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‘Maestro’ may match ‘The Whale’ with Oscar wins for acting and makeup

Best Actor looks set to be one of the most intriguing Oscar races this year with Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”) and Leonardo DiCaprio (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) currently battling it out at the top of our odds chart in this category.

Colman Domingo (“Rustin”) and Paul Giamatti (“The Holdovers”) are also predicted to reap nominations but it is Bradley Cooper in third spot that makes things really interesting. Cooper stars as Leonard Bernstein in Netflix‘s “Maestro,” which he also produces, directs and co-writes. The Netflix feature, which opens on November 22, explores the complex marriage between the renowned composer and his wife Felicia Montealegre, who is played by Carey Mulligan. Mulligan is, as always, excellent, but Cooper has the transformative role here.

Makeup artist Kazu Hiro, also known as Kazuhiro Tsuji, turns him into Bernstein with astounding makeup and prosthetics. Cooper’s mannerisms, gestures, and vocal work prove add to his performance. The difference in intonation, tone, and pitch in his accent for young, middle-aged, and old Bernstein is just mesmerizing. The physical work, too, is equally impressive — be it the constant smoking and the way Bernstein lights and drags on a cigarette or that admirable dance sequence. It’s the best performance of Cooper’s career so far, and critics agree.

Fionnuala Hannigan (Screen Daily) observed: “All eyes are on Cooper who holds, like Bernstein, the audience in the palm of his hand… Cooper also nails the overwhelming charm of a man who “loved people”, and who never wanted to be alone – a grand seducer, a serial lover, unfaithful, hard to pin down… Cooper’s performance can only rival last year’s Oscar contender Cate Blanchett in Tar, and seems to be heading in the same direction).”

Owen Gleiberman (Variety) noted: “Bradley Cooper has a light in his eye — a glow of merriment and mischief, of gleeful cosmopolitan desire. His Lenny is a prodigy, a prankster, a seducer, a monk of creative devotion and, through it all, a man of epic contradiction. Cooper, as an actor, has always had a preternatural gleam. In “Maestro,” those eyes burn with delight, as he infuses Lenny with a giddy abandon that makes him a spectacle unto himself. He’s got so much life force he expects the whole world to revolve around it.”

David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter) opined: “There’s a sense of being high on his own genius in Cooper’s terrific performance, of a relentlessly driven artist so focused on his own needs and desires that any chaos he creates or unintended emotional hurt he inflicts are shrugged off with evasion or blithe dismissal. Bernstein is a man of enormous hubris, and Cooper walks a tricky line, never letting him become unsympathetic even at his most insensitive… Cooper captures the precision, the physicality and the ecstasy of Bernstein’s conducting in a plangent piece that ponders the continuation of life after death.”

So, Cooper is in third spot in our Best Actor odds chart, but could he win? Well, let’s first look at another category — Best  Makeup and Hairstyling. It’s unclear who exactly would be on the ballot for this potential nomination but Hiro and Vivian Baker are credited in the makeup team and they won the Oscar in 2020 for their work on “Bombshell” (alongside Anne Morgan). Hiro also won in 2018 for “Darkest Hour” and was nominated in 2007 for “Click” and 2008 for “Norbit.” Hiro is known for transforming actors into real-life icons and he does it again here — Cooper is unrecognizable as Bernstein. Our odds chart for this category isn’t yet up but this is sure to be a heavy, heavy favorite.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Actor make a powerful combination at the Oscars. “Darkest Hour” also won Best Actor for Gary Oldman, for example. “The Whale,” earlier this year, won both Oscars, too — Best Actor for Brendan Fraser and Best Makeup and Hairstyling for Adrien Morot, Judy Chin, and Annemarie Bradley. In 2014, “Dallas Buyers Club” won both awards, too, with Matthew McConaughey winning for acting and Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews for their makeup and hair work. Those are the three winners of Best Actor and Makeup and Hairstyling in recent times, but there have been many occasions where a film has won one of the awards but just missed out on the other.

In 2021, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” won Makeup and Hairstyling for Sergio López-Rivera, Mia Neal, and Jamika Wilson and almost won Best Actor for Chadwick Boseman (Anthony Hopkins won for “The Father”). In 2019, Christian Bale just missed out on Best Actor for “Vice” (Rami Malek won for “Bohemian Rhapsody”) but that biopic did win for its hair and makeup team: Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney. And, in 2020, Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor for “Joker,” which was nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling but couldn’t quite win. That award went to “Bombshell,” which was also nominated for Best Actress for Charlize Theron. There have also been plenty of films to be nominated in both categories and not win, including one from earlier this year: “Elvis” (Best Actor for Austin Butler and Best Hair and Makeup for Mark Coulier, Jason Baird, and Aldo Signoretti).

Best Makeup and Hairstyling seems like a sure thing for “Maestro,” while Cooper should be in with a great chance. He’s well overdue an Oscar win, the academy clearly admires him, and he ticks a lot of boxes for a Best Actor winner. He’s playing a real-life icon in a biopic, which we know the academy likes — Butler was nominated for “Elvis” this year, Will Smith won for “King Richard” last year, Oldman was nominated for “Mank” in 2021, and Malek won for “Bohemian Rhapsody” in 2019. It’s a transformative performance, which follows previous nominees and winners such as Fraser in “The Whale,” Butler in “Elvis,” Bale in “Vice” (2019), and Oldman in “Darkest Hour.”

Plus, the academy loves it when an actor puts in a lot of effort in their performances — whether that be donning an accent, undergoing an extensive physical transformation, or learning a new skill or language. Well, Cooper does all of that. Cooper himself was nominated for Best Actor in 2019 for “A Star is Born,” which involved him singing and playing the guitar. Here, Cooper not only plays the piano but conducts entire orchestras. It shows incredible commitment and artistry. Lots of actors have put in this sort of effort and found an Oscar nomination as a reward, including Butler for “Elvis,” Andrew Garfield for “Tick, Tick… Boom!” (2022), Riz Ahmed for “Sound of Metal” (2021), Willem Dafoe for “At Eternity’s Gate” (2019), and Daniel Day-Lewis for “Phantom Thread” (2018).

Cooper has reaped three Best Actor bids: “Silver Linings Playbook” in 2013, “American Sniper” in 2015, and “A Star is Born” in 2019. He’s also picked up a Best Supporting Actor nomination (for “American Hustle” in 2014) and a Best Adapted Screenplay bid (for “A Star is Born”). Surprisingly, the category he has received the most nominations in is Best Picture — with four so far. His first came in 2015 for “American Sniper” and he was nominated in 2019 for “A Star is Born,” which he also wrote and directed. He contended in 2020 for “Joker” and in 2022 for “Nightmare Alley.” “Joker” is the only one of the four Best Picture bids in which he did not appear.

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