One of these categories elicited plenty of joy from me to write up my predictions and Dream Ballot. The other, I’ve often found frustrating in particular ways. The most stylistically florid categories, aside from Production Design, which admittedly veers a tad less often to extravagantly showy work, the awards for Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling often excite me the most during the telecast. The winners here always seem know how to use their time accepting the Oscar well. Conventional viewers may not pip up their ears when they come on, but there’s a humility to these categories I’m often enchanted by.
Humility, that is, in terms of the people behind them, not necessarily the work itself. Few categories attest to that quite as much as Makeup and Hairstyling, whose graceful list of winners includes The Wolfman, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. True, the Academy often goes for the most obvious feats of makeup, though that doesn’t necessarily exclude them from offering some fairly detailed work. Such feels most the case with Foxcatcher, which has advantage for how unignorably transformative the work in that film is. Yes, the prosthetic makeup turning Steve Carell into John du Pont is detailed and unsettling, and not diluting the subtle mannerisms of Carell’s own performance, but the way every character looks so pale and seasick is also essential to the oppressive mood of the piece.
Also worth appreciating beyond the obvious is The Grand Budapest Hotel, where Tilda Swinton is transformed into an octogenarian, and yet remains an irrepressible sensual magnet. “Dynamite in the sack,” I’ll bet. But besides that, it’s exciting how Willem Dafoe’s gruntish features are enhanced to make him an even more menacing bulldog. The birthmark on Agatha’s face is such a beautiful touch to a knowingly angelic characterization. There are so many places where actors’ features are readjusted just so that their recognizable visages will fall further into the dense character work.
And then, there’s the film whose character design is decided by what primary or secondary colors their skins are. I wonder if sci-fi/fantasy filmmakers are getting carried away with how crazy they can make their alien characters look, without ever grappling with the politics of otherness. Setting that aside, there’s undeniable effort designing the ludicrous creations of Marvel’s most off-beat, though markedly still of its brand, venture to date, and not just the pastel color skin tones. There are small touches that make them a bit more bizarre, but it’s still the most obvious feat of makeup. I suspect that may be enough for the Academy, which goes for over-the-top in this category as much as they do austere.
Will Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Inherent Vice
- We Are the Best!
Runners-Up: Foxcatcher, The Immigrant, Snowpiercer
What I look for in Makeup and Hairstyling isn’t the big changes, but the small, detailed changes that tint character in such a meaningful way. The most extravagant nominee here is one I’ve already talked up, The Grand Budapest Hotel. My other two picks lean more towards the hairy and shaggy side, respectively. Inherent Vice boasts such a giddy array of characters, each inhabiting different bizarre skins and molds throughout the film, and different styles of scruff and fussed up eyeliner are remarkable. Also subtly wonderful work, We Are the Best!, its young characters committing to cultural or counter-cultural visual ideals in beautifully amateurish ways.
This is the category that’s secured past nominations for Mirror Mirror, Jane Eyre and Bright Star. I’m grateful for that, yes, but also for the spectacular work that’s secured their placement. There’s such a close attention to detail in costume design that few other cinematic disciplines come close to. It’s a field wholly devoted to character shading, at least in its best incarnations. Often, the Academy will impose the most=best misunderstanding to include more extravagant fantasy films, at times to blinding effect. Such it was with Alice in Wonderland, and again with Maleficent, where Anna B. Sheppard’s costumes work better when vamping up Angelina Jolie’s figure than when bunkering down Sharlto Copley’s soldiers in battle mode, akin to the similarly dour fairy tale hardening of Snow White and the Huntsman. Sheppard’s been nominated twice before for detailed period work on Schindler’s List and The Pianist, but this won’t be the one to pull her above the field of previous winners.
Speaking of Huntsman, one can’t help feeling bad for Colleen Atwood at this stage, such a fairy tale design mainstay that she risks repeating herself to lesser degrees. Into the Woods is also struggling to find the middle ground between fantasy and gothicism, but the mix feels off. Some characters costumes are so oatmeal toned that their details are washed away in the hazy cinematography, and in a musical so predicated on the characters finding brightly colored objects, the only bright burning costume is Red Riding Hood’s throw rug of a red cape. One hopes she’s recruited more to work in atypical modes, like her recent, unexpected work on Michael Mann’s Blackhat.
If Mr. Turner is working in similarly musty toned garb, we can rely on Jacqueline Durran to add specificity and weathered dignity to the layered jackets of Leigh’s period film. Durran won most recently of the group, for her more lively and performative work on Anna Karenina, so I imagine Academy members may hesitate before rewarding her again for work whose appreciative qualities require (and deserve) a bit more careful attention.
All the better for The Grand Budapest Hotel, whose costumes come bright and impeccably tailored, like from an ornate costume party 1040s formal apparel with Wes Anderson’s usual children’s picture book style. Not to dismiss it as childish, but this is the most overtly charming design aspect about the film, with costumes so cutely made I may have dressed up as a Lobby Boy on New Year’s Eve. That obvious charm, I feel, will worm its way onto the Academy’s ballots and earn Milena Canonero her fourth Oscar to date (she’s won previously for Barry Lyndon, Chariots of Fire and Marie Antoinette).
Were they to follow silliness to shaggier extremes, they might fall for Mark Bridge’s suitably psychedelic, singularly character warping dregs for Inherent Vice. With such a fabulous cascade of characters, finding the right groove for each is essential. It amplifies Reese Witherspoon’s waspy thrill-seeker, Martin Short’s upsettlingly eccentric dentist, and most especially the duel roles Katherine Waterston’s psuedo-femme fatale plays. If the film can occasionally feel like an unplaceable mirage, the costumes ensure we’re always on their wavelength.
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Inherent Vice
- The Boxtrolls
- God Help the Girl
- Inherent Vice
- The Two Faces of January
- We Are the Best!
Runners-up: Beyond the Lights, Child’s Pose, The Immigrant, A Most Violent Year, Pride
It’s not inherently period work that’s charmed me this year, but how the distinct the voices filtering those period were. Two films don’t quite fit that mold, if only because the time periods of Laika stop-motion The Boxtrolls and Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl, aren’t explicitly stated, yet feel specific in jaunty and expressive ways. The latter indulges in quirky tweed suits and dresses, like the Scottish Wes Anderson, while the former carefully applies rot, mold and dirt to its elegant Victorian pageantry. Markedly more elitist in fashion are the cream jackets and close knit dresses in The Two Faces of January, so fashionably bright they must be clothing scoundrels. It’d be unsentimental to launch the same attacks at the protagonists of We Are the Best!, the patchwork of their attire just another way irrepressible individuality bleeds through.