Hollywood Contenders: Will transitioning Eddie Redmayne lead to Oscar glory for “The Danish Girl” in Best Makeup & Hairstyling?

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Actors are chameleons, by their nature masters in convincingly becoming other people. But actors can only go so far in persuading an audience that they are from a different galaxy, are actually a different species, lived hundreds of years ago, have become seriously disfigured, and/or are 40 years older than they are. Assisting them in this task are makeup artists and hairstylists.

The Academy Award for Best Makeup & Hairstyling has its nominees chosen in a different manner than any other branch. Notably, there are only three nominees. Interestingly, they are chosen from a list of seven (who are chosen after what is frequently called the “bakeoff”). Those seven finalists make submissions and presentations to the branch, leading to the trio chosen as actual nominees. Up to three makeup artists and/or hairstylists can earn a nomination for a film, though it is often difficult to predict who they will be in advance, as most makeup and hair crews are comprised of many more than three members.

What does the branch tend to reward? Well, it depends. Looking at this decade’s nominees, there are many examples of creating monsters and other non-human creatures (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2,” “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “The Wolfman”). Other nominees have aged actors in incredibly convincing ways (“Barney’s Version,” “The Iron Lady,” “Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa,” “The Lone Ranger”). But many simply transform actors into another time period and/or help them become original or real-life characters in ways that make one gasp “wow” (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Hitchcock,” “Albert Nobbs,” “The Way Back”). It would be fair to say that the “makeup” part of this category usually predominates over the “hairstyling” but that is not to say that hairstyling did not play a massive role in some of the foregoing nominations (2009’s “The Young Victoria” was likely nominated first and foremost because of the hairstyling).

These macro-level trends are predictable. Nonetheless, this is, without question, one of Oscar’s most unpredictable categories. Every year, films that seem destined for nominations fail to make the bakeoff and/or the final three. Similarly, films on no one’s radar always manage to make the bakeoff, with some of those inevitably ending up with nominations. Nominees from the past decade such as “Click,” “Norbit,” “Il Divo,” and “Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa” are just examples of films that have surprisingly achieved the moniker “Oscar nominee” due to this category.
Leading the way this year may be Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl,” which not only recreates early 20th Century Europe, but turns Eddie Redmayne into transgender pioneer Lili Elbe. Jan Sewell likely came close to a nomination for “The Theory of Everything” and would seem in good shape this year. So why do I feel a major snub may be in the works…

“Black Mass” also features many characteristics this category tends to embrace – period recreation, violent criminals being injured, and aging/transforming a famous actor, Johnny Depp, into a famous historic figure, Whitey Bulger. While the film may have difficulty staying fresh in viewers’ minds, Joel Harlow (Oscar winner for “Star Trek”) and Gloria Pasquez Casny (nominated, with Harlow, for “The Lone Ranger”) seem like they will be in contention.

“The Reverent” looks as though it could be a crafts category behemoth. It will recreate the early 19th Century American West, including Native American life, the rugged beards of white trappers, and many graphic injuries. Sharon Toohey and Robert A. Tahini are seeking first nominations and may just get them.

A very different period film is “Carol,” set in 1950s New York. Patricia Regan and Jerry DeCarlo are searching for their first nominations for their stylish take on the period, with superb hairstyling being featured prominently.

As noted at the outset, aging is a feat that this category tends to embrace year after year. Bill Condon’s “Mr. Holmes” made Sir Ian McKellen look both younger and older than he actually is. There was also a key plot development near the end of the film that required graphic makeup. Dave Elsey won this category for “The Wolfman” and in these circumstances, he could return to the fold.

So far, I’ve talked mostly about period pieces. But fantasy has a good track record in this category and Guillermo Del Toro’s “Crimson Peak” blends period and fantasy. It also features an extraordinary amount of sci-fi/horror makeup. Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” won this category, and Cliona Furey and Jordan Samuel might get their first invitation to the dance this year.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” had an absolutely massive makeup and hairstyling team, which is unsurprising given that so many characters were given incredibly unique looks in George Miller’s wonderfully bizarre rush through the dessert. While the crew members do not appear to have any Oscar nominations to date, I can’t believe they won’t be on voters’ minds.

“Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” was the first “Star Wars” film to miss out on a Visual Effects nomination, but also the first to earn a nod in this category. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will try to repeat that feat this year. I have little doubt the makeup will be prominent but just how prominent is still to be determined. Amanda Knight was nominated for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and will be trying to earn her second tip of the hat this year.

“Pan” and “Jupiter Ascending” both had massive makeup and hair teams, reflecting the fact that makeup and hairstyling were enormously important to both films. Alas, both films tanked. But that’s not always determinative in this category, where bombs and/or dreadful films frequently find favor.
If I had to predict the top ten candidates at this stage, these would be them. And if I had to guess the final three, I’d go with “Black Mass,” “The Danish Girl,” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” But the only predictable thing about this category is its unpredictability, at both the bakeoff stage and on nominations morning. So let’s see how this one shakes out…

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