Could you close your eyes, please?"
Super 8's leading character Joe Lamb is a movie makeup and effects fan. He taught himself how to do all the major Hollywood techniques with the Dick Smith mail-away instructions course. He can do beauty makeup, zombies, and bloody injuries. He's just a big budget and two years away from Oscar glory in 1979 when the film takes place.
The first Academy Award for Best Makeup was presented at the 54th ceremony, honoring films released in 1981. Since then, it has been a category that has confounded and confused Oscar prognosticators. What seems like a guaranteed nominee to a non-voting member of the Academy is ignored, while less well-received films with one good character go down as nominees. It feels like the standards and interests of the voters change from year to year almost on a whim. Will they go for full-body human transformations or bizarre alien creations? Cartoonish monsters in a kids film or grizzly beasts in an R-rated horror? Those tend to be the mainstays, except for the years where they go for elaborate period epics or subtle character-defining facial alterations.
Super 8 feels like the kind of film that could sneak in for a nomination because it forces the watcher to pay attention to the quality of the makeup. The protagonist lovingly talks about the same books that many modern makeup artists claim they used to learn the fundamentals of the craft. The Dick Smith books are still considered the gold standard and are constantly updated to reflect new industry techniques. Small details like this permeate the first hour of the film as a siren's song to makeup professionals and enthusiasts. If you talk enough about a film's makeup, people are going to notice the makeup.
What Joe Lamb the character accomplishes with a tackle box of grease-paint and some fake blood is at the calibre of professional work from the late 1970s. For every scene that pays tribute to 30+ year old techniques, there is another scene that acts as a stylish and gritty display of what modern practical makeup looks like in 2011. From the dirt and scratches covering the kids after the train derailment to the festering wounds on a character's head, there are very few scenes in Super 8 that just rely on everyday natural film makeup. It's a film that screams for attention for Deborah La Mia Denavar's makeup team.
Will horror nostalgia and blunt realism be enough to grab the attention of the voters? According to the rules for the 84th Annual Academy Awards, each film submitted for Best Makeup needs to get at least 15 votes to even be considered for a nomination. The top 7 vote getters (if more than 7 meet the 15 vote threshold) are then required to provide up to 10 minutes of edited footage to showcase the makeup techniques. All nominations are made based off of preferential ballots for the top 3 screened excerpts from films. That means a whole lot of films could be left out just because their written application of makeup techniques didn't grab the voters.
What films do you think will even make it past the 15 vote minimum to be eligible for a nomination?