Tech Support: Best Makeup could go its own way, from 'Green Lantern to 'The Iron Lady'

Posted by · 7:46 am · November 3rd, 2011

Ah, Best Makeup.

I always say that this is without doubt one of the most difficult categories to predict, year in and year out. While very broad trends can be observed, every year seemingly sure things do not make the bake-off (a list of seven finalists announced before the field is narrowed down to three on nomination morning), and even when they do, there are often shocking snubs among the final nominees. Last year”s omission of “Alice in Wonderland” immediately jumps to mind, for instance.

All that having been said, some titles do seem more plausible than others. The kind of work that tends to find favor here includes extensive prosthetics, effective aging makeup, creation of monsters and transformative effects. Period films take a disproportionate share of the nominations.

I should note that the category actually recognizes makeup and hairstyling, but the latter tends to be overshadowed, notwithstanding the occasional exception (“The Young Victoria,” for example).

The category has a few favorites, such as Greg Cannom and especially last year’s winner Rick Baker, but even they are occasionally passed over for seemingly easy gets. Moreover, many newcomers are nominated every year.

I”ll also note that members of this branch, like the costume designers (though really to an even greater extent), are willing to look past a film”s overall record with the Academy when coming to its nominees. Last year, all three nominated films were the sole representatives of their films, and rare is the year when at least one of the nominees isn”t from a film with no other nominations. Then again, the nominees in 1998, 2001 and 2003 fly in the face of that. Yet another sign of this branch being unpredictable.

Bearing that in mind, I”d say “Green Lantern” might just survive the year here. The film was hardly a critical favorite, and its box office record was underwhelming compared to many of the summer blockbusters. Nevertheless, it is difficult to find much fault in the transformation of Peter Sarsgaard into the villainous Hector Hammond. It’s worth mentioning Joel Harlow won this category two years ago for “Star Trek.”

A better received summer blockbuster was “Captain America: The First Avenger.”  While the extent of the makeup in the film is not that of “Green Lantern,” this Marvel effort also features a villain — Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull — sporting a lot of prosthetics. The crew does not have much Oscar history (that I am aware of), but that may not matter. Moreover, this could be the place to honor a fairly respected summer blockbuster that did its job quite well.

On the note of summer blockbusters, it would be unwise to rule out “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”  The first film in this franchise was nominated here and likely came close to winning. The third installment managed to repeat that feat despite the second not doing so. Now, the makeup on the latest — “On Stranger Tides” — was undeniably impressive and the additions of Blackbeard and the Mermaids added something new to the series. Nevertheless, much of the crew that had earlier success is not back (though Joel Harlow, having a busy year, is aboard this film as well) and, moreover, I can”t help but wonder if people are sick of this series, which was a breath of fresh air eight years ago but now has lost much of its earlier fun. Then again, maybe not.

Looking ahead, “J. Edgar” will finally unveil itself tonight at AFI Fest and I”m not sure how to read it. But no matter where the dice ultimately fall, aging Leonardo DiCaprio and company across five decades is a feat that cannot be ignored. So if this survives anywhere, I”d expect it to be here. In fact, I”d call it the frontrunner in this category. Then again, it also could go the way of many other surprising snubs even if it gets many nominations.

“The Iron lady” is Meryl Streep”s latest attempt to return to the Oscar game. I frankly have very little faith in Phyllida Lloyd to pull this off. Nevertheless, recreating the famous look of Margaret Thatcher, and then age her, does have the makings of a contender in this category, especially if Streep is heading toward nomination #17.

It may seem strange to contrast Margaret Thatcher with Marilyn Monroe but they are both characters in play for Best Actress race this year. “My Week with Marilyn” will try to make an Oscar contender not only out of Michelle Williams for her take on the original blonde bombshell, but also one out of Kenneth Branagh, who portrays Sir Laurence Olivier. The makeup frankly doesn”t look *that* transformative. Even so, the very nature of the work suggests to me it should be considered here, especially with Oscar winner Jenny Shircore on board.

If we”re looking for a smaller, serious biopic of sorts, David Cronenberg”s “A Dangerous Method” is worth watching. In addition to the unusual makeup on many of the patients, the film puts one hell of a nose on Viggo Mortensen, attempting to turn him into Sigmund Freud. Turning a famous actor into a famous person they don”t look like sometimes works (“La Vie en Rose”), but sometimes it doesn”t (“The Hours”). In any event, I”m not sure how this film will play and I”m skeptical of its chances in the big categories. Stephan Dupuis, by the way, won this category a quarter-century ago for his iconic work on Cronenberg”s “The Fly.”

“Albert Nobbs” will highlight the always makeup-reliant art of gender-bending as Glenn Close tries to return to the Oscar game after an extraordinary absence of over two decades. If she does (perhaps bringing Janet McTeer along with her), this is one of a few other places I could see the film  scoring, given that it will have to recreate 19th century Ireland, in addition to turning two female Oscar contenders into men.

Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” has an opportunity to blend period and fantasy, something this category sometimes goes for. Several actors will be looking atypical here, which certainly helps matters. Moreover, I simply think this film could be a major player in many crafts categories. Interestingly, no Scorsese film has ever been nominated here, nor has any member of this crew (to my knowledge).

I have probably been unfairly disregarding “Anonymous” in my predictions to date. While its underwhelming reception does not surprise me, the crafts work was clearly impressive. Heike Merker and Björn Rehbein have yet to tickle the fancy of the makeup branch to date, but one never knows in this unpredictable category.

“War Horse” will have the opportunity to showcase both period and war makeup. While this isn”t an obvious recipe for a nomination, “Saving Private Ryan” was cited here, and Lois Burwell designed that film as well as this one. Moreover, this one could get caught up in a sweep (which this branch is not always immune to.)  The crew includes “equine makeup artists,” which is different but makeup nonetheless. Novelty can help. It is worth noting that Jon Henry Gordon was nominated for his period hair work on “The Young Victoria,” while Burwell won this category for “Braveheart.”

I fully expect “The Artist” to do very well across the crafts categories. Bringing its main characters back to Hollywood of the late 1920s may well provide Julie Hewett and Cydney Cornell the opportunity to become first-time nominees, especially as they need to bear in mind the importance of black-and-white in their work. If the film sweeps, that would help.

I”ve said before but I may as well say again that the December film whose awards prospects I have most difficulty reading is “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”  This could just be the beginning of a cash cow series but, while awards never seem to be on Fincher”s mind, quality does. Moreover, there will be opportunities for makeup, in a typical action capacity, as well as the creation of the iconic look of the title character. So I”m reluctant to write this off yet.

I”ll end by turning to a film that marks the last chance to recognize a series I”m surprised has never turned up here: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.”  Now, I am not sure what is in this film that its predecessors lacked. Even so, given the unpredictability of the makeup category, and the fact that this is the last time to recognize a series that has had impressive makeup (and even more impressive hairstyling), I wouldn”t rule this out yet.

With those completely speculative musings behind me, I would nonetheless like to admit that there”s a good chance I haven”t cited at least one eventual nominee. (I sure didn”t see “Barney”s Version” coming at this point last year.)  That”s the unpredictable nature of this race. Feel free to guess what I may have missed below. Next week we”ll look to Best Sound Mixing.

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