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Makeup & Hairstyling: The Elephantine Origin Story (and this year's finalists since we must)

It's history time, kids! Gather round. Did you know that The Elephant Man, currently on Broadway with Bradley Cooper, is indirectly responsible for the Academy's makeup Oscar? No, not that kind of make up Oscar ... though the Academy gives those all the time, too (why, hello Ms. Julianne Moore "Ms. February 2015"!) and maybe Bradley Cooper will get one of those someday?

what's that? u think this intro was an excuse to post a photo of shirtless Bra---FINE! don't judge.

I digress. In the stage version of The Elephant Man the lead actor traditionally performs while wearing no special makeup; he merely acts deformity. But that stylization hasn't yet been tried on film. When it came time to make the film version in 1980, David Lynch, no stranger to depicting deformity without prosthetics -- deformity of the soul at least -- opted for makeup effects. People bitched about the lack of Oscar recognition since The Elephant Man was an Oscar hit (8 nominations) and the very next year we had our category! Unfortunately for the The Elephant Man's team Christopher Tucker and Wally Schneiderman and all, it was too late. Those makeup artists never won a Makeup Oscar or even the other kind of Make up Oscar for overdue peeps.

Once there was an official category a young pony-tailed prosthetics genius named Rick Baker immediately began his relentless reign, hogging 11 nominations and 7 statues starting with An American Werewolf in London. The Makeup prize continued on its weirdly lyncathropic, excruciatingly unstable number of nominee (0,2,3,4) effects-obsessed path for decades thereafter.


Just two years ago the category had brief cosmetic surgery, being renamed "Makeup and Hairstyling" in time for those tea-dipped ratty-ass wigs and prosthetic scar-inducing lice-killing buzz cuts in Les Misérables (2012) to win the gold. But there's still only 3 nominees each year despite every single live-action film using Makeup and Hairstyling which is more than can be said for Original Song (which, like makeup, has had freakish difficulty sticking to a standard number of nominees, though rule changes after that weird 2 nominee year in 2011 have all but guaranteed 5 nominations moving forward) or for the Visual Effects category which was expanded to five nominees permanently in 2010.

Why do makeup artists and hairstylists only get 3 nomination slots a year despite being employed on every film set? That is for the Academy to answer. Sadly, when it comes to this category, in almost every single calendar you're willing to look at, the questions are so endless that that bigger question is never answered. But one of the questions I won't be asking this year is "why no Hobbit?" because I'm so freaking sick of those films hogging spots in Oscar races.

This Year's Seven Finalists for Three Slots


  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • Foxcatcher
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Maleficent
  • Noah
  • The Theory of Everything


Seven Questions (Among Many More) That This List Raises


1. Why is Spider-Man 2 here when a) so many people hate the movie and b) the internet made fun of how Electro looked?

2. Why is Into the Woods not here when Meryl Streep's Witch starts so damn fugly fierce and ends up so foxy fabulous a large part of which happens through the hair and makeup teams? 

3. Why do prosthetic effects that are used to make men look less attractive (like in Foxcatcher) always make it into the mix but when prosthetics are used to make women less attractive (see: The Hours, Monster, and soon Cake) the makeup branch NEVER cares and the actress gets all the credit for her "brave" "transformation"? I find this genuinely puzzling but only The Film Experience ever vocalizes this puzzlement. Join us in puzzling over it!

4. I actually like Noah but I'm trying to remember much in the way of makeup and hair stuff here -- is this for Anthony Hopkins ancient Methusaleh? I'll give you that he looked a million times better than other ancient people in movies like -- LOL, remember Guy Pierce in Prometheus. That was... unfortunate. 90 year old actors need work too, Hollywood? It's not like Pierce sold any tickets. 

5. They used to eliminate movies from contention because they had too much computer help (that was the excuse on Nicole Kidman's nose in The Hours) which is hilarious now in retrospect since it's impossible to know where the computer stuff is ending on these things and where makeup is happening (Spider-Man 2!) 

6. Why am I so alone in feeling that Angelina Jolie needed zero help from Maleficent's makeup department to look that cartoonish?

7. Why is The Theory of Everything here when... ? Well... I have to share this tweet because it amuses so...



That's my history of the category (you know we can't just copy and paste press releases here at TFE much to our woeful exhaustion) and my seven questions. Care to answer them or ask any of your own? 



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Reader Comments (25)

I appreciate your ongoing attention to these distinctions of gender, race, etc., in nominations and awardage, even when (as in this case) it seems a bias in favor of actresses! (Like, they're so amazing their make-up doesn't matter?) I personally wouldn't have nominated "The Hours" for make-up. The nose just called too much attention to itself and didn't even look like the real Virginia Woolf's. On the big screen the English cold turned Stephen Dillane's nose pinkish or reddish, while hers remained an even rubbery texture. Trivial? Not when you notice this while watching it.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

I didn't know that was the origin of the award--very cool. I'm wondering why they didn't think of this during the Oscar race for The Exorcist. That would have won without a prayer.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I've never understood why makeup has less than 5 nominees. I was more comfortable with it when VFX was the same way, but now as the only category with 3, it sticks out like a sore thumb. I had no idea that it was such a recent category though.

With Into the Woods missing the shortlist for both Makeup and VFX, as well as SAG Best Ensemble, I'm curious as to why you've got it so high up on your Best Picture predictions, Nathaniel. Most others have already relegated it to also-ran status in the big race. Why so high on its chances?

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

Actually, on second thought, they probably don't nominated actress-driven movies for make-up for the usual reason: women and women's lives are less important to them.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

The year TOPSY-TURVY won they had four nominees. It's so straight.

Jonny, it may have to do with the fact that it's premiering late and there are still a lot of people in Academy who like musicals as some old Hollywood throw back. Weird that it missed here, but you know Spider-Man 2 needs to be recognised.

I'm also disappointed at the omissions of SELMA, SNOWPIERCER, TRACKS, and GONE GIRL which all had far more valuable make-up and hair.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Nat: Um, really? Two rebuttals. 1. Of COURSE the guy who made the Eraserhead baby was going to do John Merrick with prosthetic effects. 2. Guy Pearce in Prometheus or "One rewrite away from the writer throwing up his hands and having him tenting his hands and going 'Excellent!'"

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia -- how is this a rebuttal? i agree on both counts.

Glenn -- yeah i think i have to just accept that i will never understand what this group is looking for (other than latexy old age makeup and werewolves)

Owen -- you're hurting my heart

December 16, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Re: Into the Woods: When a separate person is in charge of one performer's makeup and hair (as is always the case with Meryl and "I Just Want to Thank Roy" Helland, aren't they usually not listed among the Makeup Dept heads as part of the nominatable team? Which would mean that some people would've been up for an Oscar who didn't do Streep's makeup... and is any of the other hair or makeup even special? (I say that having not even been wild about Streep's.)

Wild, Fury, Only Lovers Left Alive, and The Immigrant would have been nice to consider here, too.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I don't know, Nat; Cooper's wild-as-Medusa, just-rolled-out-*from*-*under*-the-bed hair at that American Sniper meet-and-greet might warrant a special make-up/hair-styling award of its own. You know what I'm talking about.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Was there a backlash against CGI perhaps? Most of the short listed films seem to have more real makeup as opposed to computer enhanced while ITW (at least from the pics) screams CGI, especially the pics of the glam witch. If this is the case, I think it's a move in the right direction.

Correct me if I"m wrong.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

P.S. Thank you for this yummy morsel of trivia!

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Nick -- this is a good point. I shall have to consider.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Am I the only person who looks at this post and thinks "thank god that Bradley Cooper didn't go through some horrible body weight loss to play the Elephant Man" like Jared Leto inevitably would have?

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Where's the mention of Chastain's hair in A Most Violent Year? Why isn't it a semi-finalist? lol Imagine the wig sitting on a chair. Who would it sit next to?

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

Wonderful point as always, Nathaniel. But I feel compelled to point out that "La Vie en Rose" - the ultimate de-glam work - did in fact win the Oscar for Makeup.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Didn't the make up guy on La Vie develop a new method of age makeup that solved many of the issues age makeup had suffered from? I think there is an extra on the DVD that goes into this.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Why would The Elephant Man shave his chest?

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

I remember the calls to give The Elephant Man a special make up effects Oscar and the Academy refused.

And then the very next year they introduced the Make up effects category after the huge backlash the previous year.

And I agree that it is time to expand this category to 5 nominees.

BTW - is it just me or has Bradley shaved his chest? Not sure I like him hairless.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

"but when prosthetics are used to make women less attractive (see: The Hours, Monster, and soon Cake) the makeup branch NEVER cares"

The Iron Lady won; try finding a less attractive person than Thatcher.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

par -- doesn't count OLD AGE makeup is different that uglification.

December 16, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Looks like Merrick has been hittin' the gym.
Working Gilr's nomination is one of the coolest things the Academy has done. If there were nominations like that in every category, every year, it'd be so much more interesting.

December 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Goodbar

Kinda bummed Only Lovers didn't show up here, I thought it might have a surprise shot a la I Am Love.

I think the eventual three nominees will be a combo of:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Maybe even Theory of Everything but that was more a physical transformation as opposed to a facial one, no?

Anyway, I think Grand Budapest has a chance of running away with this. Tilda's old age makeup, Ralph's perfectly placed hair, all the various facial hair on the men, all the facial scars and society do's. Plus, they're all period specific.

Incidentally, I thought Foxcatcher's makeup was awful and totally took me out of Steve Carell's (admittingly underwhelming) performance.

December 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Birdman snubbed. That is all.

December 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I've been a fan of this category ever since reading about Ve Neill in the <I>Batman Forever</I> behind the scenes book I had as a kid. Nerd alert!

I especially enjoyed the posts on this website last year about the make-up for <I>Dallas Buyers' Club</I> and <I>Bad Grandpa.</I> The stories of the nominations and challenges for those particular films were so interesting, and TFE was the only place I was able to read substantially about them.

December 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

I'm saddened that Foxcatcher is still in the race simply for sticking a nose on Carell. How is that little addition, which added nothing to the movie or Dupont's characterization, possibly worthy of a nomination?

December 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

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