The Conjuring ()
The house very necessarily becomes its own character in this chillingly executed horror. Each room contains distinct props and set decorations that lend meaning to the ghostly events that transpire there. Don't even get me started on the Warren's personal museum of possessed artifacts... Nightmare central!
The Kuprickian production design slickly evokes the futuristic sterility of the titular space station, but the detailed squalor of impoverished Earth is no less striking. As a world-building exercise, there's lots for the wandering eye to explore in every frame.
The Great Gatsby ()
The 20s really do 'roar' thanks to the colourful opulence of these CG-assisted environs emulating post-war New York. From Gatsby's ostentatious Xanadu to the "valley of ashes", it all pops off the screen even without the superfluous 3D.
Her (K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena, Austin Gorg)
Sorry, Hobbit! I know it's wrong of me to initially pick you only to oust you for something else after the fact, but the look of Her just stands up so much better over time! And what a unique feat of production design this is too: a monument to how even the subtlest decorative touch can believably transport you to a different era, although one not too far removed from our own.
Pacific Rim ()
The world of Pacific Rim awes and mesmerizes. Every kaiju and Jaeger has distinctive traits and visual personality, all within a tangibly lived-in environment wherein the grime and decay is just as important to convincing us of this world as the futuristic tech.
12 Years a Slave (Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker, David Stein)
Frozen (David Womersley, Michael Giaimo)
The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping, Wai Ming Alfred Yau, Tony Au)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Jess Gonchor, Susan Bode, Deborah Jensen)