Saturday, December 2, 2023

From Icons To Dolls: Looking At The 2023 Best Makeup And Hairstyling Oscar Contenders

Sometimes, all it takes is one image to start shaping the early awards prospects of a film. Bradley Cooper’s physical transformation into American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro,” Cooper’s directorial follow-up to 2018’s “A Star Is Born,” is hovering over Oscar frontrunner status in the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category. From the initial first look at Cooper in old-age prosthetics to the festival reviews out of Venice, New York, and London, a consensus has grown around how impressive the makeup is. Given that the makeup and hair category is still up in the air, with smaller films (“Nyad” and “Golda“) vying for a spot alongside the heavy hitters (“Poor Things” and “Oppenheimer“), “Maestro” seems to be in a strong position to maintain a frontrunner status.

Behind the film’s prosthetic makeup design is two-time Oscar winner Kazu Hiro, whose award-winning work includes transforming Gary Oldman into Sir Winston Churchill in 2017’s “Darkest Hour” and Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly in 2019’s “Bombshell.” A win for “Maestro” in the category would continue the Academy’s recent trend of awarding the physical reimagining of a real-life person, from 2018’s “Vice” (Christian Bale as Dick Cheney) and 2020’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Viola Davis as Ma Rainey) to 2021’s “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye). The specificity of Cooper embodying Bernstein’s distinguishable features, not only in the composer’s older age but also his younger years, could give “Maestro” an undeniable edge in the hair and makeup chair. Not hurting matters is the trajectory of biopic-friendly nominees and winners that the Academy has recognized over the years.

The formation of the Oscars’ makeup and hairstyling category began in 1981 with the recognition of two nominees; in 1984, the lineup expanded to three, which remained the case up until 2019, when five nominees were permitted. From the 1980s to the 2000s, the makeup and hairstyling winners had a tendency to consistently lean into sci-fi and fantasy, from 1988’s “Beetlejuice” and 1997’s “Men in Black,” to 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” and 2009’s “Star Trek.” From the 2010s onwards, winners of the category more often went hand in hand with a particular performance in the film that showcased makeup and hair achievements — such as Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady,” Anne Hathaway in “Les Misérables,” and most recently Brendan Fraser in “The Whale.” Could “Maestro” join the ranks with acting wins for Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan (whose performance is also receiving early rave reviews)? Considering “Maestro” faces stiff competition from the likes of “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” in various tech and production-driven categories, the triple feat of Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Lead Actor, and Best Lead Actress could be the film’s likeliest path. With the precursor awards still to come, “Maestro” is not a done deal just yet. Let’s take a look at where the category stands.

Regarding the statistics of Best Makeup and Hairstyling at the Oscars, the films that win in this category typically do not go on to sweep across the board. Plenty of parallels can be drawn between makeup and hairstyling winners of the past twenty years alone. The 2000s saw a balance of scenarios: the hair and makeup winner was either the film’s sole win (2000’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”), paired with an acting win (2007’s “La Vie En Rose”) or part of the Academy’s overall love for a film’s production (2003’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”). A similar trend can be found in the 2010s; yet another combination of sole wins (2016’s “Suicide Squad“), acting win pairs (2013’s “Dallas Buyers Club“), and indications of a well-embraced film (2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road“). The 2020s thus far have trended with the pairing of a makeup/hair win and an acting win (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “The Whale“).

This year’s likely nominees will bring back examples of the Academy’s overall love for a film, particularly when it comes to the technical and production-heavy categories. In “Oppenheimer,” the work of the hair, makeup, and prosthetics team — led by department heads Luisa Abel and Jaime Leigh McIntosh — are on maximum display. The film gets up close and personal with its actors; their facial expressions dominate the screen and give viewers a magnified look at the characters’ appearances. Old-age makeup plays a part, particularly with Robert Downey Jr. as Admiral Lewis Strauss throughout and Cillian Murphy as an elderly Oppenheimer in the final act. The department also incorporates prosthetics — during Oppenheimer’s “celebratory” speech to colleagues of the Manhattan Project, he imagines audience members’ faces peeling off from an explosion.

The imaginative evolution of “Poor Things‘” Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) and the unique physique of her creator, Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), are also expected to make an appearance. The film’s renowned prosthetic makeup designer, Mark Coulier, who won the category previously for both “The Iron Lady” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” will showcase his finesse in a Frankenstein-inspired world of characters. As well, hair and makeup team member Nadia Stacey is a familiar face with the Academy and Yorgos Lanthimos, having previously received a nomination for “Cruella” and worked on Lanthimos’s “The Favourite.”

Joining “Poor Things” and “Oppenheimer” in the hair and makeup room are fellow across-the-board contenders “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Coated in vivid shades of pink, Greta Gerwig’s dream world encompasses the plasticity and playfulness of dolls. Makeup and hair designer Ivana Primorac, along with an extensive team of artists, toys with fun proportions and textures. The hair and makeup balances iconic Barbie looks with a grounded approach to the characters’ appearances in the real world. Telling a dramatically different visual story, the hair and makeup team of “Killers of the Flower Moon” immerse the characters in 1920s Oklahoma. The film may not be as flashy in comparison to other contenders, but the way makeup and hair convey recognizable physical character traits, as well as the passage of time, goes a long way. Hair department head Kay Georgiou (previously Oscar-nominated for “Joker“) and makeup department head Thomas Nellen (known for his special effects makeup in “Avatar: The Way of Water“) bring awareness in depicting authenticity. Plus, the film stands out in its use of prosthetics for Leonardo DiCaprio (as Ernest Burkhart). Emmy-winning prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyke is behind DiCaprio’s distinctive scowl and overall facial appearance.

With every perceived heavy hitter comes an element of surprise. The Academy often throws curveballs in the makeup and hair category, nominating films that would otherwise not garner awards attention (2007’s “Norbit,” 2013’s “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” and 2019’s “Pinocchio“). Among the contenders that may have a similar fate this year is “Golda.” The creative team — which includes prosthetics designer Suzi Battersby and Emmy-nominated hair, makeup, and prosthetics designer Karen Hartley — transformed Helen Mirren into Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Academy is not opposed to awarding the use of heavy prosthetics, especially when it comes to watching an actor disappear into the role of a historical figure.

Speaking of physical transformations, Annette Bening is in the Best Actress race for her performance as athlete Diana Nyad, who achieves her dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida. While Bening herself might miss the cut, given the intense competition in her category (Mulligan, Stone, and Gladstone, to name a few) and the film’s somewhat subdued early reception, the makeup and hairstyling have a decent chance of getting recognized. With a team led by Daniel Curet and Felicity Bowring, Bening’s transformation entails keeping all the detailed work intact during underwater sequences.

Beyond the heavy hitters and the curveballs, we might also be underestimating some contenders. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is expected to take the category’s fantasy slot, boosted by the precedence of “Vol. 1” being nominated. However, it’s still early days not to consider other fantasy options as possibilities. Oscar-winning prosthetics department head David Malinowski (known for his work on “Darkest Hour“) is in contention for “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.” As well, while none of the “Hunger Games” films have been recognized for makeup and hairstyling, the story’s prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” could mark a first for the franchise. Beyond the fantasy genre, plenty more familiar faces to the Academy are back in the race this year. Montse Ribé and David Martí, the Oscar-winning special effects makeup artists behind “Pan’s Labyrinth,” are contending for J.A. Bayona’s “Society of the Snow.” The survival film, representing Spain in the Best International Feature Film category, will involve the use of prosthetics to create the physical aftermath of a disastrous plane crash in the Andes. Also in contention and potentially underestimated is Sean Durkin’s latest film, “The Iron Claw,” which follows the true story of the Von Erich brothers in the 1980s professional wrestling world. Makeup and hair department heads Elle Favorule and Natalie Shea Rose will showcase their work on the actors’ intense physical transformations into wrestlers.

Other strong contenders:

“Priscilla”
Emmy-nominated hair department head Cliona Furey and makeup department head Jo-Ann MacNeil, who both worked previously on Guillermo Del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” lead an impressive creative team for Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla.” From the iconic cat eyeliner to the elaborate 1960s hairdos, the film paints a vivid image of an icon (played tremendously by Cailee Spaeny).

“Ferrari”
Adam Driver’s transformation into Italian ex-racer and entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari could accelerate far in the race. Helping matters is the involvement of 4-time Oscar-winning makeup artist Greg Cannom, known for his work on such films as “Vice,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” If “Ferrari” overperforms at the Oscars, look for the film to pop up for the hair and makeup team’s reimagining of a real-life person, which tends to do well with the Academy.

“Napoleon”
While it’s still early to truly gauge how Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” will perform across the board, the safest bets would be in below-the-line categories, from costume and production design to makeup and hairstyling. The epic spectacle quality of the material could be a standout showcase for the depiction of iconic characters in history.

What do you thinks the current frontrunner for Best Makeup & Hairstyling? Which film do you think will win the Oscar, and which film do you want to see win the Oscar? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.

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Nadia Dalimonte
Nadia Dalimonte
Editor In Chief for Earth to Films. Film Independent, IFS Critics, NA Film Critic & Cherry Pick member.

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