Filed in: Awards, Contender Portfolios, Featured, Film, For Your Consideration, Makeup

93rd Annual Oscars Spotlight on Make-up and Hair Styling

March 31, 2021 08:00 | By

For the second time in the history of the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling– a category that dates back to the 1982 ceremony– the makeup branch of the Academy has offered up five spectacular nominees for voters to choose from for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards. The nominated makeup and hairstyling teams up for the trophy worked on a varied set of films, including two period pieces, one fantasy adaptation, and two movies heavy in prosthetics and special makeup effects. 

Predicting the winner in this category used to be a relatively easy feat. From the 2001 awards up until last year, if a Best Picture nominee was present among the nominees (which back then were always three), you could always count on that one to take home the makeup and hairstyling prize. This year, that would seem to bode well for Mank, for which the team consisting of Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, and Jamika Wilson received a citation. But that reliable streak was broken last year, when the Oscar for makeup went to Bombshell, ousting three Best Picture nominees (Joker, Judy, and 1917) in the process. Was Bombshell’s win for Kazuhiro Tsuji, Anne Morgan, and Vivian Baker an outlier, or is the category’s expansion to five, and the new Academy membership, augur a different approach to predicting this race?

We are about to find out, as the Mank team faces off against an additional quartet that showcases arguably more “flashy” makeup. Perhaps the Academy will again go for a contender heavier on the “hairstyling” portion of the nomination equation, which would bode well for Marese Langan, Laura Allen, and Claudia Stolze, nominated for their work on EMMA. Or perhaps the work of transforming a well-known actor’s face will carry the day– as it has in the past including with The Iron Lady and Darkest Hour–which would be a good sign for either the team behind Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, and Jamika Wilson) or that of Hillbilly Elegy, which includes past Oscar-winner Matthew Mungle (who triumphed for 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula). Finally, the Academy could choose the film that involved the most obvious degree of difficulty to most impressive effects and choose Pinocchio collaborators Dalia Colli, Mark Coulier, and Francesco Pegoretti.

Read on for a closer look at the nominees and a handicap of each of their chances.

Emma

Mia Goth (L) and Anya Taylor-Joy in EMMA. (Focus Features)

EMMA.Marese Langan, Laura Allen and Claudia Stolze

Autumn de Wilde’s film, adapting the Jane Austen novel of the same name, is likely in last place as of this writing. Though the various period piece hairstyling and the gorgeous makeup used on mostly the female characters– including the currently popular Anna Taylor-Joy— are undoubtedly exquisite, it is hard to place too much money on a film that showed up nowhere in the Makeup and Hairstyling Guild’s nominated films across five categories. That guild’s “Best Special Effects Makeup” winner has gone on to win the Oscar three years in a row now, but only Pinocchio and Hillbilly Elegy showed up in that race this year. But at least Emma’s two other adversaries received MUAH Guild citations in other categories. This film’s beautiful makeup and hairstyling has not shown-up anywhere– not even in the home field advantaged BAFTAs, which matched the Oscars one-for-one in this race except for the fifth slot, which they gave to The Dig. It helps the movie that it got a mention in Best Costumes, but the nominations are likely all they will get.

Hillbilly Elegy

Matthew Mungle (Photo courtesy Netflix)

Hillbilly ElegyEryn Krueger Mekash, Matthew Mungle and Patricia Dehaney

As mentioned, films that feature transformations of well-known actors do well here. From Dallas Buyers Club to Vice and Grand Budapest Hotel, past Oscar winners for Best Makeup and Hairstyling tend to go to situations where it is somewhat obvious to voters how the star was transformed. 

For the team behind Hillbilly Elegy, that means a clear path to victory, because the prosthetics and wigs required to transform Oscar-nominated Glenn Close into the Mawmaw character were involved and difficult to pull out, as we discussed with the team when we interviewed them last year. It helps that their work was not limited to just Close’s face and body, but also to the progressively deteriorating look that Amy Adams sported as the mother who sinks in the spiral of drug abuse and depression. These are two of the most celebrated performances of the year, and this is the easiest way to recognize them.

However, the (inexplicable, in my view) backlash against this film online and by critics (with a dismal RT score in the 20s) presents a clear obstacle in its path to victory. Will voters see beyond that and reward the deserving work down by the makeup and hairstyling crew? The Academy rewards an otherwise unpopular film in this race somewhat infrequently–most recently when Suicide Squad took this prize during the 2017 ceremony–but the broad dislike for the film should make you rightfully nervous.

Ma Rainey

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson

This leaves a film that surely was relatively close to nabbing a Best Picture nomination, given that it received four other citations including for Best Actress and Actor. Moreover, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on the August Wilson play, is almost certain to win at least for Chadwick Boseman, and the instances of an acting Oscar going with the makeup winner are plenty, including the aforementioned Iron Lady, Dallas Buyers Club and Darkest Hour.

But it is the makeup on Viola– disheveled, angry, purposefully heavy– that is the most impressive of all of the work. And that is saying a lot, given that the team had to pull up intricate wig effects that involved real horse hair wigs (such as those used in the 1920s, when the film was set), not to mention the effect of showing the actors sweating without actually losing their makeup during the heat-filled scenes inside the warehouse recording studio. As we discussed when we spoke to this talented team earlier this year, this involved everything from silicone to prosthetics (including the gold veneers sported by Viola’s lead character).

In short, George C. Wolfe’s film checks nearly every box when it comes to its Makeup and Hairstyling nomination– transformation of well-known actors, nominated lead actors, showy effects and the “most” in the category, and a likely near miss in the Best Picture race. The MUAH guild and BAFTA results will give us more clues, but right now this is a tight race among the top contenders.

Mank

Amanda Seyfried in Mank (Netflix)

Mank Gigi Williams, Kimberley Spiteri and Colleen LaBaff

David Fincher’s film is obviously beloved by the Academy, netting ten nominations– the most this year– when the finalists were announced. And as it currently is not expected to win any awards in the top five, it is natural to expect voters to want to reward it somewhere. But Mank faces heavy odds against it– it would have to become the first black and white film ever to triumph in this race, and at least one higher profile nominee, Schindler’s List, was unable to get over the obvious handicap that comes with voters being unable to appreciate the subtleties of makeup.

In fact, if it were not for the fact that Pinocchio is a relatively unknown foreign film, one would have no problem putting this film in solid fourth place. But, again, without a clear alternative to reward the respected historical film about Hollywood, the threat posed by the flashy hairstyling that was needed to make Amanda Seyfried look like Marion Davies, and the disheveled and drunken look sported by Gary Oldman is hard to completely dismiss. Mank could easily triumph here.

PInocchio

A scene from Pinocchio (Roadside Attractions)

PinocchioMark Coulier, Dalia Colli and Francesco Pegoretti

If there was any justice at the Oscars (spoilers: there isn’t), the talented team behind this Italian adaptation of the classic Italian story would easily walk home with the statuettes. As we discussed when interviewing Dalia Colli, Mark Coulier, and Francesco Pegoretti, the work to bring these fantastical creatures to life is one of the most involved and impressive we have seen in years. Not only did it require prosthetics, silicone, and a variety of wigs, the craftspeople behind this touching version of the story had to make an eight year old boy look like a wooden puppet with little to no special effects, which required nearly three hours of work every time the makeup was applied.

And the results showed. If you see the film– which, problematically, few probably have– you wonder for the entire runtime whether the boy is animated or real, a very “meta” outcome given the confusion at the core of Pinocchio’s story. No film exhibited this level of talent, and past winners like Pan’s Labyrinth show that there is space for fantasy in this race. Indeed, Pan’s late-breaking surge to three Oscars provides precedent for an international film like this to triumph in tech races, and if you believe in the adage that “most” makeup (or “most” sound, or “most” costumes) matters, then Pinocchio has a chance. Still, it is hard to currently be optimistic given that it is the least visible of the other nominees, but if the Italians can pull it off at BAFTA, then you may want to change your prediction here. 

If I had a ballot, I would be marking this one down without hesitation.

Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Could Win: Hillbilly Elegy

Should Win: Pinocchio

Although voting for the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild (MUAHS, IATSE Local 706) has already closed (you can check out the nominations here), voting is still open for the Academy Awards until April 20.

You can read the full list of ALL the nominees for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards here.