Tech Support: 'Cloud Atlas' and 'The Hobbit' lead the race for Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Posted by · 6:47 am · November 15th, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I commented on how Best Production Design is a welcome name change for the category previously known as Best Art Direction. It is not the only such change this year, as the award for Best Makeup is now finally called Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

For years, I have said that the hairstyling portion of this award has been neglected. Whether the sorts of films that get nominated will change remains an open question. But at the very least, this should highlight for the public that the category isn’t all about prosthetics and foundation.

This remains a unique category in that there are only three nominees. Moreover, said nominees are chosen from a group of seven finalists that are announced in the weeks leading up to the nominations. Voters from the branch view bake-off reels on the work done in those seven films before choosing the nominees.

With the exception of Best Original Song (where rule changes may improve matters this year), this is, year after year, Oscar”s weirdest category. What would appear to be sure things either don’t make the bake-off stage or are ultimately snubbed on nominations morning. Seemingly obscure or forgotten titles, meanwhile, are frequently resurrected.

Some “types” of films are frequently nominated here. Creating monsters tends to work. Examples include “The Wolfman” and “Pan”s Labyrinth.” Then again, there have been high profile snubs of such films, like “Planet of the Apes” and “District 9.” Aging is another feat that tends to be cited here frequently, as seen in “The Iron Lady” and “Barney”s Version.” Then again, it is rare that there are multiple aging-heavy films on the final list; it tends to reflect a diversity of work.

The category also has an interesting affinity for foreign language films, which have comprised six of the last 24 nominees, including two winners. But that didn”t help “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” last year, even though it surprisingly made the bake-off.

Hairstyling, finally, has historically been relatively ignored. That said, every so often the hairstyling is presumably the primary reason the film is cited. I”m sure that was the case for “The Young Victoria.”

Does being a Best Picture contender help?  Well, it did in 2001, when all three nominees were cited in the big category (“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” “Moulin Rouge!” and “A Beautiful Mind”). Just as frequently, however, none of the nominees cross over. Indeed, two years ago, “The Way Back,” “Barney”s Version” and “The Wolfman” were all the sole nominees from their films. Moreover, a truly atrocious film receiving a nomination is not an infrequent occurrence. I will never forget “Norbit” becoming an Oscar nominee a few years back.

I don”t object to this branch thinking for itself, though. While one can quibble with its choices, it is clear that they are considering what they are actually supposed to be considering – a film”s achievement in makeup.

Artists like Greg Cannom and Rick Baker have been cited frequently. But they also have been snubbed when they seem to be sure things. So unlike virtually every other crafts category (with the possible exception of Best Film Editing), I don”t consider the identity of the crafts artists to be *that* important in handicapping the race.

The only film that I am even remotely confident will be cited this year is “Cloud Atlas.” Divisive it may be, but to repeat, that doesn”t always matter in this category. Moreover, no one disputes the quality of the makeup, which showed action wounds, period makeup, fantastical creations and transformations of famous actors. The end credits are basically an advertisement of the film”s makeup work. Makeup supervisor Heike Merker has yet to earn Academy love to date. But I suspect that will change this year. Still, I would never dare call anything a “lock” in this category.

I”m not sure what to make of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Two of the three “Lord of the Rings” movies won this category, though the third – “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” – was not even nominated. The idea of creating three movies out of this book strikes me as ridiculous. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that transformation of famous actors into residents of Middle Earth, to say nothing of the battle wounds and fantastical characters, will result in opportunities for the makeup team to shine. Peter King is back, having won this award for “The Return of the King.” I”d certainly rank it among the top tier of contenders.

The makeup crew of “Les Misérables” will have to age Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman across decades, also giving the latter a great deal of subtle disguises. This is in addition to recreating 19th Century France, including aspects of failed revolution. I must admit that I am somewhat nervous about how this film will be received overall. I don”t have the confidence that many others seem to have. That having been said, there is no question that it could become a crafts category behemoth, with this being prime among the places it could potentially score.

“Lincoln” transformed Daniel Day-Lewis into America”s greatest president. It also turned many other famous actors and Oscar nominees/winners into lesser known historical figures. Plus, there are a fair amount of Civil War battle wounds present.The film”s reception is stronger than any Spielberg film in quite some time and I expect nominations across the board. Leo Corey Castallano could end up with his first nomination alongside Lois Burwell (Oscar winner for “Braveheart,” nominated for “Saving Private Ryan”).

“Hitchcock” transforms famous stars into other famous Hollywood figures, most notably Anthony Hopkins into Alfred Hitchcock. I”m waiting to see what sort of consensus emerges around this work. But it will be among the most noticeable this year. Julie Hewitt has yet to be nominated, though Hair Department Head Martin Samuel has two nominations to date for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, while Special Makeup Effects Artist Howard Berger won this award for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Those five titles strike me as the strongest contenders in this category. But, as mentioned, we get surprises year after year.

“Django Unchained” is still a wait-and-see thing. Tarantino films frequently feature extreme violence and blood. The brutality of the Southern world in the midst of slavery will require extensive work, in all likelihood. Camille Friend and Heba Thorrisdotir could end up with their first nominations.

“Looper” tried to make golden boy Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis. This subtle work could tickle the branch”s fancy, especially given the weaknesses of various other contenders. I have a hunch this will end up with a nomination somewhere. Oscar nominee Mike Elizalde was a consultant.

“Men in Black 3” is also part of a franchise that previously won this category. Rick Baker”s triumph for the first entry in this series prevented “Titanic” from a dozen wins and the all-time record for wins. While the second entry in the series was not nominated, this was widely considered a step up. Moreover, Baker is back on the team, working with department head Bernadette Mazur.

Tomorrow, “Anna Karenina” begins its limited release. In addition to crafting late-19th Century Russian characters, it also should feature some exceptionally important hairstyling. As I said, I feel this is what likely propelled “The Young Victoria” to a nomination here three years ago. Ivana Primorac is a veteran of titles such as “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Cold Mountain” and “The Hours.” You”d think a nomination will have to come her way eventually.

I”ll end with another film that could get in on the strength of period makeup and hairstyling. “A Royal Affair” has been exceptionally well received and looks poised to make a dent in the packed category that is Best Foreign Language Film. As I said at the top, this branch tends to admire the work in foreign films more than many others. In the hunt for surprising nominations, maybe this could be one?

So there are the top 10 contenders that I reckon have a good chance in this category. At the same time, I have no doubt that I”ve missed at least one of the finalists and very possibly one of the eventual nominees. This branch is simply too unpredictable.

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