2020 Oscar Category Breakdown: Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Today is Best Makeup & Hairstyling, a category that’s quietly gone over a bit of an overhaul the past few years that nobody noticed. Just three years ago, there were only three nominees in this category and no real precursor help to speak of. Now we’ve got it all — a shortlist, five nominees, three major precursors… and still generally the same stuff winning every year.

This year presents us with an intriguing referendum on the integrity of voters. Because we know they love actor transformations in this category, almost as much as they love ‘how did they do that’ makeup effects. So here, we have our classic actor transformation alongside a stunning achievement in makeup effects. However, one of those films is a foreign film. So now you have to wonder — are voters actually gonna watch all the nominees like they’re supposed to before they vote in this category? Or are they simply gonna vote for what they know and not consider the foreign film because it hasn’t come across their radar?

That’s what lies before us in this year’s Makeup & Hairstyling category.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Emma

Hillbilly Elegy

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Mank

Pinocchio

Based on the shortlist of ten, there were really only about six options for this category. The Little Things, The Glorias, Jingle Jangle and One Night in Miami had no shot at it whatsoever, based on both logic and on precursors. The only other option that was out there was Birds of Prey, which, given that Suicide Squad won this category four years ago, seemed like a legitimate option. In the end, they went with Emma for the fifth spot (as the other four hit all the precursors and were clearly gonna make it on) and got a totally reasonable category, even though most people could care less about any of the efforts here.

5. Hillbilly Elegy — How could it not be? The word on this film is that it is bad. Sure, Glenn Close is nominated, but they’ve nominated people they like in ‘bad’ films before. There, they’d be voting for Glenn Close. Here, they’re voting for the film. And I can’t imagine people are gonna see this and go, “Yeah, I’m gonna vote for that.” And without a precursor win or Close having a surefire win, I don’t think you can consider this a viable option for the win.

4. Mank — It’s got 10 nominations, so clearly it’s got fans out there. But it’s not like there’s a big actor transformation there and it’s not like the makeup is particularly showy. In a category of three, I’m not sure this makes it. But the hairstyling is nice and the makeup is good because they had to make sure people looked good in black-and-white. No precursor wins, though, so the overall respect for the film only goes so far. Can’t see this really contending unless people really aren’t paying attention to the category and are simply voting on title alone.

3. Emma — Consider the people voting in this category. Assuming they’re not just voting for the film they liked best or for their friends, they’re gonna look at these five nominees and consider the efforts in each of them. Hillbilly Elegy, they’re probably gonna consider how much they didn’t like it and not wanna vote for it. Mank, they might wonder just what the makeup was in that. And this, they’ll look at and go, “Okay, period. Hair, I get it.” That’s why I have this third over the other two. I think the period nature of this highlights the hairstyling and at least makes people consider taking it more than the other two. Not sure that helps in the end, but I think it’s enough to get it to third.

2. Pinocchio — So now’s where we get that referendum. Only two films have any precursors. This has one nominal one — Special Makeup Effects at the guild, which Ma Rainey wasn’t even nominated for. Now — the effects in this film are stunning. Absolutely stunning. And the director says none of it was aided by CGI and that it was all done practically. And if that’s even somewhat the case, it’s the best effort in the category by far. HOWEVER… people sitting down to vote for this category, doing that stuff I said they’d do… what happens when they look at this? Are they gonna have watched it? Will it spur them to go out and watch it? I can’t imagine that’s gonna happen. So either they’re gonna know the effects here are or they’re just gonna dismiss it as a foreign film they know nothing about and will take the bird in the hand, which is Ma Rainey. Now… the Academy streaming website does have a ‘bake-off’ presentation in the category, which is essentially a highlight reel of all the efforts. So it’s possible if people actually sit down and watch that, then this might have a shot. But, are we actually going to hang our hats on members actually watching stuff before voting? It would certainly surprise the hell out of me to see them change all of a sudden. Some people take it seriously. Others do not. So, barring me knowing for sure people will be fully informed and caught up on everything, I can’t consider this any more than a second choice.

1. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — Most of my reasoning for this first was already stated for Pinocchio, but on top of that, this won two awards at the guild, won BAFTA and won BFCA. So on a pure numbers level, this is the favorite to win. And while it’s still a 50/50 category, I have to assume most people won’t have seen Pinocchio and won’t/can’t look past the Viola transformation. So I expect to see this win, but either way, it’s hard to consider this anything other than the favorite to win.

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