Oscar Volleys: The Worldbuilding of AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER – cpn


EUROCHEESE: Hi Nick! We have an exciting group of larger-than-life worlds to conquer for Production Design, but maybe it would be best to start with the elephant in the room: Despite some mixed reviews on Babylon, I have to imagine that if nothing else it will make its coked-up presence known here, as homage to Hollywood’s glory days. Then we have two blockbuster sequels to previous Best Production Design winners, with Black Panther Wakanda Forever and Avatar The Way of Water both asking similar questions: will the branch be excited enough for an encore nomination? I’m actually leaning towards no, now that we’ve seen the CGI-heavy worlds. Both might make more sense in other craft categories. I’m curious to hear your thoughts though…

NICK TAYLOR: I’m with you on Babylon being a relatively sure thing. Grand-scale Hollywood decadence is as good a prediction as any this early, and based on the handful of craft nominations for First Man despite its less generally enthusiastic reviews at the time, I’m betting Chazelle’s vision might get some recognition. On a slightly similar note, I think Glass Onion’s got a good shot. Given the popularity of its predecessor, the great reviews from its festival appearances and its one week theatrical engagement, and the upgraded opulence of its Netflix money, it feels like a smart pick.

Unlike you, I’d peg Wakanda Forever for a nomination and I think even Avatar might be easy for voters to embrace if its halfway decent. The tempat is finally seeing it this week. Still, you bring up a fair question on the CGI spectacles vying for attention. While the OG Avatar won Production Design and Visual Effects, Black Panther wasn’t nominated for the latter. Granted, maybe that said more about Marvel’s sometimes shaky CGI, but given the nine years between the films, it might have also indicated a shift in how immersive worldbuilding is received. I’m sure they’ll both rack up nominations from the Sci-Fi/Fantasy portion of the Production Designer’s Guild, but it’s worth considering if familiarity or genre bias might diminish their chances. What do you think could take their place?


EUROCHEESE: If I could only give Glass Onion one nomination, it would be for Production Design. The invitations to the guests were wild enough, but that island – absolutely stunning. I’ll be rooting for it here, and I could see the branch being won over by it.

Speaking of Netflix movies, the world created for Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is pretty ingenious and imaginative. The film feels like an “outside the box” choice that could appeal to voters. Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water were both winners in this category, so Del Toro films have certainly won their respect in the past.

And how can we talk about world building without mentioning the many worlds of Everything Everywhere All at Once? Sure, there are scenes of laundry and taxes, but think of all the other creations: hot dog world, the glorious movie theater, bagel world, even the rocks? The sheer range impresses.

NICK TAYLOR: Everything Everywhere All At Once is an interesting film to consider here, especially since its universe-hopping pizzazz is often credited to the editing or the costumes and makeup of the character’s alternate selves. The Wang’s house is a pretty great set, as is Jamie Lee Curtis’s office and her hotdog-fingered home. Unfortunately that office building that we spend most of our time in is not that visually interesting. It’s wouldn’t be a bad choice, but I wouldn’t predict it for this prize. I have to imagine the film would need enormous momentum to make headway in this category. If we’re gonna get a genre pick, I’d prefer they throw a horse to Nope’s haunted ranches and theme park realness.

GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO. Photograph by James Schmidt / Netflix

I sadly have yet to see Pinocchio, but I would be so ecstatic to see an animated film finally get a Production Design nomination. It’s so bizarre to me that no animated film has been recognized here, Not WALL-E? Not Isle of Dogs? Make it make sense!

We should probably also discuss the autofiction films in contention. I was very into Armageddon Time’s period milieu, though I doubt it’s showy enough to really contend. The Fabelmans likely has a good shot, though I’m honestly most curious about whether they’ll go for Bardo. Eugenio Caballero is a previous winner and recent nominee in this category. It’s true that Bardo has had weaker reception than Inarritu’s other films, but I can’t totally shake the statistic that all of his films have been nominated for something. Is this where the film makes its play? Or is this gonna be his Downsizing and it blanks completely?

EUROCHEESE: I’d guess Cinematography or maybe just International Film would be the big plays for Bardo rather than Production Design. The Fabelmans has some very smart period work and even uses its production design as an effective punchline in a couple scenes. I’d also feel remiss if we didn’t mention the flash of Elvis, where Catherine Martin works her magic on classic Vegas.

So, my crystal ball at the moment has me betting against the blockbusters and instead going with:


The Fabelmans
Glass Onion
GDT’s Pinocchio

What are your early guesses?


NICK TAYLOR: Catherine Martin’s a smart call, though I wonder if the fact that her Elvis costumes have gotten so much more attention than her sets could indicate she only gets one nomination? Or, more likely, she’s nominated for both but only wins one. The real question is when she’ll get a co-director credit for one of Baz’s films; her eye for opulence is just as instrumental to their projects as his, and it’d be so cute of them. Anyways, my predicted lineup is currently:


Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
The Fabelmans
Glass Onion

Elvis probably should be in that lineup, but this is more fun if we didn’t have the same predictions.

But enough about what we think will be nominated! Who would we pick, if given the opportunity to write a ballot for the Academy? Phil Tippet’s gargantuan, grotesque descent into hell with Mad God would be a very easy pick for me. So would After Yang’s insinuating blend of cultures and technologies, and it’d be hard to leave out Decision to Leave’s mesmerizing wallpaper. How about you Euro?

EUROCHEESE: Love your last two picks. Outside of the contenders I’m typically hearing, I’d agree with you that the work in Nope was really special. The house in its various stages, the creepy feel of the carnival – so much of the story is told through the visual set up, and not just the effects. Maybe the Academy will bring us some surprises?

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