Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the likely frontrunner for the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Each day as we make our way to the Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 22, Last Cinema Standing will take an in-depth look at each of the categories, sorting out the highs, the lows, and everything in between. Check back right here for analysis, predictions, and gripes as we inch toward the Dolby Theater and that world-famous red carpet.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The nominees are:

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Just about every year, there is grumbling about this category, and the complaints usually go something like this: The Academy Awards are the prestige film awards the world over, they should honor the best the film world has to offer, and under no circumstances should a film like Norbit end up anywhere near the Oscar ceremony. This logic is flawed in so many ways, but it is a topic that comes up all the time.

Yes, films such as Norbit, The Lone Ranger, Click, and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa can call themselves Academy Award nominated, and something like The Nutty Professor (1996) can even slap “Oscar winner” on the DVD cover if someone in the marketing department so chooses, all thanks to this category. You know what? That is awesome.

I mentioned before how the cinematographers’ branch is willing to look outside the box for nominees. Well, meet the poster child branch for that idea. Prestige does not get an automatic pass. It is about the quality of the work and nothing else, which is as it should be. Also, I like to think about it this way: For every The Nutty Professor, there is an Oscar for The Fly or An American Werewolf in London. Sounds just fine to me.

In any event, no such complaints should be heard this year as all three nominated films are critically well regarded successes of one kind or another. Unlike many years in which there is a lone nominee in the category, all of this year’s contenders popped up in at least one other category, suggesting widespread love for each of them. The Academy tends to like old-age makeup, and barring the kind of transformative creature effects of someone like Rick Baker, they tend to reward the film with the most prestige that also features the most makeup, which brings us to our frontrunner.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Though clearly well liked by the Academy as a whole, this is a bit of a surprise nominee, given the more flashy contenders such as Maleficent and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I that were left on the sidelines. Still, now that it is on the shortlist, it is in the driver’s seat for this award. It is the most nominated film of the bunch, it is a Best Picture nominee, and the work is impeccable.

This is Frances Hannon’s first nomination, but partner Mark Coulier is a previous winner in this category for helping turn Meryl Streep into Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. The old-age makeup on Tilda Swinton in this film is as transformative, if not more so. Swinton is unrecognizable as Madame D., the elderly woman having an affair with Ralph Fienne’s concierge M. Gustave. Her hair is huge, her skin is sagging and wrinkled, and yet we never once question the reality of the transformation.

In addition, Hannon and Coulier do much more subtle work throughout the film, particularly on Fiennes and Willem Dafoe’s Jopling, a hired thug with distinctively bad teeth. To me, as good as the work on Swinton is, it is the Fiennes makeup that impresses most. He is an aesthete to his core. There is neither a blemish on his skin nor a hair out of place on his head. The makeup goes a long way toward creating the character Fiennes so well embodies.

Guardians of the Galaxy – If the award were for most makeup, this would win in a walk. Alas, it is not, but the makeup concocted by Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White goes a long way toward grounding many of the film’s more fantastical beings in a believable reality. Main characters such as Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) can exist in this world as a green woman and a blue man covered in tattoos, respectively, because the universe they inhabit allows for it. Yianni-Georgiu and White’s work is partly to thank for that.

According to the film’s star, Chris Pratt, Bautista’s makeup took up to five hours daily to apply and another hour and a half to remove, a process that included applying and removing 18 prosthetic tattoo pieces. The effort shows up on screen as Drax appears as a fully formed character before he even speaks a word, just judging by the lifetime of tattoos he has acquired. For Gamora, the look of Saldana’s character is created almost entirely through makeup, a tremendous commitment by both the actor and the crew to a project that often as not is completed through CGI these days.

Foxcatcher – That nose. There is actually a ton of great, subtle makeup and hairstyling work in this film, but I promise the only thing anyone remembers is the prosthetic nose worn by Steve Carell as John du Pont. If I am being honest – and I have no reason to lie to you fine folks – I found the nose distracting. There is a great exchange in Ocean’s Thirteen in which Matt Damon, who is wearing a fake nose as part of a con, defends his choice as “not just a prop for prop’s sake.” Carell’s performance is too good to hide behind a fake nose. It is a prop for prop’s sake.

The shame is that the rest of the makeup and hairstyling in the film is incredible, from the cauliflower ears on wrestling brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) to the ghostly pallor of du Pont’s skin. Makeup artists Bill Corso, a previous Oscar winner for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Dennis Liddiard do an amazing job of bringing three very real people to the screen. It would be a disservice to their accomplishment to boil it down to a big nose, but to be fair, it is a damn big nose.

The final analysis

Ultimately, any one of these three films could win, and each would be deserving to one extent or another, but the overall support for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel will probably be enough to carry the day here. Guardians of the Galaxy is a definite challenger just based on the sheer amount of effort that shows through on screen, and Foxcatcher is probably bringing up the rear, which is simply an indication of the high quality on display in the category this year.

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wish it had been here: Noah

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