TECH SUPPORT: Best Makeup — Volume I

Posted by · 10:30 am · September 10th, 2009

Christopher Plummer in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus“Make me look good.” While this might seem a vain phrase, in the context of a movie, makeup cannot only make an actor “look good” but it can capture the character and transform the performer, providing invaluable assistance in reaching the “truth” in the portrayal.

The Academy Award for Best Makeup actually recognizes the individuals who perform both makeup and hairstyling duties. Like Best Visual Effects, this category has only three nominees, chosen from a list of seven finalists which are announced in a bake-off advance.

While certain names such as Greg Cannom and Rick Baker show up here with frequency, the branch has, especially in recent years, been less averse to new talent. Creation of monsters and other fantastical characters, in addition to aging, tend to be the branch’s preferred accomplishments.

The successful reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise might very well be leading the way here. Creating the numerous famous characters and, most notably, Eric Bana’s antagonist Romulan Nero, strikes me as the sort of work which this branch embraces.

Whether a film like “Watchmen” would be seriously considered by the Academy in any category is a matter of great debate. But the makeup was absolutely fantastic and critical to the success of the film. Greg Cannom was on the crew, which has me inclined to consider it seriously here.

We’re still waiting to see James Cameron’s eagerly anticipated “Avatar,” but one can’t help but wonder if the film’s CGI and performance capture technology will be doing much, if not all of the work normally reserved for makeup.  And the makeup artists on the crew have yet to be widely recognized by the Academy.  Regardless, one cannot deny the success Cameron’s films tend to have in the crafts categories.

(from left) Kodi Smit-McPhee and Viggo Mortensen in The RoadJohn Hillcoat’s “The Road” will depict a wide array of characters in a post-apocalyptic world.  In particular, there will be grotesque scenes (if you’ve read the book, you know) that could curdle the blood. I suspect makeup will be very important in this regard. While the crew has yet to be embraced by AMPAS, I still think a nomination is a distinct possibility.

Somewhat surprisingly, no films in the “Harry Potter” franchise have had success in this category. While nothing about “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” suggests it would break that trend, the film, as per usual in this series, had very fine makeup which gave many of the characters their distinct looks. One never knows when a sequel will click. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”’s nomination here last year, despite its predecessor being snubbed, highlights this.

I fully expect Rob Marshall’s “Nine” to score throughout the crafts categories, but I’m not sure if the makeup will be as flashy as will be seen on several other contenders.  However, with the crew being anchored by Oscar-winner Peter King, I nevertheless believe we should seriously consider the film’s potential here.

Another film I am very curious to see – and could very well have exceptional makeup – is Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” That said, costuming and visual effects will also be pivotal in the creation of the title characters and setting, and the crew hasn’t been embraced by AMPAS to date. We shall see.

“Drag Me to Hell” may have been a disappointment at the box office, but that does not always matter in this category. Moreover, Sam Raimi’s horror film was both well received and heavily reliant on makeup. Howard Berger, an Oscar winner for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” was the makeup supervisor on the film, making me particularly inclined to keep an eye on it.

Creative horror movies originally brought Peter Jackson to fame. “The Lovely Bones” is unlikely to feature graphic makeup, but the aging of the characters and the capturing of a fantastical world could provide opportunities for creativity. With WETA responsible, I think we should keep an eye on this film.

District 9Jackson produced one of the films which has stuck with me most this year in Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9.” While much of the work in the film was achieved with visual effects, makeup nevertheless played a key role in capturing the hellish life in the title slum, particularly with regard to prosthetics. With Jackson’s WETA crew once again creating the work, a nomination strikes me as very possible.

Finally, Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” has finally managed. Being a circus movie involving a 1,000 year old title character, makeup will likely be key to the film. Sarah Monzani has been out of the race for 27 years since winning this award for “Quest for Fire.” Perhaps it is time for a return?

This marks the end of a first glance at every category, with the exception of Best Original Song (which Kris has been tracking down in the meantime). Soon, after the dust from Toronto and Venice settles, we’ll start looking ahead.

What are your thoughts on the race for Best Makeup?  Did I miss anything?  Have your say in the comments section below!

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7 responses so far

  • 1 9-10-2009 at 10:52 am

    John said...

    My predicts for now are Star Trek (great make-up, successful film), District 9 (lead character’s transformation was fantastic), and Drag Me to Hell (particularly after you said that it includes an Oscar winner from only 4 years ago).

  • 2 9-10-2009 at 11:18 am

    Joel said...

    Star Trek, District 9, and Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. That’s me. I personally don’t see Drag Me to Hell having any sort of chance in this, but I’ve been wrong before in this category. It was a Thursday.

  • 3 9-10-2009 at 12:44 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Watchmen will not have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a Makeup nomination. It’ll be lucky to recieve an Art Direction nod.

  • 4 9-10-2009 at 1:28 pm

    Bill M. said...

    @Robert Hamer you realize that Art Direction is a tougher and more prestige category to get nominated in than Makeup

    Have yet to see wait till it releases on Netflix but I have serious doubts for a horror film getting a makeup Oscar nom.

    Nom’s: Nine, District 9, Lovely Bones, Star Trek, Dr. Parnassus.

    Of course Lovely Bones could be out and Avatar thrown in to bulk the prestige of Avatar which at the point of the Oscar nominations could have a disappointing box office (if the trailer is any indication)

  • 5 9-10-2009 at 2:35 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    The Lovely Bones, Where the Wild Things Are and District 9, i loved star trek but the make up was nothing revolutionary

  • 6 9-10-2009 at 4:42 pm

    Ali E. said...

    Inglourious Basterds deserves mentioning, but I don’t see it getting a nom… The Last Station may also very well be among the finalists with some age makeup… And we’re still not sure about The Way Back’s release date…

    I think Star Trek and Drag Me to Hell will most probably be two of the nominees… Right now, I think The Road may be the closest contender for the third place…

  • 7 9-11-2009 at 6:30 am

    Glenn said...

    Since “Synecdoche New York” god snubbed last year alongside “The Reader” I actually think age old makeup is starting to become old to this branch. The “SNY” snub also makes me inclined to think a movie like “Dr Parnassus” is too outre for the branch. To small and wacky.

    I’m thinking “Star Trek”, “Nine” and “District 9”.