Ranking the Best Picture Nominees According to Their Design Aesthetic


If you’re like us and doing the obligatory Oscar week movie-cramming in preparation for Hollywood’s big night, here’s something else to think about when considering your pick for Best Picture: the anthropological question of good taste. We took it upon ourselves to rank this year’s nominees according to their design aesthetic. Wikipedia defines aesthetics as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. So, what films have it? What films don’t? Does it matter?

Click through to see how the nine nominees measured up, and let us know in the comments if you agree with us, or if you’re now questioning our good taste.

9. War Horse

Image credit: ninja romeo

Like everyone else we’re a little puzzled by this Black Stallion meets Lassie meets Little House on the Prairie meets 300 circa the Civil War by who we consider to be one of the living gods of filmmaking, Steven Spielberg. (Steven, what happened?)

From a design standpoint, we acknowledge the nice milk glass lamps throughout, and the tapestry hanging in Emilie’s room is kind of interesting, but let’s face it, the sappy pseudo-heritage thing is questionable, at best.

8. Moneyball

Image credit: Poptower

Even though we loved the unexpectedly awesome buddy pairing of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, Moneyball is no looker. Case in point: Brad’s olive green carpeted office. Jonah’s dark and creepy geeked out number crunching station. The dingy locker rooms. The polyester track pants. But it’s OK, we understand. After all, it’s Oakland. Ten years ago.

7. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Image credit: Slate

If it weren’t for the fact that the six films following are quite possibly the most extraordinary aesthetic achievements that Hollywood has seen in the last decade, we’d give Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close an unexpectedly higher rank. There’s a lot to be seen of predictable middle to upper middle class New York living, but there’s also the magic of Oskar’s world. DIY lovers eat your heart out. The design genius is no surprise given that it’s the creation of production designer extraordinaire, K.K. Barrett (Where the Wild Things Are, Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation). We yearn to find such a perfectly imperfect hand-painted map, and the atom molecules as sculpture have us seriously considering a trip to the New York Hall of Science gift shop.

6. The Help

Image credit: Cinema Style

It was difficult to put the next five films in any particular order, so let’s just say this: they all killed it from a design standpoint. From well-researched knickknacks to gorgeous color palettes to inspiring design ideas, enviable interiors and stunning architecture, the level of taste is off the charts.

Filmed on location in Mississippi, production designer, Mark Ricker, cites old copies of Better Homes and Gardens and Gone With The Wind as his inspiration. Even though we think he and set decorator, Rena Angelo, nailed the charm of the atomic highball sipping era, we’re also giving points to design we’d want to live with today, and that’s where The Help falls short. Let’s face it, no one wants their bathroom to look like granny moved in and never left. Or, their bedroom to look like the sad place where unrequited love goes to die.

5. Hugo

Image credit: CS Monitor

We know, we know. Hugo is stunning. You’re wondering, why is it only #5? Well it’s seemingly the year of the French pastiche, and we think another movie did one better. That being said, it sits solidly in the middle of our list for it’s obscure vintage toys, authentic affiches anciennes, steampunk affections and that library with the stunning green lamps that we’re currently coveting.

4. The Descendants

Image credit: Cinema Style

We give Alexander Payne’s modern masterpiece a big gold star for daring ingenuity. No one has ever tackled Hawaiiana with such taste and aspirational appeal. Not only does the film have us wanting to incorporate more color at home, but it also has us wanting to paint a giant mural of a famous explorer on our dining room wall. Don’t you?

3. Midnight in Paris

Image credit: here and away

Two words: Parisian Chic. To the hilt. Woody Allen’s homage to the city of lights, love and whimsy is filled to the brim with French eye candy. From Carla Bruni to Le Bristol Hotel to the Left Bank’s beloved Shakespeare & Co. to Musée de l’Orangerie to an old detective sign that has us Googling “Belle Époque French fonts”. And, who can forget the scene where Owen Wilson’s character is vintage record shopping in a quaint alley flea market (surely Paul Bert or Vernaison)? It’s like we died and went to Paris design heaven.

2. The Artist

Image credit: DaveLand

The pleasantly surprising dark horse film of the year is also the greatest homage to Los Angeles architecture we’ve seen in ages. The LA Times summed it up perfectly by stating that “with The Artist, everything old feels new again — it’s classic LA, but re-envisioned through French eyes.” What could be better? Using classic Hollywood landmarks including the Orpheum Theatre, Hancock Park, Cicada Restaurant and the best unexpected Bradbury Building cameo since 500 Days of Summer , this film has us yearning for a ’20s revival.

1. The Tree of Life

Image credit: Art Studio Point

Where to begin? The Tree of Life’s aesthetic is as complex and layered as its subconscious apocalyptic storyline. Production designer and longtime Malick collaborator, Jack Fisk, executes his Edward Hopper and Vermeer influences to perfection. Then, there’s the fact that all of the furniture was sourced in the Texas Hill Country making for stunning, timeless mid-century modern design throughout. Add to that, one of the main characters, played by Sean Penn, is an architect, living in a gorgeous contemporary home, possibly of his own design. And those controversial Darwinian desktop screensaver sequences? Well, they were created by the great Donald Trumbull (Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 2001: A Space Odyssey).

The most misunderstood film of the year, we have to agree with the Cannes Film committee: it rocked our world, in every way.