Achievement in Art Direction
Changeling, Art Direction: James J. Murakami, Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt, Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
The Dark Knight, Art Direction: Nathan Crowley, Set Decoration: Peter Lando
The Duchess, Art Direction: Michael Carlin, Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
Revolutionary Road, Art Direction: Kristi Zea, Set Decoration: Debra Schutt
It feels like any category without a Slumdog nomination is a huge relief for the other films. Still, this should be one of the less dramatic categories of the night.
Changeling would be more of a threat if the film was better received within the Academy. I also think it's comparable to Button and that film's art direction is superior. Anyway, this is Murakami's second nomination ('84 for The Natural) and Fettis' second as well ('90 for The Godfather: Part III). Both are looking for their first win. I actually thought this was a better film than Gran Torino (though I enjoyed watching Torino more). Still, when you watch this film, it adds nothing special to the art direction. It just feels like a standard 1920s LA re-creation.
Button is the frontrunner in this category and rightfully so. It's very epic and the film spans almost a hundred years. That's a lot of different worlds to create and they should be rewarded for it. Oddly enough, this is actually the first nomination for both Burt and Zolfo. I feel like if Button can only win this award, then this should be it.
The Dark Knight presents a different type of art direction. It's not a period film, but a comic book adaptation. The city of Gotham is dark and creepy at times. This is the second nomination for Crowley ('06 for The Prestige) and first for Lando. The last couple years the Academy has gone with more fantasy in this category (Pan's Labyrinth and Sweeney Todd), so that could bode well for Knight. I just don't know how much the Academy really likes this film. It was shut out of Best Picture, but landed all these technical categories. I feel like this film could either take home like five Oscars or one. This film could be a real wild card.
The Duchess is a classic period piece that almost always gets nominated for this category. This is the first nomination for both Carlin and Alleway. I saw this film and couldn't really get into it. The art direction and costumes (will talk about in a little) were great, but will the quality of film hurt its chances? For costumes hasn't mattered recently, but I don't see it winning here at all.
Revolutionary Road recreates classic 50s suburbia. This is the second nomination for Zea ('97 for As Good As It Gets) and first for Schutt. Like the Duchess, I don't like this film's chances. I love the 50's, but this film is greatly misunderstood by many people. It will suffer from that and probably will every Oscar category it's nominated for.
I expect Button to win this category. A lot of people don't like this film, but a lot of people like it too. I feel without direct competition from Slumdog, then it should be able to take this one. Look out for possibly The Dark Knight, but I would consider that to be an upset.
Achievement in Costume Design
Australia, Catherine Martin
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Jacqueline West
The Duchess, Michael O’Connor
Milk, Danny Glicker
Revolutionary Road, Albert Wolsky
Save for the short categories, this is probably my least favorite category of the Oscars. I just never understand it. The last three winners have been from mediocre films (Memoirs of a Geisha, Marie Antoinette, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age). So, if I use the theory that a crappy film wins, then this must be between Australia and The Duchess.
I seriously forgot Australia was even made this year. This film fell off the planet and I never even saw it. The only thing this film has going for it is that Catherine Martin did the costumes. She already has two wins for her work on Moulin Rouge (Art Direction and Costume Design) and another nomination for Romeo & Juliet. Even with that I figure the film still has no shot in this category. Knowing Academy members, I bet most of them haven't even seen this film (like three hours long).
Button feels like the logical choice here. I'm actually in the process of convincing myself that I should change my pick to this film. Maybe I will. This is Jacqueline West's second nomination ('00 for Quills). This film has the advantage of covering multiple periods of time in the last hundred years, so it does manage to show range. The characters clothes are much different in the beginning of the film than the end. That could help this film's chances greatly if people are impressed by this.
Of the two mediocre films in this category, this is the one to watch out for. Maybe, The Duchess will pull it off. This is the first nomination for O'Connor. Look at the last three winners that I stated above. All three were period pieces. Antoinette and Elizabeth's costumes are very similar to Duchess. It feels like this could either help or hurt its chances. Recent history shows that this type of film does well with the large and extravagant dresses. Though, people could also be sick of this type of film and choose something a little refreshing.
Milk is I believe the first 70s era film to get nominated in costume design. Somewhat unrelated, but I can't wait for in like 30 to 40 years when films set in the 90s get nominated in this category. It's scary to think. Anyway, this is the first nomination for Glicker. He should be proud of pulling off this feat, but I don't think he will have a chance here. People aren't going to give Best Costume Design to a film set in the 70s yet. Give it another five to ten years, then I'll actually think a film like this is a threat.
Revolutionary Road does an impressive job with the 50s costumes. Leo and Kate looked great in the 50s attire. This is seventh nomination for Wolsky (two wins for All That Jazz and Bugsy). I love the 50s look, but sometimes it feels too subtle to win this category when it goes head to head with period pieces. Plus, Wolsky has two Oscars already and the Academy may choose to spread the love.
I currently like The Duchess to win this category, but I am beginning to think about changing my pick to Button. This race feels like those two films are in the lead. It just depends how much faith you have in Button and if you think The Duchess can continue the mediocre film streak.