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.