Oscar History

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Super 8 and Makeup: A Love Story for the Oscars

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?

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Reader Comments (10)

The Iron Lady and possibly My Week with Marilyn.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

brandz -- it will be intresting to see if they go for makeup as "transformation" into other celebrities. Sometimes they credit hte actor for that i.e. charlize theron in Monster... which is one fo the best makeup jobs I ever saw... but Charlize kept getting the credit for not looking remotely like herself.

robert -- thanks for this. I had no idea that the makeup bibles in that way.

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh, J. Edgar definitely deserves a nomina—KIDDING, KIDDING, just kidding.

Looking at your grab-bag list on the Visual Category Predictions, Albert Nobbs seems a distinct possibility. Also you might want to add Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to the list for Gary Oldface. The fact that none of the previous seven Harry Potter films were even nominated leads me to conclude that there's too much CGI there.

I dunno, maybe there's enough on your list for three nominees, but I wouldn't be surprised to see another out-of-nowhere nominee like Il Divo two years ago.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

I would think "J Edgar" is a shoo-in. If nothing else, you can always guarantee that the Academy will like 'aging'' make-up. That's how "Il Divo" and *shudder* "Click" got nominated, and don't forget "A Beautiful Mind".

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Jack

Not that I got it before, but after reading about the nomination process for this category I'll never understand the Young Victoria nomination a couple of years ago.

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

Lucky, the more I learn about the category, the more I realize that you need to tell a good story to even be considered for the nomination. I'm guessing the makeup/hair team for The Young Victoria did a lot of really complicated hair techniques that sent them to the shortlist. Oddly enough, both of the nominees from that film were credited as hair stylists.

As for my own thoughts, I think Albert Knobbs has a good chance. The branch historically likes full body gender swap makeup. If you believe Ve Neill (and why wouldn't you believe a 3 time Oscar winner), realistic gender swaps are some of the hardest makeups to design and execute. The field otherwise seems wide open to me this year.

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

In my opinion if a film needs to tell a good story to be considered a nominee for makeup, last year winner was biggest mistake ever in my generation. I do think The Wolfman had quite good makeup work. But it haunted me to regard it as an Academy Awards winner film. Just terrible.

November 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChamp

The Iron Lady will definitely get nominated.
J Edgar too perhaps
and Albert Nobbs

November 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAFK

Two longshots that I would like to see show up are "Fright Night" and "Warrior." The former had a lot of fun with the vampire effects, plus the tattoos and crazy hair for David Tennant.

As for "Warrior," for some reason, "injury" makeup is rarely recognized, and I don't understand why. Sure, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton probably got banged up in real life while making the movie, but they certainly didn't take the pummeling that the characters do. Those cuts, bruises, and swollen eyes had to come from somewhere. In cases like these, is the problem that the makeup is just too realistic? People assume it's not makeup?

November 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

Nice to see, a good kid adventure movie in the same vein as ET and the Goonies. It reminded me of when I was a kid making Super 8 movies.

January 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDanmark
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