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29 Days 'til Oscar: Best Make-Up & Hairstyling

The Academy recently changed the name of the Best Makeup category to Best Makeup & Hairstyling but in truth hairstyling, wigs and whatnots have long been part of the diverse criteria for which Oscar voters are meant to reward Achievements in Makeup. But how does one define "achievement"? True to awards season in general (it's not just Oscar voters, mind you) the definition is usually "most=best". Sadly nearly almost all the golden statuettes in this category have gone to prosthetic effects -- werewolves, dwarves, you name it! It's the one category other than visual effects where genre films regularly lord it over more "noble-minded" efforts... (though strangely zombie pictures are the exception since they never even make the finalist list). 

So, how refreshing would it be if the Oscar went to the Hair and Makeup team of Les Misérables this year? I was surprised to hear on the podcast that my co-conspirators were almost universally opposed to this particular nomination but I actually think it's the strongest nominee in this category. It's got a very consistent boldly stylized feel and a shit ton of traditional wigs and prosthetics work if you're also looking for "Most" in your "Best". They've aged Hugh Jackman and scarred him up, imagined really putrid diseased miserables of many sorts, made Cosette even prettier than usual, and even dipped Helena Bonham-Carter's wigs in coffee and tea for "more character" - though I suspect it's not the first time her head has been dipped in vats of dangerously hot liquids.

More traditional nominees can be found in The Hobbit and Hitchcock this year...

...wherein actors are heavily buried in prosthetics to appropriate the look of inhuman things: dwarves, orcs, master auteurs. 

My advocacy for Les Miz might have a little to do with the fact that I love the film, but I do try and differentiate individual categories from overall feelings as much as I humanly can (as all awards voters should since great work is found in bad films and vice versa) but mostly it has to do with the actual achievement. And, as a bonus points, Les Miz also wins by virtue of my tiebreaker manifesto "Spread the Wealth!". I assume that The Hobbit is the frontrunner given voting habits in this category and yet I don't wish for the Oscars to become the Emmys and just hand the same statues to the same series each year as their small screen counterparts do. Given Peter Jackson's shameless story stretching for billions, this category could be tied up for decades if they keep handing Middle Earth Makeup Oscars (it's already won twice). Under the umbrella of "spread the wealth" it's also worth noting that the Les Miz team (Lisa Westcott & Julie Dartnell) is the only nominated team that has no Oscars among them*: Hitchcock's Howard Berger previously won the gold for The Chronicles of Narnia (as well as an Emmy for The Walking Dead); Peter King and Tami Lane on The Hobbit team both already have Oscars, his for this particular franchise and hers for The Chronicles of Narnia

Q: Why does Lisa Westcott have no Oscars despite two nominations (Her Majesty Mrs Brown, Shakespeare in Love) prior to Les Miz?
A: Because she doesn't do werewolves or fantasy creatures. 

Can we call a one year moratorium on dwarves, elves, monsters and prosthetic biopics in this category and give it to the zombie whores and scarred bread thieves for once !?!

While we're on the topic... here are the Film Bitch Award's Makeup Nominees for 2012


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Reader Comments (11)

I get your point but think you are being a bit too unfairly dismissive. Doing the make-up for the Xth film in a series well deserves notice. Trust me the hobbit will present it's own challenges (new characters, creatures, cultures, lighting, film format), which the team may or may not arise to.

If you are not going to award/nominate the best, why have awards at all?

Full disclosure: I have not seen the Hobbit nor LezMiz.

And I don't think you can dismiss TLOTR's noms or wins as most=best. Especially in looking at Production Design/Costume design. Just by looking at the costumes/production design of the Hobbits vs. The Horse People vs Gondor men...ect, each were exceptional and serving their film well. Fully deserving. Plus: Correct me if I am wrong, but a lot of the crafts people have changed? and will be creating costumes/sets/makeup for new characters, cultures, and locations?

For a film with so many top crafts people working at the top of their game with vast and unusual challenges to bring out their creativity, you need a very large disclaimer at the top of each of your FILMBITCH tech columns that you have not seen the Hobbit.

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

I totally agree with you Nathaniel. Les Miz has outstanding makeup work.

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

It irks me to no end whenever you attack Jackson and claim that he's stretching the story for dollars. REALLY? You think Jackson of all people is making a longer story for money? Give me a break. I'm sure the studio is delighted that there are now three films instead of two and are seeing dollar signs, but don't put that on Jackson. He is making three films because he loves the world and the story and wants to put as much of Middle Earth on screen as possible. Whether or not it works is up for debate, but to claim the man only cares about money with this franchise is ludicrous and insulting.

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean

I think my issues with Les Mis's nomination in this category come down to consistency. It's definitely highly visible, detailed work, but it is wildly inconsistent from scene to scene. For example at the beginning of the film when we meet Valjean, he has black teeth that somehow become normal again when he is mayor. Or in the "At The End Of The Day" sequence we see a lot of citizens with growths on their faces which seem to be from disease. But this is the only scene that uses this makeup technique. It totally disappears after that sequence, despite the fact that we meet dozens more downtrodden French folk who would seemingly be of the same condition as the ones with gross oozes on their faces. I also take issue with Hugh Jackman's age transformation, which I didn't think was all that effective.

That said, I don't think it's a bad nominee. It's definitely the most difficult and most visible work done in this year, and even if they don't nail everything, it's still an admirable undertaking. It might very well be the most deserving of the three nominees, but I would still have preferred to see Lincoln slip in here all the same.

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

I actually didn't appreciate the makeup in Les Miserables. I think that's a clear example were "most" doesn't equal "best", and a lot of times the amount of work done felt unnecessary (see: dying Anne Hathaway or anything regarding the Thenardies).

But I think what bothered me the most was the makeup on Jackman. I think it was problematic how he was supposed to age decades in the film and we didn't get to see that on his face/body. He looked younger at years went by, and I know his character was supposed to be healthier and in a better physical condition, but that's not the same as looking young.

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

Re: The Hobbit, I can tell from a single frame each of the thirteen dwarves apart by name, plus Bilbo (the easiest to spot). That's not just "most" make-up. I expect it to win, and it deserves so.

Personally, I'm pulling for a Hitchcock upset, which could have some trolling potential, even though it's hard work to get reactions out of tech categories wins. The only thing toughest is to get reactions out of shorts and docs.

That's why we need Silver Linings! MAKE IT HAPPEN, HARVEY!!!

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwhy not?

Sean -- Peter Jackson does not foot the bills for these productions out of his own pocket. Trust that the decision makers are in it for the money. Otherwise they wouldn't drag it out just to take an extra billion from the world: see Harry Potter, Twilight, everything from now on. who needs resolutions or story structures when fans will forgive you for everything like sheep and hand over their money.

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Peter Jackson should have his movie runtimes reigned in - of all the films he's made this past decade maybe only the Fellowship used it's long runtime effectively. With that said, I have not yet seen the hobbit.

Nathaniel: However this does not in any way make the craftspeople unworthy of awards consideration. Leaving the Hobbit out of consideration for the tech categories takes a lot away from the meaning of your awards (sort of the the screen writers guild nominating lesser films only because they've deemed some of the year's best ineligible).

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Great choices Nathaniel (although “Brave” over “Ralph”, hmmm. And I know you didn’t see it but them hobbits sure were impressive). Yay for “Motors” and nice write-up for “Looper”. Love, love, LOVE the pix!


“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
“Holy Motors”
“Snow White & the Huntsman”


January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyanSt

In defense of the hobbit, film one works. I Saw it for he second time today...no padding is evident. Remains to be seen if that can be said of the 2nd and 3rd.

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermatt

I agree with Anonny-you need a large disclaimer stating that you didn't see The Hobbit. Not to nitpick, but it seems very odd you are stating Les Miz should beat The Hobbit since you haven't seen the latter movie, as we Oscar fans are always talking about how disappointing it is that the Academy doesn't see all of the nominees and skips certain films. The film has three Oscar nominations, multiple guild nominations, is from an Oscar-winning filmmaker, and has a fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. It's a weird film to take a stand against.

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeoffrey

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