Tech Support: Analyzing the makeup and hairstyling Oscar race

Welcome to one of the most unique categories at the Oscars. Best Makeup & Hairstyling is the only category to still feature the “bake-off” phase, where three nominees are chosen from seven finalists after those finalists each make a pitch-via-reel to the branch. Every year features surprise omissions and inclusions, both among the final seven and the final three.

The category seems almost uniquely immune to being overwhelmed by the overall reputation of a film. (Best Costume Design is its only rival in this respect.) Films of questionable quality are nominated nearly every year. While some lament the titles that have earned the moniker “Oscar nominee” (“Norbit” perhaps being the most infamous example), I for one love the fact that this branch actually strives to do what it is tasked with.

While these macro-level characteristics of the category permeate the nominations process, trends among the nominees are nevertheless observable. The category tends to award monster makeup, period makeup and old-age makeup quite a bit. Then again, there are a plethora of contenders every year that possess these characteristics but do not make the final trio. So we shall see. From my vantage point, this is a very competitive category this year. Let's analyze.

The legendary Rick Baker is in contention yet again for turning Angelina Jolie into “Maleficent.” It's normally foolish to rule Baker out, but he isn't always nominated when one might expect. Moreover, I cannot help but wonder whether the extent to which CGI was used in this film might work against him.

In the realm of Disney fairytales, “Into the Woods” may have the upper hand. Peter Swords King (“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”) and Roy Helland (“The Iron Lady”) are Oscar winners already, assigned to transforming the stars of this feature, notably Johnny Depp as The Wolf and Meryl Streep as The Witch.

King is also in contention for “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” He, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane (who won for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”) were nominated for “An Unexpected Journey” and will be looking to return to the Dolby Theater for this last chapter of the Middle Earth saga. I'm not sure why they'd be nominated given that “The Desolation of Smaug” failed to make the cut, but this branch can move in mysterious ways by nominating sequels whose predecessors were not recognized.

A more novel entry in the realm of fantasy would be “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Again, CGI played an important complementary role here, but I still think the branch might jump at the chance to cite the work of Deborah Denaver (nominated for “Ghosts of Mississippi”) in creating a new cast of eccentric and lovable characters.

Moving into the realm of creating real, historical people, “Foxcatcher” makes Steve Carrell virtually unrecognizable with an artificial nose (among other prosthetics) that has many people talking. Bill Corso won for “Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events” and was nominated for “Click.” He may well find himself back in the running.

“Mr. Turner” turns Timothy Spall into one of England's most famous painters. Perhaps more important than the manifestation of a historic figure, however, is the general mid-19th Century England that Christine Blundell recreated. Sometimes, meticulous period work is all that is needed to score in this category, and Blundell did win for a similar era for “Topsy-Turvy.”

More recent to our time is “The Theory of Everything.” The aging and creation of Stephen Hawking and his family and colleagues is subtle but important and the campaign is already showcasing the work quite a bit. It could make first-time nominees of Jan Sewell and Krystyann Mallett.

“Get On Up” similarly features aging and historical characters. Even if the film is unlikely to earn as many nominations overall as “The Theory of Everything,” Steve Prouty, fresh off his first unlikely nomination for “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” may have a real shot at a second-straight nod.

“Selma” similarly captures famous figures of American history. While the work ultimately may prove too subtle to create first-time nominees of the crew, I'd be remiss to ignore them.

“Unbroken” features yet another historical figure at its center, and it combines period makeup, war elements and aging. So Rick Findlater, nominated for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” has chances outside of Peter Jackson's franchise this year. (And speaking of war elements, “Fury” should really be mentioned, as well.)

In the realm of fictional period, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” featured fantastic aging of Tilda Swinton, that distinct birthmark on Saoirse Ronan and general period work. Mark Coulier and Julie Dartnell won this category back-to-back earlier this decade for “The Iron Lady” and “Les Misérables,” respectively. They may well find themselves back in the thick of things. (And speaking of Swinton, who can forget her outright transformation in “Snowpiercer?” That's something to keep an eye on, too.)

Going back to biblical times, we have “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” As I've noted in the past, this could be a crafts category behemoth. If so, the period, battle elements and other makeup may find itself in the final five. Tina Earnshaw was nominated for “Titanic” and will be seeking her second nomination 17 years later.

Our other major biblical effort is, of course, Darren Aronofsky's “Noah,” with makeup courtesy of Adrien Morot, previously nominated for “Barney's Version.” Once again, period makeup, aging makeup, etc. – it's all on display. We'll see how well the below-the-line push for this film works out.

I'll end on a film that is very much in the news: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.” The outlandish makeup and hairstyling that we have seen on display in these films has yet to make the final three. But “Catching Fire” was shortlisted for the bake-off. Moreover, Ve Neill is a three-time winner/eight-time nominee. The work isn't quite as colorful this time around, but I'd still consider it. Really, though, I think this may be in store for a “Harry Potter”-style “farewell” nomination next year.

So those are the top 16 contenders as I see them. How do you handicap this race?