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'Wolfman' an Oscar contender?

Poor reviews don't stop these films from being Oscar contenders: Julie Taymor's The Tempest' (costume design); 'Wolfman' (makeup); 'Tron: Legacy' (sound editing).

January 26, 2011|By Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times
  • Benicio Del Toro stars in "The Wolfman."
Benicio Del Toro stars in "The Wolfman." (Universal Pictures )

The list of 2010 best picture nominations didn't offer a whole lot of surprises this year; but elsewhere — in other, perhaps less glamorous, below-the-line categories — there are some, well, counterintuitive titles in the mix.

The poorly reviewed "The Wolfman," directed by Joe Johnston, might not be the first picture that springs to mind as an Oscar contender. But the dark and hairy horror movie starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins won raves from academy voters for its achievement in makeup, executed by Oscar winner Rick Baker and Oscar nominee Dave Elsey.

"I like the movie," says "Wolfman" makeup designer Baker. "There were definitely problems with it, like any movie, but I was happy to do an old-fashioned monster movie."

Baker says the original 1941 "Wolf Man" film was what inspired him, at age 10, to go into the film business in the first place. "The [new] film was my love letter to the classic Universal horror films and Jack Pierce, who did the makeup."

Joseph Kosinski's "Tron: Legacy" wasn't roundly praised for its taut and insightful storytelling, though Daft Punk's original soundtrack was widely hailed in most corners; the film, which has grossed roughly $343 million worldwide, Tuesday got a nom for sound editing.

"Salt," starring Angelina Jolie, and "Unstoppable," pairing Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, were two of the other crowd-pleasing box office hits that scored nominations in the below-the-line categories, for sound mixing and sound editing, respectively.

On the websites Movie Review Intelligence and Metacritic — both sites that aggregate professional film critics reviews — Julie Taymor's "The Tempest" scored just a 47.8 and 43, respectively, compared with, say, "The Social Network," which weighed in at 94.4 and 95.

Still, Taymor's exotic production netted yet another nomination for veteran costume designer Sandy Powell, who won her most recent Oscar for 2009's "The Young Victoria."

"I saw it as a period movie" says Oscar nominee Colleen Atwood, who was nominated for her work on Tim Burton's lavish adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland" and will be competing against Powell and costume designers Antonella Cannarozzi ("I Am Love"), Jenny Beavan ("The King's Speech") and Mary Zophres ("True Grit") in the category.

"It's well designed from a makeup and costume standpoint," Atwood said of "Tempest." "It's a respectable film and deserves attention."

John Wilson, founder and self-described "head raspberry" of the Razzie Awards — an Oscar spoof ceremony honoring the worst achievements in film and held the night before the Oscars every year, says it's not the overall "rating" or review that matters when it comes to Academy Award nominations.

"It's the element they're paying attention to, whether or not it's deserving of the individual achievement," he said.

Wilson thinks Baker, who has a total of six Oscars, having earned his most recent for his makeup on 2000's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," is a serious contender to win again this year.

"The way the academy works, the members of each branch that work within a specific profession determine that [award]," he says. "And if you look at the creature in 'The Wolfman,' the makeup was impressive. If you ignore the script, the directing, the acting and the lighting, that element is worthy of note. 'Wolfman' might actually win an Oscar this year!"

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

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