Dallas Buyers Club might be one of the most atypical Makeup and Hairstyling nominees in some time. Robin Matthews and Adruitha Lee's work in the film is super subtle, never calling attention towards itself the way its two competitors do, but it is absolutely critical in tying together the physical transformations undergone by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. The toll their illnesses take on them is authentic and naturalistic, spread over the course of several years. I normally wouldn't expect such nuanced work to win, but as I noticed during the Critics Choice awards, every speech given by McConaughey and Leto this season has helped remind voters just how different they look in real life. The fact that the beloved film is nominated for Best Picture can only help.
But I wouldn't call this a lock for Dallas Buyers Club by any stretch. Flashback to 1994: both Schindler's List and Philadelphia (another AIDS drama with realistic disease makeup effects) are nominated for Best Makeup, but the highly respected dramas lose to a broad comedy that featured an elaborate character transformation, Mrs. Doubtfire. Analogous to that film in this year's race is Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, whose Stephen Prouty had the daunting task of designing old age makeup so realistic, that it could deceive innocent passers-by into believing that star Johnny Knoxville was actually a disgusting old man. Apparently it fooled enough people for them to have a movie, although I didn't find it entirely convincing (I suppose because as a viewer I already knew better). If voters are impressed enough by the gimmick, I could see a few of them ticking its box, but honestly, how many Academy members actually sat down and watched this movie?
You could make a similar argument against The Lone Ranger, which features elaborate work and old age effects (on Johnny Depp's ancient Tonto), but was such a critically derided box office bomb that it's hard to gauge just how widely viewed it is within the Academy. That said, what might give it a slight advantage over Bad Grandpa (and even Dallas Buyers Club) is the variety of the work. I was none too wowed by the aforementioned aging prosthetics on Johnny Depp, but many of the period designs of the hair and makeup were very well achieved by Gloria Pasqua-Casny and Oscar-winner Joel Harlow (Star Trek). The work on William Fichtner's Butch Cavendish was particularly striking to my mind. Maybe I'm a fool not to guess that the ubiquity of this makeup job will pull out a win over far subtler work, but methinks this is a year in which they just vote for the better movie.
Will win: Dallas Buyers Club
Runner-up: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Should win: Dallas Buyers Club
Should've been nominated: Rush