How do you win an art direction Oscar? The most obvious method is to make a period piece. This year, all the nominees fit the bill except "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."
Fantasies have won in this category, but not often. Still, the fourth "Potter" pic's obligatory, gothic Hogwarts interiors are supplemented by an underwater scene and a winter-themed ball that bring tears to the eyes of prom-committee heads everywhere.
Winning the statue is also easier if the rest of your movie isn't bad either. The best picture winner has won five of the last nine years. In six of the last nine years, the art direction nominee whose pic has the most total nominations takes the prize. In 2006, that pic is "Good Night, and Good Luck."
The claustrophobic CBS News offices help humanize the larger-than-life Edward R. Murrow and assist in amping up the excitement inherent in humble journalists taking on entrenched power. Then there's the layer of smoke in every scene, hinting at the dangerous ignorance of a bygone era. And though art direction winners typically feature sumptuous shades of red, the choice of black and white demonstrates a seriousness of purpose, and nobody's eyes get bored.
"Pride & Prejudice" is a more typical art direction nominee -- castles, couches, drapes, rugs, statues, mirrors, molding. But it gets extra credit for not unnecessarily gilding up the Bennet residence, instead including just the right amount of chipped paint and barnyard mud.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" has the advantage of a more exotic location. Critics were dazzled by the pre-WWII Japan set pieces, which ranged from the confines of the geisha household to a dance performance, a sumo wrestling contest and the streets of the geisha district -- and it was shot mostly in California, which should please union members.
"King Kong" has been hailed for its special effects, but art direction shares credit for the sheer audacity of the production. The lavish art deco flourishes and creepy habitat of the Skull Island natives are critical to the pic's over-the-top tone.
Good Night, and Good Luck
Art Direction: Jim Bissell; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale
Oscar pedigree: none
Current kudos: Satellite (win), Art Directors Guild (nom)
Why it'll win: Those smoky newsrooms are a big contributor to the pic's appeal.
Why it won't: CBS News isn't exactly Versailles. Cramped, drab offices don't usually win you an art direction statue.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Art Direction: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephanie McMillan
Current kudos: BAFTA (nom)
Oscar pedigree: "The English Patient" win (1996) and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" nom (2001) plus other wins and noms for Craig with other collaborators
Why it'll win: An impressive Oscar pedigree, and Craig is an Officer of the British Empire (O.B.E.). The various settings of Harry's Triwizard Tournament helped keep the series visually fresh ...
Why it won't: ... but perhaps not fresh enough. Craig and McMillan have done all four "Harry Potter" pics, and they were nommed and lost for the first one.
Art Direction: Dan Hennah; Set Decoration: Simon Bright
Oscar pedigree: Hennah shared a "The Lord of the Rings" win (2003) and two "Lord" noms (2001 and 2002)
Current kudos: Art Directors Guild (nom), BAFTA (nom)
Why it'll win: Who doesn't like art deco?
Why it won't: Pic is so CGI-heavy that the visual effects department probably gets more credit for the visuals than the art direction does. The ape and the stampeding dinosaurs are more memorable than anything behind them.
Memoirs of a Geisha
Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gretchen Rau
Oscar pedigree: Shared "Elizabeth" (1998) and "Chicago" (2002) noms for Myhre, one shared "Last Samurai" nom (2003) for Rau
Current kudos: Art Directors Guild (nom), BAFTA (nom), Satellite (nom)
Why it'll win: Critics and audiences liked the visual splendor.
Why it won't: Critics and audiences were disappointed by many other aspects of the much-anticipated film.
Pride & Prejudice
Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
Oscar pedigree: none
Current kudos: none
Why it'll win: The Jane Austen redo is a pitch-perfect mixture of extravagance and subtlety.
Why it won't: Pic wasn't recognized by the Art Directors Guild or BAFTA (and it's a British film, for God's sake). The setting -- late 18th century England -- feels familiar, much more so than those of the other nominees.