On the morning Saturday, January 6th, I had the privilege of being able to attend the Academy Makeup branch’s annual nominations bake-off. It is here where the seven short-listed contenders for the Best Makeup & Hairstyling category at the Oscars are each given a chance to show off their stuff before being whittled down to three. Unlike the Visual Effects Bake-off, which was held later that evening, this event is not open to the public, so you need to know either someone who works for or is in the Academy in order to be able to attend. The format is largely similar to the VFX bake-off, with each film getting a short introduction provided by Academy moderators (At the VFX bake-off, the VFX artists themselves provide the intro), followed by a 10 minute reel highlighting the makeup work of the contending film, and finally wrapping up with a short Q&A with the makeup artists in contention. The presentation of the films is in alphabetical order. After the bake-off, the Makeup Branch is invited to select their picks for the nomination and submit their ballots before leaving (or remotely if they are watching through live-stream on the Academy website).
Click below to read my thoughts from the evening.
This year, the seven short-listed films for this award, in order of their presentation, are:
First up was Bright. The Oscar-winning makeup team of last year’s “Suicide Squad” is back in contention this year with the David Ayer-directed Netflix feature about a cop played by Will Smith teaming up with an Orc played by Joel Edgerton to fight crime was first up to bat. Unfortunately I was actually a little late to the bake-off and missed the reel, but I am told that it was very heavy on featuring as many creatures as possible, of which this film has plenty to spare: orcs, elves, dwarves, centaurs. There was a particular emphasis on the elves given that they were the work of one of more charismatic nominees, Alessandro Bertolazzi, who proceeded to charm the pants off of the audience. Much was made during the Q&A about the amount of time spent in getting Joel Edgerton in makeup, and how they were efficiently able to reduce the makeup process over the course of production from four hours to two. Audience seemed to respond positively to the presentation as a whole, and there was certainly an effort at the reception afterward on the part of many to get an audience with Bertolazzi.
“Darkest Hour“ was next; Gary Oldman’s Oscar-frontrunning performance has largely been acknowledged as partially due to how remarkably made up he is to look like the powerhouse Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It is of no surprise, then, that the reel was effectively a 10 minute acting showcase of Gary Oldman, which made the makeup all the more front and center. The reel mostly focused on Churchill in close-up as he is harrumphing about Dunkirk or Hitler or what have you, ending on the rousing “On the beaches” speech, and with special attention paid to whenever he was in profile to showcase his “baby hair”. Indeed, this came up during the Q&A as the makeup crew detailed the painstaking process of blending in his “baby hairs” with his skull cap and prosthetic. A lot of questions from the audience on various Makeup stuff beyond my realm of expertise but suffice it to say that, at the very least, the presentation may have clinched the Makeup branch’s vote for Oldman in actor. The contending makeup crew includes Kazuhiro Tsuji, who was previously nominated for “Click” (2006) and “Norbit” (2007).
GHOST IN THE SHELL
Next up was “Ghost in the Shell,” a release mired in controversy over the ethnically incongruent casting of Scarlett Johansson, on top of not faring well with critics or the box office. The reel itself was rather messy, with a feel that the editors were trying to cram in as technical whiz-bang as they could. Indeed, it almost seemed like a one-size-fits-all type reel that tried to showcase as much craft work as possible, even beyond makeup, though the movie does look to be rather visually splendiferous. Several of the makeup shots lingered for just a few seconds before hastily cutting to another unrelated shot, which didn’t leave the audience with a much time to soak in a lot of the work. Makeup artists Jane O’Kane, Sarah Rubana, and Deborah LaMia Danaver (Previously nominated for Ghosts of Mississippi, and her first of two bake-off films in contention) talked about using the source material as inspiration for much of the work as well as researching what the fans of the anime have envisioned these characters as. Notably, they did touch on the controversy of Scarlett Johansson’s casting, though they didn’t delve to deep on the details of how they approached it and instead just spoke of focusing on the work. The audience asked a couple of questions about the shell work in the movie, which seemed to catch the most attention.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” the sequel to the surprise hit and previous nominee, featured a reel that was variegated and colorful, though, like its visual effects counterpart reel, suffered from possibly being a little heavily reliant on already previously featured work. Newer work highlighted in the reel included the golden-hued Sovereign led by their aureous High Priestess, the robot courtesans of the Iron Lotus, and a suprising amount of Taserface. The Q&A mostly tried to focus on these elements, as well as little subtleties that might have gone unnoticed (Yak hair was used for Kurt Russell’s beard), and how they upgraded a lot of the makeup work from the previous film to give a much more defined, vibrant look (Drax’s body paint, for example). Makeup artist Camille Friend also shared about her time on the Hunger Games franchise and working with Elizabeth Banks’ character Effie helped immensely with the golden design of the Sovereign, particularly with getting the otherworldly but believable color of the hair right. The makeup team also includes previous nominee John Blake (Hoffa, 1993).
The main goal of “I, Tonya’s” presentation appeared to be to get the audience to ask themselves, “Remember this hair??” The very well-done reel showed a surprising amount of narrative heft, walking the audience through Tonya’s slow descent into madness while highlighting how the hairstyling and makeup reflected her self-motivated progress. The audience seemed to respond well, laughing at several comedic bits and, at one point in particular, sitting in a noticeably hushed silence during the extended take of Tonya (Margot Robbie) looking straight into the camera and applying her own makeup in flustered desperation. I also noticed that the reel would very expertly cut from the characters in-story to their documentary talking heads, highlighting the stark contrast between the characters in their younger years versus aged up (Allison Janney’s character in particular). This was Danaver’s second film in contention, along with previous Oscar winner Adruitha Lee (Dallas Buyer’s Club). Lee talked about how much of a trip down memory lane creating much of these hairstyling looks was for her, and compared it to her hunt for the “perfect wigs” during her time on “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” The audience seemed quite taken and charmed by this presentation, I definitely heard a few “Tonya”s murmured in the crowd afterward.
VICTORIA & ABDUL
“Victoria & Abdul“ was next, and, honestly, I’m still kind of wondering what there was to see here. Sure, the reel featured a lot of closeups of aged up Judi Dench, but then there were a few seemingly unexplained shots that I’m wondering if the editors just stuck in to fill out the time, including a random wide sweeping shot of the harbor where you could not really make out anyone’s makeup or hairstyling work. I’ll be honest in that I don’t really remember much about the Q&A, other than someone in the audience asking if there was any work done on Ali Fazal’s beard, to which the answer was “No”. Still, this did get nominated for a BAFTA in their field of five, so I suppose this can’t be entirely counted out.
Finally, “Wonder“ wrapped up the morning with a presentation that, naturally, focused on makeup artist Arjen Tuiton’s transformative work on bringing Jacob Tremblay’s performance as a Auggie, a child suffering from Treacher-Collins syndrome, come to life. The reel focused on several of Jacob Tremblay’s showier acting moments where the makeup work was clearly being highlighted as an augmenting agent to his performance. Tuiten talked about how the initial idea was to CGI the majority of Auggie’s features, but he took the challenge onto himself to make a realistic design that would need minimal, if any, digital enhancement. The makeup’s base design consisted of a skull cap with prosthetic ears attached and a wig tying the ensemble together. Tuiten also spoke the challenge of being able to get a 9-year-old actor, no matter how professional, to sit still for such an extensive application process; he (Half?) joked that this may be the last time he works with kids. Indeed, in the lobby afterward I overheard one person comment on how impressive it was to be able to do that much practical work with such a young actor. There was a noticeable line of people wanting to get an audience with him in the reception afterwards.
Overall a very exciting, varied, and wide-ranging palette of nominees made for a wonderful morning at the Academy. In my talking with a few employees afterward as well as from my general feel of the crowd’s response, I’d say “Darkest Hour“ and “Wonder“ walked away as the two biggest frontrunners of the category. Both of them certainly came in with question marks above their head and I think they stuck the landings that they needed to to assert themselves as the contenders to beat. After that, I would say that “I, Tonya“ perhaps struck the most surprisingly strong chord with the audience, with an expertly cut reel and quite possibly securing the hairstyling faction’s vote. Watch out for “Bright” as a dark horse nominee; much like “Suicide Squad” last year, “most” makeup may certainly help it get a few extra votes, which is to say nothing of the charmingly Oscar-winning crew. One can’t entirely count out “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” either, considering the film’s pedigree and the weighted heft of the Disney vote. “Ghost in the Shell“ may very well show up if other films splinter too much, but I don’t see it showing up high on many list considering it didn’t quite make up for whatever it had going against it coming in. And “Victoria & Abdul“ is nominated for a BAFTA so, whatever, it’s still in the thick of it. All in all, as of now, my predictions for the final nominees would be:
What are your predictions for the Oscar nominations for Best Makeup & Hairstyling? Oscar nominations will be announced January 23rd 2018. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
You can follow Hans and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @hansvon108