Sunday, February 5, 2017

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Sofia Boutella in Star Trek Beyond, nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Welcome to Last Cinema Standing’s Countdown to the Oscars, our daily look at this year’s Academy Awards race. Be sure to check back every day leading up to the ceremony for analysis of each of the Academy’s 24 categories and more.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The nominees are:

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

God bless this branch. The makeup artists and hairstylists who nominate these films do not give a toss what anyone thinks of their nominations. I say it every year, but it bears repeating: For this branch, these nominations are about the quality of the work, nothing more and nothing less. It is an art about which I know little – except to say old-age Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar: pretty good; old-age Armie Hammer in J. Edgar: pretty bad – but it still is among my favorite categories just for its unbridled strangeness.

Two years ago, in the inaugural edition of this column, I listed some of the odd, awful, and out-of-left-field contenders this category has produced. I did the same last year. In that spirit, let’s see if I can conjure a few more names to add to our list of films you would never guess are Oscar-nominated. Keep in mind, the award has only been around since about 1981, so eventually I will run out of titles, but not yet. How about: The Clan of the Cave Bear; Bicentennial Man; and Albert Nobbs?

Idiosyncratic as ever, this is the first time since 2011 there is no Best Picture nominee in the lineup. In each of those previous four years, a Best Picture nominee took home the prize, most likely because the Academy, unlike the makeup branch, will vote for the movie it likes best. This helps explain a win like The Iron Lady, for which Meryl Streep also won Best Actress. This year pits two mega-hit franchise films with just this single nomination against a popular Swedish indie that is also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. So, yeah, this branch goes its own way. 

A Man Called Ove – Filling a niche the Academy probably did not know existed, A Man Called Ove represents the second straight year in which an oddball Swedish film featuring extensive old-age makeup has found its way into the lineup. To make the final three, it bested fellow finalists Deadpool, The Dressmaker, Florence Foster Jenkins, and Hail, Caesar!, any of which the Academy at large is more likely to have seen. Perhaps its inclusion here says more about its chances in the Foreign Language category than vice versa.

To be sure, its inclusion here is not as out of left field as last year’s nomination for the delightful Swedish blockbuster The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. While A Man Called Ove is a fine film, more about which we will discuss later in this series, it does not reach the heights of its fellow nominees in the makeup and hairstyling department. It is admirable the transformation the film’s star, Rolf Lassgård, undergoes to become Ove, but the scale of the work simply does not compare here. Of course, how could it?

Makeup designers Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr were nominated for their work last year on The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, and they are operating in much the same territory here. There is never a moment where the much younger-looking actor Lassgård looks like anything other than the elderly, pudgy Ove. The work is seamless in close-ups and under certain extreme conditions. It is to be applauded, but it lacks, by design, the grandeur and scope of the other two nominees.

Star Trek Beyond – For scope and grandeur in this category, you cannot beat Star Trek Beyond. Director Justin Lin’s film simply could not exist without its special makeup effects. Background characters in this world feature the kind of makeup effects that would win awards in other years. The various alien and mutant creatures that populate the Star Trek universe are a veritable playground for makeup artists, and they have made good use of it throughout the years. This is the fourth film of the various Star Trek franchises to receive a nomination in this category, and it won the award last time out.

Special makeup effects artist Joel Harlow, who has been Johnny Depp’s personal makeup artist for about a decade now, won an Oscar for the 2009 Star Trek reboot and previously was nominated for Depp starrer The Lone Ranger. This is Richard Alonzo’s first nomination, though he did work as a makeup artist on the 2009 Star Trek. The pair’s makeup and prosthetics work here is remarkable, particularly for the villain Krall (Idris Elba) and the Enterprise team’s new partner Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).

Suicide Squad – It has some competition, but there is a good chance this is the worst film nominated for an Academy Award this year. Suicide Squad is just the fourth comic-book superhero movie cited in this category, joining Batman Returns, The Dark Knight, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Note the presence of Batman – the greatest superhero – in three of the four and the fact none of the four has ever won this award.

The Academy does not care much for superhero movies, perhaps thinking they signal the death of the cinema – and if any does, it is Suicide Squad – but it would be a mistake to discount the dirty-old-man factor. The Academy, despite reform efforts, still is made up of mostly older, mostly white men who simply may enjoy watching Margot Robbie – who, to take nothing away from her, is quite good if badly underutilized for her acting in the film. Of course, if Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman didn’t do it …

All that aside, you cannot fault this branch for appreciating the work of first-time nominees makeup and hair designer Alessandro Bertolazzi, wig supervisor Giorgio Gregorini, and Christopher Allen Nelson, who is credited as department head for the Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) effects makeup. Killer Croc arguably is the film’s greatest achievement, but the wigs and makeup for Harley Quinn (Robbie) and the outstanding tattoo work on Diablo (Jay Hernandez) are also of particular note.

The final analysis

Take your pick. There is no real precedent to which to point. The Academy likes popular films and popular people. While Suicide Squad is the biggest box-office hit of the bunch, members may be reticent to hand a trophy to a film that is so poorly regarded. A Man Called Ove is the only multiple nominee named here, but its work pales next to the other two and it may not have been seen by enough of the Academy. That leaves Star Trek Beyond as the safe, middle-ground choice – a highly successful entry in a franchise that always does well in this category.

Will win: Star Trek Beyond
Should win: Star Trek Beyond
Should have been here: The Dressmaker

Tomorrow: Best Visual Effects

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