It’s a strong season for period production design Oscar contenders, with Barbara Ling’s work on Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” standing out as an early frontrunner. She provides a 50-year facelift to Hollywood Blvd. and Westwood Village for Tarantino’s 1969 love letter to tinseltown, and recreated the creepy Spahn Ranch in the San Fernando Valley for the Manson Family lair.
New York, meanwhile, is the center of attention in such contenders as Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic, “The Irishman,” Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” John Crowley’s “The Goldfinch,” and Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn.” “The Irishman,” of course, is the most anticipated saga, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, and production designer Bob Shaw overseas recreations for the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and beyond for both familiar exteriors along with bars, restaurants, and hotels for nefarious meetings.
Speaking of Scorsese, production designer Mark Friedberg channels “The King of Comedy” in creating a gritty Gotham City (circa ’80) for “Joker,” the origin story starring Joaquin Phoenix as Batman’s legendary nemesis, who starts out as a struggling stand-up comic-turned twisted anti-hero. For the hard boiled detective throwback, “Motherless Brooklyn,” production designer Beth Mickle recreates the ’50s: a period that signals the rise of gentrification, with lots of builds, from the detective agency to several apartments, erasing the hint of modernity.
By contrast, production designer K.K. Barrett conjures a contemporary Upper East Side sense of oppression and a warm, bohemian Greenwich Village as part of the Dickensian-like odyssey for orphan Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort) in the “The Goldfinch” (adapted from Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel). It’s about fragmented memory and protecting the immortality of art objects (namely, the legendary 17th century Dutch painting by Carel Fabritius).
Other period contenders include “Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi’s black comedy about a German boy’s (Roman Griffin Davis) friendship with an imaginary Adolph Hitler (Waititi), with production designer RA Vincent endeavoring to put the life back into the palette of ’40s Germany; “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the Marielle Heller-directed biopic about TV icon Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), with production designer Jade Healy recreating Pittsburgh’s WQED studio as well as urban life outside; “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” with director Armando Iannucci taking a new stab at the Charles Dickens classic, with production designer Cristina Casali overseeing the Victorian trappings; “Downton Abbey,” the beloved series-turned feature, with production designer Donal Woods enhancing the look of Highclere Castle for the 1927 hosting of King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James); and Sam Mendes’ “1917,” a suspenseful, “Dunkirk”-like impossible mission to avert an ambush of British troops, with production designer Dennis Gassner recreating World War I’s iconic trench warfare.
Plus, there’s Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” the South Korean thriller, in which production designer Lee Ha-Jun crafts an elaborate mansion with non-visibility functionality through a series of sets with claustrophobic spaces; and J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” in which production designers Rick Carter and Kevin Jenkins assemble an exotic mixture of familiar and new worlds for the final entry in the “Skywalker saga.”
Contenders listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
“The Personal History of David Copperfield”