At its heart, makeup is simply a special effect, but it’s a very special one that can either elevate a movie if done well or cause a distraction if done poorly. There are a lot of uses for makeup: aging people, showing injury, creating otherworldly creatures. This year’s crop of nominees are a pretty good cross section of what makeup artists are usually able to do in contemporary Hollywood.
- Foxcatcher: A lot of people found Steve Carrell’s prosthetic nose in Foxcatcher somewhat distracting, but I don’t think that was any fault of the makeup department. I don’t think anyone who didn’t already know what Carrell was supposed to look like would have been any the wiser because the work is kind of seamless and it goes beyond the nose into constructing an overall look for the character that Carrell is able to sort of blend into.
- Guardian of the Galaxy: There are two major characters in Guardians of the Galaxy which are entirely composed on CGI, but director James Gunn and his effects team did not entirely abandon traditional makeup work. Two of the main guardians and two major villains were aliens that were brought to life using makeup as were a handful of supporting characters. I wouldn’t say that these were the most wildly original alien designs, but they did blend in really well.
- Mr. Turner: Mr. Turner covers a number of decades in the life of the painter J.M.W. Turner and the characters age gradually over the course of the film. The makeup team never cakes any of the actors in heavy prosthetics to convey their aging and instead rely on subtler tricks to make them appear older over the course of the film. Even ignoring the aging element the film does a great job of capturing the period hairstyling as well as a skin condition that one character develops late in life.
- The Theory of Everything: When working on prestige films makeup artists often need to either create the illusion of a physical disability or help make an actor look like a famous historical figure. The team working on The Theory of Everything needed to do both. Eddie Redmayne needed to adopt Stephen Hawking’s signature messy hair and facial features and makeup was also needed to give the illusion that his body was slowly withering. On top of that they needed to do some subtle old age makeup as the film went on.
- Unbroken: This movie’s title refers to the main character’s refusal to have his spirit broken by the situations he finds himself in, it does not refer to his physical state because that gets all kinds of broken over the course of the film. Starting with time on the raft where we see him and his compatriots get slowly ravaged by hunger and general bruising and then moving on to the POW camp where he is constantly beaten and finally to the coal mine where the workers are constantly covered in sweat and soot. He goes through the ringer and the makeup makes that pretty clear.