Hollywood's big coverup: Facial hair makes award-season push
Time was when Clark Gable, Gregory Peck and Cary Grant were abiding icons of Hollywood glamor and timeless, masculine style. But in the lead-up to Academy Awards on March 7, a new style muse for the entertainment industry's alpha males has emerged: Grizzly Adams.
In recent weeks, during their jogs down the awards season's endless red carpets and triumphant poses with statutettes in hand, several Oscar front-runners have sported all manner of weird beards: from balbos to goatees, Vandykes to Fu Manchus, soul patches to full-on Gandalfs.
Blame it on looser grooming standards ushered in by the down economy or on an impulse to physically distance themselves from the characters they portray on-screen -- or simply the zeitgeisty embrace of the hipster beard as a handy signifier of nonconformity-conformity.
A close reading of these manly (yet still well-moisturized) men's facial thatches can shed light on this current bonfire of Hollywood vanities -- and answer the question on everyone's lips: Who will win the Oscar for best beard?
Christoph Waltz versus George Clooney. They play cleanshaven characters in "Inglourious Basterds" and "Up in the Air," respectively, but Waltz and Clooney have consistently sported neatly trimmed, salt-and-pepper topiaries soon after the films came out. The scruff makes Waltz look a little less Nazi, while Clooney only gets even more rakish. Advantage: Clooney.
Mark Boal versus Jason Reitman. They're not only nominated for the screenwriting Oscar (Reitman for adapted screenplay for "Up in the Air," Boal for original screenplay for "The Hurt Locker"), but each is nominated for best picture as one of their film's producers. Their wispy black scruffs suggest both youth (they're not quite old enough to have shag carpeting) and artistry ("I'm so busy creating, I didn't have time to shave this morning"). The long but carefully ungroomed hair only adds to the effect. Advantage: Reitman, because he also directed "Up in the Air."
Jeff Bridges versus the Geico Caveman. Unless he can be topped by Clooney's "Up in the Air" performance, Bridges seems certain to win the Oscar for lead actor for his portrayal of Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart." For his awards campaigning, Bridges has yet to pull out his Mach III and come clean. But the more we see him, the more we are reminded of another hirsute cowboy: the insurance company neanderthal, who, of course, isn't nominated for anything. Advantage: Bridges, because his dad's "Sea Hunt" lasted longer than Geico's "Cavemen."
Woody Harrelson versus William Hurt. Harrelson's casualty notification officer in "The Messenger" -- for which Harrelson is short-listed for supporting actor -- isn't seen sporting much hair above the neck. Instead, the former "Cheers" star reserves his iconic unshaven glory for the schlock thriller "2012," in which he plays a loopy prophet of doom. The unruly mat conjures recent images of William Hurt, who stopped by the Golden Globes looking like a member of some backcountry survivalist cult led by Salman Rushdie. Advantage: Harrelson, as he's actually nominated.
Zach Galifianakis versus Joaquin Phoenix. Sadly, "The Hangover" wasn't nominated for best picture, but we suspect had the field been expanded to 11 movies, it would have made the cut. Few actors have carried on-screen fuzz with as much gusto as Galifianakis, whose well-insulated mug (combined with the dark, oversized shades) seems eerily similar to the countenance of the is-this-all-a-prank? singing and talk show appearances by Joaquin Phoenix, who was, in fact, nominated for "Walk the Line." Advantage: tie.
-- Chris Lee and John Horn
Photo of Christoph Waltz taken by Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times; George Clooney: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times; Mark Boal: Glenn Koening / Los Angeles Times; Jason Reitman: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times; Jeff Bridges: Lorey Sebastian / Fox Searchlight; Caveman: Gale Adler / ABC; Woody Harrelson: Sony Pictures; William Hurt: USA Today; Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms in "The Hangover": Frank Masi / Warner Bros.; Joaquin Phoenix: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times.