Oscar Gold 2021 – Makeup & Hairstyling

If you’ve ever met me in person or seen me on YouTube, you’d probably agree that I’m not exactly a looker. As the popular slang goes, I’m a solid 5, maybe a 6, and a 7 on my absolute best days, but I am definitely not “Hollywood pretty.” I’m overweight, I’ve got a chubby face, and despite a very nice pair of eyes that shift color depending on light exposure, the best way to describe my visage is Matt Damon if he ate Ben Affleck.

That’s why we have Hair & Makeup teams, to make disgusting people like me presentable to the cameras, and to make the already gorgeous super duper ultra mega uber gorgeous. I kid of course, but HMU artists are essential to any production, whether they’re just highlighting certain features of an actor’s face to comport with the lighting scheme or creating unique looks designed to stand out and astound audiences. These are dedicated artists, and I’m glad they finally got their due last year when the Makeup & Hairstyling category finally expanded to five nominees, the last one to do so.

This is one of the artistic categories that nominates via a “bake-off” meeting. Rather than having the Makeup and Hairstylists Branch members watch the submitted films in their entirety, they instead hold small conventions – or in this year’s case, online meetings – where the production companies and studios behind the films give a presentation, usually just a few minutes long, with special attention given to the specific element where they want the nomination. There’s a preliminary round, then a shortlist, where the semifinalists give another show, and then finally, the last five are nominated to be voted on by the entire body.

It’s one of those processes where I get it, but I don’t get it. On the one hand, if a movie sucks, it’s good that there’s a system in place to at least make sure that the one or two good aspects can still get recognition. On the other, it costs these members nothing more than any other Academy member to actually watch the film in question so they can see if the aspect they’re voting on is a highlight of a great film or the only redeeming quality of a shit film. Have the presentation, sure, but especially once we’re down to the shortlist, there’s no excuse not to tell the members to watch the entirety of the 10 whole movies that are still in contention. I can knock out 10 films in a long weekend, and they have a month. Watch the damn movies, if nothing else so that we can avoid another Suicide Squad incident.

This year’s nominees for Makeup & Hairstyling are:

Emma. – Laura Allen, Marese Langan, and Claudia Stolze

To me, Emma. was one of the most underrated films of 2020, and didn’t get nearly the accolades it deserved, especially for Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role. There’s so much to love about the film from beginning to end, but I confess, the makeup didn’t really stand out. I remember a scene where Emma Woodhouse had a creative lipstick scheme that really highlighted her lips by almost giving them a different shape, but that’s about it.

The hairstyling, on the other hand, did make an impression. Emma and Harriet specifically had these glorious dangling curls in their hair that bounced to an almost hypnotic degree. Other times they had these cute little buns in the back of their heads that nearly stretched the skin on their faces, no doubt a visual metaphor for the uptight high society in which they lived. Bill Nighy, Rupert Graves, and Johnny Flynn also had delightful wisps and cowlicks in their respective coifs that added a bit of flighty charm to their characters. It wasn’t the best aspect of the film, but definitely worthy of mention.

Hillbilly Elegy – Patricia Dehaney, Eryn Krueger Mekash, and Matthew W. Mungle

This movie is awful. Just god fucking awful. I feel like I’ve said this before. However, credit where it’s due, the makeup is the ONE element that doesn’t completely suck. I am very much not in favor of the nomination process in “bake-off” categories because it allows movies like this to fall through the cracks and get prestige it doesn’t deserve. For fuck’s sake, Norbit got a nomination here because of this loophole.

Anyway, I will grant that the HMU team did a bang-up job making Glenn Close look like not Glenn Close. The wig, the freckles, the giant glasses, and the dangling skin allowed for only the faintest of recognition for the A-list talent being wasted on this dreck. The same can almost be said for the job they did on Amy Adams. The very large hair is definitely not her. Apart from that, though, she was recognizable as just a run-down looking Amy Adams. I don’t knock it too much, because it really looks like the only part of the film where anyone seemed to give a shit about quality.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, and Jamika Wilson

The makeup work here is absolutely amazing. First, every character has a distinctive hairstyle, from the part in Levee’s flat top to the tired strands of grey in the rest of the band. Even Dussie Mae’s ironed waves look like something straight out of The Great Gatsby. Second, there’s the sweat. You wouldn’t give it a second thought most of the time, but the film emphasizes the heated exchanges and tension rising with the temperature inside the blazing studio, each character beading sweat all over their faces. Some of that is the actual lighting on the set, but a large part of that comes down to the HMU team spraying water on the cast’s faces in between takes, then dabbing some of it off so that it looks consistent from shot to shot. Continuity can go right out the window if this isn’t handled delicately.

But then there’s the centerpiece to the entire equation, the transformation of Viola Davis into Ma Rainey herself. The hair is immaculately done to match the jazz legend. Davis’ eyes are heavily shadowed and her teeth gapped and blackened. A padded undergarment suit is used to accentuate her bust to the point where it’s practically falling out of her dress. Her cheekbones are highlighted to an extreme, making them almost sharp objects. And while the rest of the cast had modest spritzing for a sweat effect, Davis is glistening most of the way, almost as if she was a glazed ham. She shines figuratively as the character but literally to the camera with all the moisture on her body. This is a monumental undertaking for an HMU artist and their team to accomplish consistently for the run of a shoot, especially if they don’t film the scenes sequentially. Kudos indeed.

Mank – Colleen LaBaff, Kimberley Spiteri, and Gigi Williams

Like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the quality of the hair and makeup comes down to the team’s ability to make the cast look like their real-life counterparts. Here the overall work is good, but on this specific task, it’s sort of hit and miss.

For example, Amanda Seyfried looks amazingly like Marion Davies and Tom Burke is a dead ringer for a young Orson Welles. I’d even say that they did a good job making Arliss Howard look like Louis B. Mayer. Apart from that, though, we’re really not that close. Charles Dance is an incredible actor, but he looks nothing like William Randolph Hearst.

But most importantly, Gary Oldman looks like Gary Oldman, not Herman Mankiewicz. If you look at images of the real Mank, he had a much fuller, chubbier face than Oldman, who looks particularly sallow, even for him. At times he looks downright emaciated. Now, from a thematic level this makes sense, as Mank is portrayed as weary of studio politics and having to play the various “games” to get work that keeps him well fed and drunk. But we’re going for a comparison to real-world people for which we have photographic records, and we know just from Oldman’s last major role in Darkest Hour, which won the Oscar IN THIS CATEGORY, that it can be done. There’s a lot of things this movie does right, but this isn’t the strongest of them.

Pinocchio – Dalia Colli, Mark Coulier, and Francesco Pegoretti

There’s some really impressive stuff here, particularly with regard to the title character. Without any CGI effects at all, the team physically drew and painted Federico Ielapi’s face to look like carved and polished wood, including his hair. It is goddamn amazing. All of Mangiafuoco’s puppets are made up in a similarly impressive fashion.

The rest of the good hair and makeup, oddly enough, is on the normal humans and the very human-like fairy. Her blue hair is quite nice, and the raggedy Fox and Cat are very well done. Surprisingly, the rest of the magical characters are actually pretty fake looking, especially the Cricket. Others, like the Tuna, are just pure nightmare fuel. The puppet look makes up for it, but man this is a wide spectrum.

***

My Rankings
1) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
2) Pinocchio
3) Hillbilly Elegy
4) Mank
5) Emma.

Who do you think should win? Vote now in the poll below!

Next up, if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter! It’s Best Supporting Actor!

Join the conversation in the comments below! What makeup jobs were your favorite? Are you a makeup artist yourself? What’s the craziest design you ever came up with? Let me know!

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