Editor’s Note: Twelve days until the Oscar winners are presented and we’re running through the film categories. Now to the hair and makeup.
Trivia: This is the only category where all the nominees are receiving their first Oscar nominations. The category was first presented as a competitive one in 1981, meaning it took more than 50 years for them to recognise makeup in films consistently. Sometimes there have been as few as two nominees (from hundreds of films which use makeup), but there are five nominees from less than 30 animated films per year.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Love Larson and Eva von Bahr)
Mad Max: Fury Road (Damian Martin, Lesley Vanderwalt, and Elka Wardega)
The Revenant (Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman, and Robert Pandini)
This is actually, consistently, my least favourite category at the Oscars. Not because of any intrinsic issues with hair and makeup but because it continues to be the category which most falls prey to the Academy’s voting foibles. The category almost always focuses on the importance of makeup over hair and it’s also, almost always focused on hair and makeup done to make someone more ugly than more beautiful. The current slate of nominees, in that way, is classic Oscar but it’s a severe issue the Academy seems unable to address. In 2012 they changed their name from Best Makeup to the more inclusive Hair and Makeup but I’m not certain the effect has been felt. (Last year’s winner Grand Budapest Hotel did use makeup for beauty but the centre of its makeup acolodaes were aging Tilda Swinton, business as usual.)
And the current nominees, as fine as they are, just reflect the business as usual way this category develops.
You may not have heard about Swedish nominee The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, but its nomination centres on aging the protagonist to twice his age in some fine makeup work. This is done alongside various makeup work to make actors look like historical figures of the past. It’s intricate work and would be a deserving winner, if the film wasn’t competing against two Best Picture hopefuls. Like in many categories, the fact is you’d do well to bet on the Best Picture nominee in tech categories. The last time a Best Picture nominee lost to an outlier film was in 1997 when Titanic lost to Men in Black.
Our Swedish nominee sees strong competition from Mad Max. If you think about makeup here you’re more than likely thinking about those smoky eyes, and I would not blame you. The smoky eyes are just part of the large visual look of the film in evoking the arid world these characters inhabit. The work on those warboys, for example, is stunning. If voters take context into voting, the extra difficulty of working with makeup and prosthetics in the desert and sweltering sun (the need for reapplication is assured) might give the stylists here an added boost. And they did just win a BAFTA for their work.
And, then, there’s The Revenant. I suspect this might be the winner here. It’s aggressive uglifying work and voters in love with Leo’s performance might do well to note how his makeup work becomes essential. The work here does an excellent job of working both to make the men look tired and rugged but also in key cases show class distionctions (look at DiCaprio’s work vs Hardy vs Gleeson). It’s the nominee which does the most work on hair as well as makeup and careful voters might like the attention to detail on show here.
As fine as the nominees are, it’s hard not to mourn for two reasons. First, the Academy’s own narrowness in refusing to give this category more than three nominations when makeup and hair is essential to film. And, then, for not remembering softer, lighter but essential work like superb 1950s society hair and makeup in Carol, or early 20th century European coiffeurs in The Danish Girl, or subtle – but indelible work on Suffragette. But, voters remain tied to their biases.
In the end game, a win for either of these films will not be the end of the world. But, this category still needs an overhaul. Beginning with more than three nominees…