Why ‘The Shape of Water’ Was Booted from the Best Makeup Oscar Shortlist

     May 19, 2020


The Shape of Water was one of my favorite films of 2017 for a number of reasons, but one of its most wow-worthy qualities was certainly the downright incredible creature design. Rolling into awards season that year, I figured the film would be a sure thing for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling nomination, but alas, The Shape of Water never even made the shortlist. 

I couldn’t come close to understanding why a snub like this might have happened, especially when that shortlist also included films like Bright and Ghost in the Shell. (Ultimately that shortlist was whittled down to Wonder, Darkest Hour and Victoria & Abdul, but hopefully you get my point.) In order to better understand why such a snub might have happened, I posed the question to special effects make-up wizard Greg Nicotero when he joined us for an episode of The Witching Hour, and while I am still mighty sore that The Shape of Water’s creature work didn’t get the love it deserved, his reasoning does make a lot of sense:


Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

“Well, it’s funny because there are unique rules that they have to abide by and one of them is that they don’t want shows that are augmented digitally. Listen, Mike Hill and the guys that actually built that suit did an amazing job, but because the eyes were digital and the blink was augmented, I do feel that that ultimately ends up being a bit of a grey area with make-up artists because you have to sit back and go, ‘Is that make-up or is it a visual effect? What exactly is it?’ And I know, for example, when they do these sort of bake-offs and they determine who’s gonna get the final nomination, they really don’t want to see make-ups that have been digital augmented because they want it to be solely the accomplishment of the make-up artists and the hairstylists.”

If that’s the sentiment of that branch of the Academy, then it totally makes sense why The Shape of Water could have been booted from the shortlist. As someone who isn’t in that line of work and adores the film? It’s tempting to demand that the folks voting for this honor embrace emerging technology at least a little bit more so we don’t get such egregious snubs as more inevitable advances change the industry, but I also do greatly respect the focus on the purity of their craft.


Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

We run into a similar issue with the push for performance capture artists to be eligible for acting honors. While Andy Serkis was downright incredible in the Planet of the Apes trilogy, it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly where his contributions end and the visual effects artists’ work begins. 

What do you think of The Shape of Water Oscar snub? Are the creature’s digital eyes enough of a reason to take him out of the running? Sound off in the comments below and do remember, this is only a small snippet of our full conversation with Nicotero. If you’d like to check out what he had to say about Glenn’s death on The Walking Dead, you can click right here, but for the rest of the conversation covering Creepshow, Scream, Predators, and so much more, keep an eye out for the full episode of The Witching Hour dropping on Friday, May 29th.

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