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The Oscars are almost upon us, with all their unpredictability. You don’t need an oracle to tell you what will happen. You don’t even need a film critic. You need someone who sees into the very souls of the Academy voters. You need a Straight White Man.
Hey, guys. I’m make it snow, a Straight White Man of, okay, probably less than real-life Oscar voting age. Nevertheless, I’ve watched, so far, all but seven feature films that are nominated for at least one Academy Award. I expect to watch all of them by the time of the ceremony, but I’ll let you know in later installations of this series if I’ve missed anything. Today, I’m here to tell you about this year’s biggest achievements in makeup and hairstyling and pretty clothes.
Carol – Might as well get this out there right off the bat: I love, love, love this movie. Everything about it, to me, is fantastic. Carol had the considerable help of three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell in recreating a seemingly flawless 1950s New York aesthetic. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara each look a different kind of fantastic throughout; Blanchett’s Carol in her furs and fancy hats, Mara’s Therese in working-class plaids and plain colors. I mean, I’m not a fashion critic. I’m not even a film critic. But the clothes tell me a lot about these characters in a movie that’s pretty economical with its spoken language. And no, it probably wasn’t Powell’s idea to put a Santa hat on Mara in the meet-cute scene, but I’m giving the film credit for it anyway.
Cinderella – A frontrunner in this category mostly for one outstanding gown, but man, it’s one hell of a gown. I mean, look at this thing. I don’t know anything about dresses. I certainly don’t know how designer Sandy Powell (yep, again!) got it to move like that. I can no more comprehend its workings than if it were the Mars lander in The Martian, but the key difference here is that the gown is a real gown, and the lander is not really going to space. Even without its crown jewel, though, this film would be nomination-worthy for Helena Bonham Carter’s delightful fairy godmother dress (complete with wings!), the clever flourishes on Cinderella’s lizard-footmen and goose-coachman, and Richard Madden-as-Robb Stark-as-Prince Charming just balling out of control every time he’s onscreen.
The Danish Girl – Costumes from movies set in the early-to-mid-20th century are popular with the Academy, and in this one we’ve got 1910s Copenhagen. And 1910s Paris. And 1910s… Dresden, I think? The primary selling point for this award bid seems to be difficulty of putting Eddie Redmayne into period-appropriate women’s clothes, and I have to admit I’m not sure what to think of that. I don’t have a good sense of how difficult that would be for a costume designer, or of how realistic it is that Lili Elbe would have had access to perfectly fitting clothes at the time anyway. Redmayne looks great, though, both as Einar and as Lili. Everyone looks great, really. Alicia Vikander straight blows up scenes with some awesome dresses. Wearing clothes seems like it used to be so much more fun for rich folks back in the day than it is now.
Mad Max: Fury Road – You’re going to see a lot of Mad Max in these nominations, and with good reason. Director George Miller went to no end of trouble to build an incredibly dense, lively world to film in, and then he went and shot his movie at a hundred miles per hour, guaranteeing you’ll need multiple viewings to really appreciate the sheer variety. What’s even more impressive is that all of that variety feels like part of a single cohesive vision. Everything’s so insane, in more or less the same way, that nothing seems out of place—not even the flamethrower-guitar-wielding maniac in the red pajamas rocking out atop a giant rolling speaker rig. The only obstacle I see for Mad Max here is that it bucks Academy trends; conventional wisdom has it that winners tend to be period pieces or fairy tales, or in other words, every other movie nominated this year.
The Revenant – The enormous bear skin that Leonardo DiCaprio drags around through much of the movie almost deserves a Supporting Actor nomination rather than a Costume Design nod. Apart from that, the clothes are all very appropriate to the setting and the characters, with all the careful detail you could ask for, but nothing really pops off the screen.
WILL/SHOULD WIN: Mad Max: Fury Road. Yeah, the Academy doesn’t love sci-fi costumes. The Academy also hasn’t seen them done this well before.
SECOND CHOICE: Cinderella. That dress is amazing, guys. I’m no Lili Elbe, but I’d wear that dress.
UPSET SPECIAL: Carol. Sandy Powell’s always a threat, even to steal the prize from herself.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Mad Max: Fury Road – A lot of what I said about Mad Max‘s costumes, I could also say about the hair and makeup. Apart from Max himself, almost every character onscreen at any point in the movie is painted up in eye-catching fashion, from Imperator Furiosa’s simple and iconic black grease to Immortan Joe’s ghost-pale face and oozing sores. Joe and his immediate deputies are the most obvious showcases though, with a whole raft of gruesome deformities between them. There’s never the sense that any of this is gratuitous, though; once again, everything’s there (or, in the case of the People Eater’s nose, not there) for a reason.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared – “What the hell is this?” you ask? Why, only the third highest-grossing Swedish film of all time, and the wickedly funny, oddly heartwarming tale of a Scandinavian Forrest Gump who’s forever blowing things up with dynamite. It’s recognized in this category mostly for the makeup work on its star, Robert Gustaffson (47 years old at the time of shooting), who plays the 100-year-old Alan Karlsson but also several younger versions of the same character in flashbacks. Also noteworthy here: more subtle makeup used to transform various actors into important historical figures like J. Robert Oppenheimer, Mikhail Gorbachev, and, um, Herbert Einstein.
The Revenant – Another film nominated as, essentially, a one-man makeup job, in what must be the most detailed and realistic depiction of the immediate and long-term consequences of a bear mauling ever committed to film. The Revenant isn’t for the faint of heart, and clearly a lot of effort went into depicting, as convincingly as possible, its characters—especially Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass—getting fucked up real bad. Lots of grievous wounds, lots of infections festering in those grievous wounds, and lots of close-ups on those infected grievous wounds. All of it looks sickeningly real. Not just on DiCaprio, either; check out Tom Hardy’s partially scalped head. And, you know, as reluctant as I am to give Iñárritu bonus points for staging his shoot in a miserable frozen hell, I absolutely respect how that must have limited the makeup team’s options.
WILL WIN: Mad Max: Fury Road. Such an enormous volume of great work put in here that it’d be almost criminal not to reward it.
SHOULD WIN: The Revenant. This is a movie that either makes you cringe or doesn’t work at all, and without the incredibly meticulous makeup work, this movie doesn’t make you cringe.
UPSET SPECIAL: None. Do not put any money on The 100-Year-Old Man. Watch it, enjoy it, forget about it winning.