There are many strange (and usually wonderful) things about Cloud Atlas, but probably the biggest (also wonderful) disconnect for me was seeing all the various incarnations of Hugh Grant.
Grant is an actor who has been used in one very specific way throughout his entire career: a handsome and charming Englishman given to stumbling over his words and finding himself in delightfully awkward situations.
Suffice it to say that this does not match any of the six incarnations of Grant from Atlas. I would love to show you all of them here, but google images is not cooperating with me -- the movie probably hasn't been out long enough for any stills to be available other than those specifically selected by the studio's publicity team. And besides, part of the fun of seeing Cloud Atlas is trying to recognize who everyone is in each scene.
But here, how's this for starters?
Can't you just see him stammering? "I, well, I rather think that this makeup makes me look just beastly. I'm really a rather quiet fellow."
Obviously the award in this post's title does not exist, but there's an Oscar for which Cloud Atlas seems like a shoe-in: best makeup. This film is as brazen a display of makeup chutzpah as you are likely to see, probably ever, in a movie. Whether it all works or not is open to debate. But most of the dozen recurring actors play at least one different race or one different gender from their own, and even when they are their own race or gender they are not always recognizable. The closing credits offer us a glimpse of the roles essayed by each actor or actress, and the audience I watched with gasped in amazement during these revelations.
So yeah, even with movies like The Hobbit entering the discussion, Cloud Atlas seems likely to leave the rest of the field in the dust when it comes to the makeup category. And if not "best makeup," then at least "most makeup."
In fact, everything about Cloud Atlas is some kind of "most" -- most characters, most genres, most time periods, most different locations, just plain most ambitious. I like the comment by critic A.O. Scott: "This is by no means the best movie of the year, but it may be the most movie you can get for the price of a single ticket."
He's probably right about both, but I'll say only probably. The more I think about Cloud Atlas, the more it may scramble its way up that messy hillside toward greatness.