UPDATE: The film ended up winning and I couldn’t have been any happier that it did.
You know that old saying where we don’t care about the Oscars in regards to their effect on our opinions of the films that were either nominated or have won? It’s easy enough to say that, but we still make ourselves watch the ceremonies at least because of the hope we retain in ourselves that maybe something we love so dearly has indeed been nominated and has a chance at winning. But considering just how strong a year this has been looking at the Oscar contenders this year, with Lady Bird, Get Out, and Phantom Thread up in the running for Best Picture, it’s easy to be satisfied with any of them. But if I had to pick one film from all of these, I think that The Shape of Water would be my go-to. And without further ado, here are among the many reasons that not only do I think it would be a suitable winner, but why it is also my favourite film of 2017 while we’re at it.
1. It’s a Voice for the Oppressed
When you think about how the story adds up, it’s also a metaphor for challenging the oppressive authority in America during the 1960’s. But even today, there’s a calling card for people who have suffered at the hands of bigotry because of who this story is about. A mute woman played by Sally Hawkins, whose only friends are a black woman (Octavia Spencer) that translates her sign language to her employer and co-workers, and a closeted gay artist (Richard Jenkins) who serves as a father figure to her. On top of that, being directed by a Mexican as well as co-written by a woman, what this film captures perfectly is a sign of where times are headed.
2. It’s a Call for Genre Fare
How often is it that you hear about a romantic fantasy being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture? As a matter of fact, this is one of two genre films that are competing for the Best Picture Oscar tonight (the other being Jordan Peele’s Get Out). It’s been so easy to recognize genre bias in the Academy, because usually the films that end up winning Best Picture tend to be biopics with weighty inspirational themes and to say the least, they usually are executed in such a by-the-numbers manner. This year isn’t innocent of that, sadly, with the fact that the merely decent The Post and the rather atrocious Darkest Hour (whose leading star, Gary Oldman, is predictably the frontrunner for Best Actor). With the hefty number of films carrying such subject matter winning Best Picture, it’s so easy to forget the fact that they ended up winning Best Picture.
It’s also quite alarming when you consider the fact that only six horror films have ever been nominated for Best Picture (with this year’s Get Out being the sixth) and only one fantasy film has ever won the coveted award for as much as they continually dominate many of the technical categories (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). But given as these films have managed to find an everlasting impact on popular culture (think about how much we remember Spotlight from its Best Picture win as opposed to Mad Max: Fury Road, one of its rival nominees), it’s easy to say that a win for a film along these lines would prove itself encouraging for many aspiring filmmakers because it’ll make clear an open-mindedness that the Academy has in its 90 years of being around has shamefully lacked.
3. It’s a Love Letter for Movie Lovers
Beyond the fact that The Shape of Water is evidently influenced by classic monster films of the period, it’s also easy to make a connection to silent cinema coming forth from the fact that its lead character is mute. People are often quick to jump the gun and say that a win for The Shape of Water will be akin to the Best Picture win for 2011’s The Artist. But I felt about The Artist similarly to how I felt about 2016’s La La Land, both films are made with the eager nature to show that they love classic films but don’t quite have the necessary substance to make themselves feel distinctive.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what both films were trying to do, but I just think that Guillermo del Toro’s way of paying tribute to classic cinema is where it feels perfected. Sure, the story is in some way another Beauty and the Beast but given where the production of this had started, from Guillermo del Toro’s own idea of remaking Creature from the Black Lagoon from the perspective of the creature together with his own love for the setting of 1960’s America, it’s no coincidence that Guillermo del Toro would have made this as an ode to classic Hollywood (the inclusion of a black-and-white musical number near the ending would already have given that away). I can’t imagine how anyone whose love of cinema was fuelled by classics would want to miss out on seeing something this wonderful. Plus, it’s not hard to see the influence that has been laid on Sally Hawkins’s performance, who said herself that she was inspired by Charlie Chaplin, Audrey Hepburn, and Buster Keaton among a few.
4. It’s a Sign of the Times
A number of the most recent Best Picture nominees have achieved their own success from the empathy that they draw from the viewers about the experiences depicted on the screen. As shown from last year with Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea being up for Best Picture (with the former being the eventual winner), this year doesn’t seem much different especially when we have a film like this, Call Me by Your Name, or Lady Bird, or even Get Out for the matter being nominated for the coveted award. And given as emotional response is still an important factor as to the film’s lasting legacy, it’s easy to make a case as to why The Shape of Water further emphasizes why it will be remembered very well as a Best Picture winner.
I bring this point up because in an age where America has become so dismissive of the struggles of minority groups starting with the election of President Donald Trump, The Shape of Water is a film that fits perfectly within the current political climate – because of how it crafts a tale about finding humanity in the most unexpected places, starting off with the romance between Elisa and the Amphibian Man. Guillermo del Toro didn’t just reinvent Beauty and the Beast the way he would have wanted to with the creation of The Shape of Water, what he crafted was a beautiful tale about humanity and how we seek to move ahead in the future. I know it sounds very trite to be won over by a tale where empathy is the driving point, but The Shape of Water doesn’t ever strike me as being contrived in that sense; it’s absolutely moving. Like Elisa describes the creature, “When he looks at me, he doesn’t know that I am incomplete. He sees me as I am.” This is a film about seeing humanity as it is.
5. How Often Do Films Like This Come By?
Yes, I know that I’ve already mentioned it’s my favourite film of the year in the start. I think it’s worth repeating once again because it’s clear that Guillermo del Toro had indeed made The Shape of Water as his own passion project, because when he says that this is his favourite of the films that he has directed, it clearly shows. But let’s ask ourselves this, how often do we know a film like The Shape of Water will come by and be won over by the Academy? It’s the perfect counteraction towards today’s political climate because of the film’s own setting not feeling any different from what we know up close, and given as the film draws empathy towards those who continue to be silenced in a day where we would like to think we had gotten past such hatred.
Let’s ask ourselves, how often do we find films much like this coming by – acknowledging where our greatest pleasures at the cinema come forth from our emotional response to their climate? As a matter of fact, it comes from a monster movie of all places too, and we already know that Guillermo del Toro’s films have always kept room for him to express his love for monsters whether he be directing a big blockbuster like Hellboy or a dark fantasy in his native language like Pan’s Labyrinth. Even if it may not be my favourite of his films, what’s so easy to love about The Shape of Water for those who are fans of Guillermo del Toro is the fact that it carries all the best qualities of his past works – playing out like a modern fairy tale to be told for generations to come. We have monster films coming by every year, but how often one like The Shape of Water is the question I am asking you.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Fox Searchlight.