Top Makeup Contenders Vie For Oscar Short List: 'The Artist', 'Anonymous', 'Iron Lady', 'Albert Nobbs', and 'J. Edgar'

Columbia Pictures

Whether a film is critically hailed or roundly panned, becomes a box office hit or a sinks like a stone, a 2012 Oscar makeup/hair nomination is within reach for these buzzed about contenders.

Unfortunately, The Golden Globes -- which just announced their 2012 nominees -- doesn't have a makeup category. But in early January, select members of the Makeup Artist and Hairstylist Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will compile what's known in the industry as the 'short list' of makeup and hair films in competition for a 2012 Oscar. Last year seven films were initially selected and three nominated. From this short list, Oscar 2012 nominations will be chosen two weeks later at what's called the 'bake-off." At this event, contenders will present 10-minute clips of their work, show-and-tell prosthetics, photos and answer questions about their work.


All this wowing of the branch members is a nerve-wracking moment for the artists and an expensive, time-consuming proposition for the studios. Historically, the nods go to major transformations (Salma Hayek's Frida, Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire), period looks (La Vie en Rose, Young Victoria), fantasy/sci-fi/horror (Star Trek, Lord of the Rings) and impressive aging (Barney's Version, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

But a film need not be critically hailed or have big box office to get a shot at a Hair/Makeup Oscar. Longtime awards season publicist Tony Angelotti has seen – and worked on -- widely panned films that still snagged nominations. "The Affair of the Necklace was shredded critically but we still got a nomination," he recalls. He also masterminded Universal Studio's 2011 campaign for The Wolfman.  "Worst movie of the entire year and it wins," laughs Angelotti "We had a great back story with Rick Baker. He was the recipient of the very first Oscar for Best Makeup for American Werewolf in Paris in 1982. He’d had eleven nominations and six wins since then. He went in there and explained to the committee that there was no CGI, they did it all the old fashioned way, the way they were all taught. And that's what did it."  

Politics, personal preferences and previous nominations aside, here are the top contenders for 2012 Makeup Artist Hairstylist short list.

The Iron Lady: Meryl Streep is the Queen of Cinema Transformations. But becoming former Prime Minister of England Maggie Thatcher required a lot of help from prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier. "One of the biggest challenges from a prosthetics point of view was finding the fine line between doing enough to turn Meryl into Margaret Thatcher without doing too much," explains Coulier. "I'm particularly proud of Meryl's make-up. The younger version because the nose prosthetic hasn't become an issue and people don't really notice it. And the older version because people on the set would tell me they really thought they were interacting with an old lady. I'm also proud that several other characters are wearing prosthetics throughout the film and no one really mentions them. The more 'invisible' our work is, the better." Hair and makeup designer Marese Langan agrees, adding "It was a heavily researched- based process, covering 6 decades. There was a lot of work and detail on the majority of the actors (wigs, hairpieces, prosthetics, teeth, ageing) to make them resemble their real life characters that will hopefully go unnoticed by the audience." But not, one hopes, by the Academy.

Anonymous:  Roland Emmerich's controversial political thriller --- starring Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Rhys Ifans and David Thewlis --  tackles the Shakespeare authorship controversy during Queen Elizabeth's reign. The scale, scope and historical period was a huge undertaking for makeup department heads Bjorn Rehbein and Heike Merker. Both say the biggest challenge was recreating the otherworldly beauty, hair and makeup of Elizabethan times. "Today we worship the sun, but in that period, women wanted their faces to look like the moon; pale, shimmery and round," says Rehbein. Women and men of nobility all wore makeup and pigments that contained harmful chemicals to get that deathly pallor.  "We ended up used thick layers of theatrical makeup with powder applied with the classic puff, to created that Kabuki mask that the older Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) always wore. The makeup got thicker as she aged and we used prosthetics to show her problem skin, stretch marks, scratches and a skull cap," says Merker. Redgrave herself asked for the shocking rotten teeth trays. She said, "I want a different Queen Elizabeth. not the typical queen we've seen before. I want the rotten teeth!” Rehbein adds that all the men had distinct facial hair, in the style of the day. Ifan's (Duke of Oxford Edward Devere) death scene was their favorite makeup moment He was slowly aged on his face, adding moles, scars and age spots on arms and hands, putting milky veined contacts in eyes. Even his nails were yellowed, lengthened and colored with age rings. 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Part 2:  While no Potter film has not gotten an Oscar nod for make-up, some seasoned award pros feel it's high time -- at the culmination of the series -- for the artistry to be recognized. Sure.we've seen Voldemort's noseless mug for a few films. B ut how about the final film's team of Goblin Bankers?  According to makeup head Nick Dudman they carefully monitored the designs so they were completely individual.  Every prosthetic piece was hand-painted and eyebrow hairs placed singly into the silicone. Over 170 make-up artists applied the goblins’ make-up, which took four hours per goblin.  In order to ensure that each one was done according to Dudman’s specifications, he ran a three-day workshop, training a multi-national team to apply the make-up over and over again until he felt they were accurate.

Albert NobbsJonathan Rhys Meyers, Mia Wasikowska, and Brendan Gleeson star in the period film directed by Rodrigo Garcia and adapted from a short story. But the biggest makeup/hair stars are  Glenn Close and Janet McTeer, who both play women who disguise themselves as men in order to survive in 19th century Dublin. Make-up artist Matthew Mungle relied on several techniques for Close’s transformation including dental plumpers, face casting and adjusting facial features such as the tip of the nose and extending the ear lobes with prosthetic pieces. Mungle even gave McTeer (she plays Hubert Page) a broken nose since she was an abused wife. After enduring endless makeup tests, Close, who also helped write the screenplay and acted as producer, admitted, "At one point I looked up in the mirror and started crying because it wasn't me anymore. I thought I'd have the burden of my very well known face. And what he (Matthew) did alleviated that."

J. Edgar: Clint Eastwood's biopic of the controversial FBI founder required its Hollywood handsome star Leonardo DiCaprio to look like the stocky, pug-faced FBI director and then age 50 years. No mean feat. Makeup head Sian Grigg (Leo's go-to makeup gal since Titanic) kept the actor in the makeup chair for six to seven hours a day for the transformations and relied on multiple prosthetics including fake teeth, a bald cap, a device to reshape one nostril, latex body pads, innumerable facial, hand, and neck silicone prosthetics and colored milky contacts. The characters of Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) were also aged dramatically It can be quite difficult to act under all this makeup. But Grigg says one prosthetic piece in particular helped DiCaprio find his inner Hoover: the upper and lower dental appliances with ceramic plumpers to push out his mouth. "Leo asked to wear the lower one even for the younger scenes," Grigg explained. "I think it helped him change his speech.’ Grigg is extremely proud of the work done by her team. “I really believed Leo was old. And I stuck it on his face.” 

The Artist: Michel Hazanavicius' B&W film -- set in1927 -- tells the touching tale of a rising star Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) and a fading silent screen idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) "The biggest challenge was to have the story come to life without using traditional color because everything was in grayscale," says Julie Hewitt, George Clooney's longtime makeup artist, who also worked on his 2011 films, The Ides of March and The Descendants.  "I wanted the Artist makeup to look like a classic George Hurrell photo come to life, to look period without artifice.  Making the skin tones, lip shapes and natural shine without faces looking flat was challenging. I utilized a black and white monitor to assess the gradations in every scene and adjusted accordingly," says Hewitt. She grew up obsessing about Greta Garbo's eyebrows and used her own Noir brand of matte lipsticks -- which she developed while working on Pearl Harbor -- for Artist. "My absolute favorite scene in the film is the close-up of Peppy in the car with a tear; it reminded of a self-portrait by Tamara de Lempicka, one of my makeup inspirations for Peppy’s character. "   

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Disney's successful franchise has garnered nominations for Best Makeup in 2003 and 2008. Voters will be looking for what's fresh and they'll find it, says Joel Harlow, who also did Green Lantern's nom-worthy makeup and won an makeup Oscar for Star Trek (2009).  "We had some very unique characters that were not seen in the first three films, specifically, the mermaids.  Aside from the makeup for the living mermaids, Harlow also created the makeup effects for a slew of dead mermaids.

"The most challenging were the bodies that Barbossa discovers on the beach at Whitecap Bay.  We created three full size (14 foot long) silicone mermaid bodies (and some skeletons) for this sequence, complete with the iridescent scale shimmer that real fish possess." Another fresh take is a smoking Blackbeard and his creepy zombie crew. "We did the traditional zombie pirate in the first film, so we broke away from that for a more "voodoo" type of zombie. The challenge was keeping all the makeups looking 100% yet keeping the performers happy, as most of them had both eyes and mouths stitched closed."

Good way to keep the complaints down.