Will ‘Dune’ continue the Oscars’ long history of celebrating sci-fi/fantasy makeup and hairstyling

Gold Derby odds-makers are betting on Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” to clean up in the below-the-line categories – as of this writing it’s projected for six wins! – but one category where it might have some stiff competition is Best Makeup and Hairstyling. As I noted in my previous piece about the category, transforming actors for biopics has often led to Oscar gold, and yet there’s also plenty of historical precedent for the academy to pick a fantasy or science-fiction epic like “Dune,” which features exemplary work by Donald Mowat and his team of artists and stylists.

This year the Makeup category turns 40 years old, with hairstylists added as award recipients in 1993, and then hairstyling was added to the name of the category in 2012. But the very first competitive winner in the category, after a couple honorary awards (for 1964’s “7 Faces of Dr. Lao” and 1968’s “Planet of the Apes”), was Rick Baker for his work transforming David Naughton into a werewolf in John Landis’ 1981 comedy-horror classic “An American Werewolf in London.” That year the category only had two nominations.

The next year the Oscar went to Jean-Jacques Annaud’s prehistoric fantasy “Quest for Fire.” It beat a biopic: the makeup done for Ben Kingsley’s Oscar-winning performance as “Gandhi.” If you keep looking over the winners in the category over the next few years, other fantastical movies jump out, including David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” featuring some amazing makeup work done to metamorphosing star Jeff Goldblum; Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice”; and James Cameron‘s sci-fi blockbuster “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

In more recent years, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” J.J. Abrams’s “Star Trek,” and “The Wolfman” — the last of which was makeup genius Rick Baker’s seventh (!) victory in the category — were some of the winners. “Pan’s Labyrinth” and George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” almost 10 years later won the category in addition to other below-the-line awards. However, “Star Trek” and 2016’s winner, the superhero ensemble flick “Suicide Squad,” only won for their makeup and hair.

So clearly, Oscar voters are looking for different things when checking off their ballots from year to year. The last four winners in the Makeup and Hairstyling category have been biographical: “Darkest Hour,” “Vice,” “Bombshell,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” But then you have “Suicide Squad” before that, and from 2000 to 2010 only two of the 10 winners were biopics (“Frida” and “La Vie en Rose”).

Maybe the academy is changing to focus more on the transformative makeup work done to turn actors into real-life people vs. orcs, fauns, and other fantastical creatures. This year “Dune” has some stiff competition from a couple such biopics, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “House of Gucci.” But could “Dune’s” strength in many other below-the-line categories like Production Design, Visual Effects, and Original Score mean Oscar voters will merely check it in every category in which it’s nominated? It’s not unheard of (it happened with the aforementioned “Mad Max: Fury Road”), although in recent years we’ve seen more spreading of the wealth. Will Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic have to be satisfied with “just” six craft wins, or can it get Best Makeup and Hairstyling too?

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