I was privileged to be assigned to this category last year, so I've done my research and you can see the background here at last year's post. It's a fairly recent award and it looks like my rule of thumb for who gets nominated has nearly held up this year as well. Last year I said "Usually only 3 movies are nominated, often one of the best Picture nominees, a major movie, and then something random." I was only off by saying a best Picture nominee rather than a period piece, which Benjamin Button was both last year. This year the nominees are: The Young Victoria (period piece), Star Trek (a very big movie, with other nominations for visual effects and sound), and Il Divo (the random choice if ever there was one). Here are my individual comments on each movie from a perspective of makeup.
The Young Victoria tells the story of Britain's Queen Victoria from just before her ascension through the beginning of her reign and marriage. She reigned from 1837 to 1901, the longest of any female monarch in global history. This means, the make-up must be appropriate for the 19th century. In addition, it seems that the Academy has lumped hair design into the category for makeup. The two nominees for Young Victoria, Jenny Shircore and John Henry Gordon, are both listed (on IMDB) as hair stylists/designers, and Ms. Shircore is listed as the makeup designer. She also won the Oscar for Elizabeth. Lumping them together makes sense to me if you think of it as all of the things done to a character that are not costumes be one award. The makeup throughout the movie made Emily Blunt look young, fresh, and regal, and the hair styles of all the characters put them into a recognizable time period. Victoria has to battle between the influences of British politicians and German/Belgian relatives and politicians. The hair styles, while perhaps not perfectly accurate, did make it easy to visually distinguish between the two without being too strange. Given that Benjamin Button won last year, and this is a good movie overall, I expect this to win the Oscar. You can read my full review of the movie here.
Star Trek could give Victoria a run for the money if the Academy loves sci-fi as much as I do. The nominees are Barney Burman (prosthetic makeup designer), Mindy Hall (makeup), and Joel Harlow (prosthetic makeup supervisor). All are first time nominees, but have tons of movies to their credit. I would give them the award for the sole reason that I had no idea Eric Bana was even in the movie thanks to the insane amount of prosthetic make up that made him into a very Trek-appropriate bad guy. Also, their challenge of making beloved characters come to life in different actors at a younger age while still trying to make them seem like they belong in 2009 rather than 1970. There were lots of other "species" of characters throughout the movie that fit in seamlessly, which is a huge credit to the make-up department. So while I do think Victoria will take the award given the Academy's recent history of period pieces, they have a split history of giving the award to incredible prosthetic work so don't count Star Trek out.
Finally, the random selection, Il Divo. This movie was release in Italy in 2008, and made the various film festival circuits winning some awards, mostly for acting. It did win the Italian version of the Oscars in this category however. In fact, the two nominees for this movie are the most nominated of the bunch. Vittorio Sodano (prosthetic make up designer) and Aldo Signoretti (key hair stylist) were nominated together for Apocalypto, and Signoretti was nominated for Moulin Rouge as well. Since I doubt many people saw this (it had a limited release last April in addition to the film festivals), I'll summarize it. It's a story about the former Prime Minister in Italy, Guilio Andreotti, who was accused of ties to the mafia and negative ties with the Vatican, and basically follows him and his family through various accusations from his political opponents of murdering people who got in his way. The movie won the Jury Prize at Cannes, but having seen the movie I have no idea why it was nominated in this category. All the people look fairly normal, though given the titles of the nominees, I presume several are wearing prosthetic pieces. Nothing particularly interesting struck me, so I highly doubt this movie has any chance of winning.
If I had to give the odds of winning, I'd say Victoria has about a 70% chance of winning, with Star Trek at 29%, and simply by virtue of being nominated, Il Divo has 1% chance. I hope this helps you fill out your Oscar Ballot!
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