This edition of my Oscar 2010 breakdown covers a trio of technical categories that involve a good deal of artistry. These categories are also of the kind that, when done well, you don't notice as you will be too involved with the bigger picture. Good art direction, makeup, and costumes will blend into the story so well that while you may remark on how good they are, they do not distract you.
Let's start with art direction. The easiest way I can think of to describe this position is to compare it to cinematography. Cinematography is the way the the sequences look while art direction concerns what is seen during those sequences. It is concerned with authenticity to the story and combines many of the other departments working on the film (like costumes and makeup).
The award itself has been in existence since the original ceremonies, however it was called Interior Decoration and it was won by William Cameron Menzies for both The Dove and Tempest. The award would go through its first evolution towards the one we know today in 1940 when the award was split to accommodate color films as well as black and white. The next stage came with renaming the category in 1947 to Art Direction - Set Decoration. Ten years later the award was combined back into one for a brief period when it was once again split along color lines. The final change came in 1967 and it has stayed that way ever since.
The five nominees for the 2010 prize are: Avatar: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: David Warren, Anastasia Masaro, Caroline Smith; Nine: John Myhre, Gordon Sim; Sherlock Holmes: Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer; The Young Victoria: Patrice Vermette, Maggie Gray.
All of the nominees are quite good, although there are two titles that jump out at me. One is the likely winner and the other is film I would like to see win. But before getting to those two, let's take a look at those I do not believe will win. First is The Young Victoria; quite frankly it just does not excite me. It may be a good film (I haven't seen it) but it does not look any different than other costume dramas I've seen. Next is Nine. I am not quite sure what it is, but while it does look good it does not strike me as great; I think it may be the way it was cut. Finally, Sherlock Holmes has a great sense of fun around it and could have an outside shot.