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Can Box Office Bombs Like ‘Jupiter Ascending’ and ‘Pan’ Crack the Makeup Oscar Race?

Frontrunners so far include 'Black Mass,' 'The Danish Girl' and 'Mad Max: Fury Road.'

As usual, this year’s Oscar race for Best Makeup and Hairstyling features a wide array of character transformations, period detail and genre manifestations. While fantastical exhibitions have certainly been Academy favorites in the past, the award has gone to grounded work more often than not in recent years, with films like “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Iron Lady” walking away with the gold. So let’s start there with our analysis of this year’s field.

Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables” won the prize a few years back. This year, his follow-up — “The Danish Girl” — provides another opportunity for designers to work in period trappings. But moreover, this story of trangender pioneer Lili Elbe offers up an on-screen metamorphosis as actor Eddie Redmayne portrays Elbe during her transition. Designer Jan Sewell has been BAFTA-nominated a number of times over the years, including a notice for last year’s “The Theory of Everything” with Redmayne, but has yet to land an Oscar nod. That could certainly change this year.

Joel Harlow won an Oscar five years ago for his fantastical work on J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek.” This year he and his team were tasked not only with transforming actor Johnny Depp into crime boss Whitey Bulger, but with giving him that Nosferatu-like quality that makes his image on the screen instantly iconic. Harlow was also a recent nominee for 2014’s “The Lone Ranger” along with hairstyling key Gloria Casny.

Elsewhere, watch out for “The Revenant.” The brutality of the untamed wilderness will leave its mark on Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and company, particularly in the wake of a vicious bear mauling. Makeup effects head Adrien Morot was a nominee for “Barney’s Version” in 2010.

Special makeup effects artist Jake Garber, hairstylist Camille Friend and department head Heba Thorisdottir had plenty to work with on Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” as well. In particular, the hair team got to dabble in period matching and character building, what with all the whiskers and snow-blown ‘dos populating the maestro’s western. Garber was a nominee two decades ago for “Star Trek: First Contact.”

And rounding out the reality-focused work in the category, there is Todd Haynes’ period romance “Carol.” Department heads Jerry DeCarlo and Patricia Regan are Emmy nominated but untested with Oscar, and their attention to the period — again, particularly in the arena of hairstyling — could make an impact on the branch.

Moving on to the genre-driven work in play, you have to start with George Miller’s summer blockbuster “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It would be an inspired choice by the branch, with all its detailed prosthetic work and iconic makeup imagery. Keys Lesley Vanderwalt, Damian Martin and Elka Wardega, like a number of contenders in this year’s race, have yet to be recognized by the Academy.

The last time a “Star Wars” movie was on screen (“Episode III”), the only nomination it picked up was from the makeup branch. Curiously, though, that was the only time a film from the franchise has been recognized here. Will “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” join it? Makeup department head Amanda Knight was previously nominated for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.”

Two box office disappointments are worth keeping an eye on as well; this branch is rarely phased by critical or popular appeal. “Pan,” to begin, may seem outwardly garish but it was a fun opportunity for the makeup team nevertheless, while the Wachowskis’ “Jupiter Ascending” became a playground to build otherworldly characters.

And finally, “Crimson Peak” department heads Cliona Furey and Jordan Samuel have been Emmy-recognized in the past, but they could pick up an Oscar notice if Guillermo del Toro’s gothic horror romance finds love in the crafts. In addition to the period work there’s also the director’s penchant for gore at play.

Other contenders to keep an eye on include “Concussion” (particularly for transforming actor David Morse into football star “Iron” Mike Webster), “Mr. Holmes” (aging Ian McKellen across a 30-year span), “Trumbo” (period-specific work and another character transformation), “The Big Short” (those wigs, though…) and “Southpaw” (the effects of boxing matches).

Keep track of the race all season long at the category’s dedicated Contenders page.

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