These 5 Movies Should Win an Oscar for Breathtaking Set Design

published Mar 8, 2024
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

The 96th Academy Awards are this Sunday, and the competition for nearly every award is tight. And if you stepped into a movie theater at all in the past year, you’ll understand why. Whether you’re hosting a watch party or streaming the awards show solo, squeeze in a movie or two before Sunday night to familiarize yourself with the nominees.

While you’re placing bets on this year’s Oscar nominations, don’t glance over the Best Achievement in Production Design category. Between international filming locations and kitschy dated decorations of the past, 2023 offered a wide selection of movies that were enjoyable to watch for viewers who love great home design and decor items.

After watching over 120 movies last year, I noticed that a handful of stellar set designs (besides Barbie) were catching my attention more than the actual plot of the movie. Poor Things definitely deserves the Academy Award for production design, but there are four other movies that deserve a second watch so you can really pay attention to the background. You might even learn an insightful design tip or two!

Credit: ph: Ken Woroner / © A24 /Courtesy Everett Collection

Priscilla

This decade’s second movie dedicated to documenting Elvis Presley’s life focuses on his wife Priscilla Presley, played by Cailee Spaeny. With the direction of Sofia Coppola, viewers followed Priscilla around Graceland, which was brilliantly recreated by production designer Tamara Deverell.  The historic home’s neutral color palette of cream, gold, blue, and white were reflected in the living room, but the darker shades and more questionable decor were saved for Elvis’ bedroom, which includes a statue of a striped tiger.

According to an interview with House Beautiful, memorable pieces of the set were custom-made — “from the basics, like the polished living room sofa, to special items, like Elvis’s famous white piano with gold accents.” Coincidentally, the architectural layout of Presley’s mansion had to accommodate the towering height of Jacob Elordi, who starred as Elvis. 

Priscilla is available to stream on HBO Max.

Credit: © MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

Saltburn

If you’ve already seen Saltburn, you’re probably familiar with the complex characters played by Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, or Rosamund Pike, but the entire set design in the magnificent English manor deserves a round of applause. Suzie Davies, the production designer, opened up about that bathtub scene in an interview with Business Insider, and revealed that the bathroom is actually a bedroom styled for the movie.

“It was a spare bedroom with tapestry on the walls and a cream color,” Davies said in the interview. “We pulled out the bedroom, and I put the tiles on the floor. We put the bathtub there.” The rest of the rooms throughout the Drayton House may reek of aristocracy, but I’d still have a summer stay with the Saltburn cast for at least a week.

Saltburn is available to stream on Prime Video.

Credit: Sandra Huller, 2023. © Neon / Courtesy Everett Collection

Anatomy of a Fall

Justine Triet’s award-winning French legal drama got right to the point within the first twenty minutes of the movie — a woman’s husband fell to his death from their chalet’s balcony, and the remainder of the nearly three-hour long movie dissects the circumstances of his “accidental” fall. I spent a good portion of the movie eyeing the cozy chalet. The secluded chalet seems eerie at first, but the wooden interiors and open terrace feels welcoming, especially with a warm drink.

Located in the snowy mountains of France, the chalet was briefly available to rent on Airbnb, but the link is now inactive, which might be a good thing unless you’d like to relive the plot of the movie. Viewers probably left theaters with questions about the deceased husband, but I’m focused on booking a ski trip and staying in the cozy Airbnb to play the steel drums.

Anatomy of a Fall is available to purchase on Apple TV and Prime Video.

Credit: © Searchlight Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Poor Things

Bella Baxter, played by Emma Stone, navigated through London, Lisbon, Alexandria, and Marseille on a journey of self-discovery and exploration. The futuristic fantasy world during each scene of the movie easily reflects Baxter’s imagination as a reborn woman, and the credit goes to production designers James Price and Shona Heath. The duo made Europe look like a theme park, and it left my jaw dropped throughout the entire movie. Inside Baxter’s Victorian home, the padded walls meant to protect Baxter from harm actually create depth that could be replicated with textured walls and asymmetrical furniture.

And it’s easy to draw inspiration from Poor Things’ fairytale ending for Baxter, especially the relaxing garden at her mansion. At this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, set decorator Szusza Mihalek is also nominated alongside Price and Heath for the Best Achievement in Production Design. In the words of Baxter, I am “dizzy with excite” for the award reveal.

Poor Things is available to stream on Hulu.

Credit: Michele K. Short / © Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection

Lisa Frankenstein

Although this campy slasher comedy was released in theaters this February, I hope that the movie receives its flowers for its retro set design. Production designer Mark Worthington, who’s worked on period pieces like WandaVision and American Horror Story, flawlessly recreated the late ‘80s in the Art Deco-inspired home of the protagonist, Lisa Swallows.

In an interview with Focus Features, Worthington shared that he, Zelda Williams, and Diablo Cody searched for “the worst in ’80s design,” which was an easy task for the trio. Personally, I admired the pastel pink and seafoam green that covered the interior of the home, and the occasional sight of a non-Peloton exercise bike reminded me that this movie takes place in 1989. 

Lisa Frankenstein is in select theaters and available to purchase on Apple TV and Prime Video.