and feel of Alcatraz just before its closure.

My Winner: Alien

Let us know in the comments what you pick as winner!

Best Art Direction – 1978

Official Nominations: Heaven Can Wait. The Brink’s Job. California Suite. Interiors. The Wiz.

Heaven Can Wait was a shoe-in for the win this year, more to do with the calibre of the cast and director than the actual Art Direction. Visibly it’s good, but it takes too much of a leave out of A Matter Of Life And Death’s book without really adding anything new. The Brink’s Job is one of the forgotten William Friedkin movies – a comedy heist type caper raised by its performances and assured direction. Taking place in many familiar places around Boston likely nailed its nomination. Interiors in name alone seems like it should be nominated here, but it mimics Bergman without truly capturing the stark and often paranoid look his films were known for. California Suite gets as meta a nomination as you could think of, taking place in LA in and around The Academy Awards themselves with many locales known to the voters. Finally, The Wiz takes one of the most famous films of all time and some of its most iconic fantasy lands and twists them into a bizarre version of 70s NYC. At least in taking elements that audiences are familiar with, it tries to do something different and largely succeeds.

My Winner: The Wiz

The Wiz Redux; or, Why Queer Black Feminist Spectatorship and ...

My Nominations: The Wiz. Heaven Can Wait. Midnight Express. Superman. Days Of Heaven. A Wedding.

Only my winner and the official winner make it onto my personal list of nominations, joining a vicious satire, a vicious prison movie, and Clark Kent. Midnight Express paints an excessively bleak picture of prison life with all life and colour ripped from the screens, while Robert Altman’s lesser known A Wedding spares no expense in showcasing and pulling apart a day in the life of a bunch of rich people. Out of all the films this year it seems most odd that Days Of Heaven was missed here, an obvious nomination to most. My vote goes to Superman – from exploding dams to busy media offices, to the fortress of solitude to the planet of Krypton, Superman travels from one edge of the galaxy to the other and never misses a beat in portraying the adventures in a more or less human and realistic way.

My Winner: Superman

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Art Direction – 1977

Official Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters. Airport 77. The Spy Who Loved Me. The Turning Point.

Similar to the Costume Category, this was always a one horse race. Not quite as one-sided as Costume as we have some notable nominees here, but we know Star Wars is the winner, what with its Death Stars and Millennium Falcons and Cantinas. Close Encounters is a close second, while Airport 77 and The Turning Point don’t offer anything out of the ordinary. The final option then is The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s always interesting to me when a Bond film is nominated for an Oscar, because it happens so infrequently. If there is one category it should have excelled in over the years, it’s this one with Ken Adam pulling magic from his hat on multiple occasions. Of course it took Adam to work on Barry Lyndon before The Academy paid attention to him (though he did get a nomination in 1956 too) but he finally got some respect for his epic Bond work this year thanks to his work on Stromberg’s base etc.

My Winner: Star Wars

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My Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters. The Spy Who Loved Me. A Bridge Too Far. The Duellists. Eraserhead. Hausu. Suspiria.

The Academy all out avoids some major picks this year. I bring over the three best nominees, but there’s no way you don’t nominate Suspiria here. It’s on, no questions. Similarly, Hausa just has to get on – if you’ve seen it, there’s no way you argue against it being here. A Bridge Too Far and The Duellists both deserve a nomination, though I’d be happy with either or, and that leaves Eraserhead as another film with such a unique look that it hasn’t really been replicated in the years since.

My Winner: Star Wars

Let us know in the comments which film gets your vote!

Best Art Direction – 1976

Official Nominations: All The President’s Men. The Incredible Sarah. The Last Tycoon. Logan’s Run. The Shootist.

A clear front-runner and winner this year with All The President’s Men being set in the familiar locations of a bustling workplace and real life DC hotspots. The newsroom was entirely recreated for the film, but you wouldn’t know it given how realistic it all feels, while everything from the lighting to the costumes feel sweaty and tangible and at once closing in and expanding with possibility. Logan’s Run gets the Sci-Fi nod and is one of the more unique (for the time) visions of a possible future. Cheesy now, I’ve always had a fondness for the sets and the overall look. The Last Tycoon is probably famed now more for its authentic setting than the plot or performances while I’m not sure anyone remembers (or needs to remember) The Incredible Sarah. Finally, The Shootist is a now underrated Don Siegel Western featuring John Wayne – his last role – his character bemoaning the end of ‘The Old West’ and the film representing loss in both its look and plot.

My Winner: All The President’s Men

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My Nominations: All The President’s Men. The Last Tycoon. Logan’s Run. 1900. Bugsy Malone. Carrie. Marathon Man.

I add everything from musicals to horror movies to the three copied from the Official Nominations. 1900 is an epic in every sense, and if there is one thing most epics have in common it is a painstaking attention to detail, with Bertolucci and co showcasing the skills learned in previous stylized films such as The Conformist. Bugsy Malone, as much as I hate it, has a very specific look and feel which suits the malarkey of the story and its gimmick perfectly. Carrie is an exercise in stylized editing and post-menstrual pressure with both home and school rarely shown to be anything more than different levels of hell, while Marathon Man uses shadow and light to torment the viewer like few other films.

My Winner: All The President’s Men

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Art Direction – 1975

Official Nominations: Barry Lyndon. The Hindenberg. The Man Who Would Be King. Shampoo. The Sunshine Boys.

I’ve said it before, but the best nominees and options for this award are always period pieces – whether that be in a dramatized fact or an imagined future, or something somewhere between. Most of the nominees this year tick that box, though there are as always a few snubs perhaps more deserving. Barry Lyndon is the runaway winner. The Hindenberg hasn’t aged as well as others thanks to its reliance on special effects, but the overall design is still strong, while The man Who Would Be King is an old style epic which John Huston wanted to make twenty years earlier – it’s most notable today for its cast and look. Shampoo is very much of its time, even though it was set a decade earlier than its release date, but it has always felt more 70s than 60s to me, while The Sunshine Boys I don’t recall looking particularly special.

My Winner: Barry Lyndon

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My Nominations: Barry Lyndon. The Hindenberg. The Man Who Would Be King. The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother. The Day Of The Locust. Tommy. Monty Python And The Holy Grail. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rollerball.

Nothing this year is going to take the win away from Barry Lyndon, but we do have a nice range of extras, from the glossy yet violent future of Rollerball to the manic excess of The Rocky Horror Picture Show; from the trope choking Holy Grail and the madness of Tommy to the sharper detail of both Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and The Day Of The Locust.

My Winner: Barry Lyndon

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Art Direction – 1974

Official Nominations: The Godfather Part 2. Chinatown. Earthquake. The Island At The Top of The World. The Towering Inferno.

No reason to disagree with any of these, or with The Godfather Part 2 picking up the win – again in another year it would have been Chinatown.

My Winner: The Godfather Part 2

My Nominations: The Godfather Part 2. Chinatown. Earthquake. The Island At The Top of The World. The Towering Inferno. Murder On The Orient Express. And Then There Were None. The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad. Young Frankenstein.

I take all the nominees and add a couple of Agatha Christie adaptations, both notable, and of course I also take The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad. Young Frankenstein gets on too – a film which you forget looks so great, and The Man With The Golden Gun closes the list with numerous interesting sets which highlight the crazed aura of the title character.

My Winner: The Godfather Part 2

Which film of 1974 do you pick as winner?

Best Art Direction – 1972

Official Nominations: Cabaret. Lady Sings The Blues. The Poseidon Adventure. Travels With My Aunt. Young Winston.

You’d be forgiven for thinking The Godfather wasn’t released this year. Regardless, Cabaret was a cert to win this one. Lady Sings The Blues has no chance against it, neither does Young Winston, and Travels With My Aunt shouldn’t be here. The Poseidon Adventure is in with a shot here – it never would have been officially picked but as I prefer it to Cabaret and due to the scope and invention on display it gets my win.

Official Winner: The Poseidon Adventure

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My Nominations: The Poseidon Adventure. Cabaret. The Godfather. Last Tango In Paris. Silent Running. Sleuth. Solaris.

Only two of the official choices make it to my list, a list which rights a few wrongs. The Godfather is in – obviously, as is Last Tango In Paris. Also worthy of inclusion is Sleuth – any film which can turn a play mostly set in a single location into something extravagant is worth your attention. My final two picks fall under a loose ‘intelligent sci-fi’ sub-type, with Solaris and Silent Running both boasting great sets, design, and attention to detail. There’s only one winner for me though.

My Winner: The Godfather.

Let us know in the comments which film of 1972 you would give the Best Art Direction Oscar to!

Best Art Direction – 1971

Official Nominations: Nicholas And Alexandra. The Andromeda Strain. Bedknobs And Broomsticks. Fiddler On The Roof. Mary, Queen Of Scots.

Nicholas And Alexandra was the official winner this year, no surprises, but it’s a category filled with good choices. The Andromeda Strain is my choice as winner, something different from the typical costume epic and I tend to find these sorts of films more interesting from an aesthetic viewpoint, especially when they strive for a unique look. Bedknobs And Broomsticks, as much as I don’t like it, deserves it’s nomination here, as does Fiddler On The Roof, while Mary, Queen Of Scots is the second epic.

My Winner: The Andromeda Strain

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My Nominations: The Andromeda Strain. A Clockwork Orange. The Devils. McCabe And Mrs Miller. THX 1138. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory.

Only my winner from the Official list makes it over to meet a few contenders who really should have been recognised. A Clockwork Orange is a glaring omission being one of the most uniquely visual films of the year while The Devils is unique all around. McCabe And Mrs Miller is a more rain drenched Western than what you may expect, its set growing as the story progresses yet feels downbeat and used rather than crisp and new. THX 1138 of course has a dystopian coldness while Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is the polar opposite – vibrant, colourful, and brimming with energy and life.

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My Winner: Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Art Direction – 1970

Official Nominations: Patton. Airport. Tora Tora Tora. The Molly Maguires. Scrooge.

This, like Best Costume Design, is always a difficult one to argue against. You can add films to your list of nominations till the cows come home (damn cows always going AWOL), but generally the official nominations are fine. Patton picked up the win in 1970 and it’s expected. Airport is a close second, Scrooge as a period piece looks grimy and authentic. Tora Tora Tora is more notable for its Cinematography, while The Molly Maguires is the most likely choice to drop though it still looks good.

My Winner: Patton

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My Nominations: Patton. Airport. The Conformist. Cromwell. On A Clear Day We Can See Forever. Ryan’s Daughter.

I bring over a few new options to spice things up – a music, two historical epics, and The Conformist which remains one of the most beautiful movies of the Seventies. Cromwell is a watchable warts and all (ahem) drama while Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter is as big, bold, and excessive as you would expect while lacking the subtlety of his earlier work. Minnelli’s films always look gorgeous – I’m not a fan of the music or musicals in general, but there’s a definite style and love of how cinema should look, exemplified in On A Clear Day We Can See Forever.

My Winner: The Conformist