The 5 Most Striking Design Moments in Movies This Year

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The 5 Most Striking Design Moments in Movies This Year


Hollywood’s award season is well underway and that means it’s time to argue about which superlative performance will come out ahead in the horse race—and which movies are last-minute must-sees before the Oscars are handed out on March 12. If a visual treat figures into your individual formula for the ideal moviegoing experience, you might want to consider some of the best examples of design in movies since last year’s Oscars. We strove to pick films where the sets are visually striking or used swoon-worthy furnishings. Here are five of the most spectacular design moments in movies over the past year. 

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Lydia’s brutalist apartment in Tár

One of the most striking elements of Todd Field’s acclaimed drama is Lydia Tár’s brutalist Berlin apartment, situated above a concrete fortress that was constructed as a bunker during WWII. The building is now an art gallery, where the owners built the boxy glass penthouse in an ode to Mies van der Rohe and lent it to the production, along with much of their actual furniture. Brutalism is a fitting symbol for a powerful figure like Tár—under siege (with cement walls, though surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows) but with pure eye candy furnishings (like leather seating by Oscar Niemeyer and elaborate light fixtures envisioned by the actual owner, who once told the Financial Times that he’s a James Bond fan—but not of the hero, of the villains’ lairs).

The Kaufmann Desert house in Don’t Worry Darling

With its 1950s aesthetic, Olivia Wilde’s thriller is the first movie ever to film in Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House, a modernist abode built for the same mogul who commissioned Fallingwater from Frank Lloyd Wright. The lean, low-slung glass-and-metal box, which has become synonymous with modernism itself, is the home of the peppy founder of The Victory Project (Chris Pine), whose suburban optimism becomes highly suspect. Appropriately, the house contained a custom dark brown, nearly black paint color that was exclusive to the property; Wilde ended up using it as a recurring part of the film’s visual palette.

The LA interiors in Babylon 

Damien Chazelle’s film is a truly transporting look at 1920s Hollywood. Key to the effect are several opulent LA locations that depicted the playgrounds of the moguls and hopefuls of the period. The film’s opener—a wild studio party—was filmed at the real-life Shea’s Castle at Elizabeth Lake; the United Artists Theatre at the Ace Hotel Los Angeles stood in for the ballroom and warren of dark, sumptuous rooms where mischief happens. Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt)’s airy Spanish Revival mansion is full of stylish then new and old details, and the office of powerful gossip columnist Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) is laden with burgundy and gold Gilded Age furniture and antiques—fitting for anyone in the business of blood and money. 

Hawthorn in The Menu

The main set for The Menu’s takeoff of horror tropes delivers from the first look. As the setting for an evening of sumptuous dining and escalating terror, the elite eatery Hawthron, a chilly Scandinavian-inspired space, captures a bunch of fine-dining clichés while ominously shading them: the giant picture window overlooking the water, the gas-jet fireplace, the expansive kitchen big enough to feed an evil army. It is the first movie in recent memory to make sconces look foreboding. Production designer Ethan Taubman told AD he was inspired by the world’s finest restaurants (such as Spain’s El Bulli), along with paintings by Francis Bacon and John Currin that were “studies in grotesquery, excess, and worship,” he adds. “I always joke about this because it was similar to when I designed the movie Room, which has such an iconic, singular set that you’re stuck inside.”

The mansion in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

That opulent manse owned by tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton) is a jaw-dropper, complete with its spectacular onion-shaped glass atrium. Although the titular allium is a digital effect, the exterior of Amanzoe resort in Greece lent the filmmakers the grandiosity they felt the murder mystery needed. “It’s very epic, almost like the Colosseum, to approach the villa—which lends itself to the idea that people are about to kill each other,” production designer Rick Heinricks told Condé Nast Traveler. The mansion’s bedrooms appear onscreen, but the intricate, luxuriously appointed main living spaces were constructed on soundstages, and the details are so luxe—check out the dining room with its spectacular cubist light fixture, offset against Greek columns and a classical painting, and the clear lucite piano—that they’re almost to die for.


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