Yesterday Guillermo del Toro‘s The Shape of Water won the Critics Choice award for Best Picture. CC picks don’t always mirror Academy preferences, but they have much of the time. That plus Shape‘s Golden Globe win last Sunday tells me that this erotically-tinged period fantasy fable is probably going to win the Best Picture Oscar.
A friend says “no way” because The Shape of Water has no SAG ensemble nomination, and is therefore a longer shot to win than Get Out. Okay but…but…but…Get Out can’t win the Best Picture Oscar…no! There’s also a possibility that both of these projections are wrong and that Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri will take it instead.
Two days ago it was apparent that Shape, Three Billboards and Jordan Peele‘s Get Out had become the leading soft default picks across the board. But Shape is the apparent darling. It’s softer, smoother and more sumptuous than the well-written, very finely performed Billboards, its closest competitor, and it’s apparently fated to overtake the politically correct support enjoyed by Jordan Peele‘s Get Out, which is either tied with Billboards or in third place — you tell me.
Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.
Accept it — a Best Picture Oscar for a very handsomely composed genre film about rapturous mercy sex with the Creature From the Love Lagoon might soon be placed alongside the statuettes for Birdman, Spotlight, The Hurt Locker, 12 Years A Slave, Platoon, The Godfather Part II, A Man For All Seasons and The Best Years of Our Lives in the Academy’s golden display case in the upstairs lobby. Probably. Maybe.
It will therefore cinch a hard-fought triumph over (a) one of the boldest, most avant garde and stunningly captured war films ever made, (b) the most emotionally affecting and transformational gay love story since Brokeback Mountain and probably of the 21st Century, and (c) one of the sharpest, punchiest and most fetchingly performed coming-of-age tales about a young woman at the start of her adult life, and in a year that obviously cries out for a top-tier woman-directed film and/or a female-centric story to be celebrated above all.
The reasons for Shape‘s possible victory: (a) it’s a lot warmer than Dunkirk and certainly warmer than the somewhat jagged-edged Three Billboards, (b) it isn’t dealing gay cards (which is a seeming disqualifier among older white male Academy members given that last year a meditative, under-stated gay movie won the Best Picture Oscar), (c) it’s an emotionally inviting fable with a Johnny Belinda-like lead performance from Sally Hawkins, and (d) you don’t have to believe in socially progressive largesse or be on the “woke” bandwagon — you just have to be susceptible.
My positive Telluride review of The Shape of Water was a bit mixed (I gave it the equivalent of an 8), but in my wildest and most cartwheely dreams back then, I never imagined it would win the Best Picture Oscar. It just didn’t seem to be “the type”, for one thing, but that’s one of the changes brought about by the newer, younger Academy members. Genre films (great sex with gill-man + a Larry Cohen-esque horror thriller about hypnosis and zombie slaves) are totally accepted these days as potential Best Picture material.
A critic friend: “You’re totally right on all of this. I guess it’s just Guillermo’s ‘time’, but how could anyone be profoundly moved by this movie? It’s all set design and in-your-face dazzle and a plastic-skinned facsimile of a ‘touching story.’ I do think, however, that Three Billboards could still win. It lines up so perfectly with this ‘woke’ moment, right? And I have to wonder: Will all those veteran Academy voters really go for The Shape of Water?
“On the other hand I think Shape is now coming on as the sort of ‘big’ Oscar movie that we all thought Dunkirk was going to be; it passes the test of being a ‘classical’ Big Picture winner.”
Another colleague: “As far as I can tell, Three Billboards is having a severe social media backlash, The Post didn’t nab a SAG or DGA nod, Dunkirk‘s lack of emotional resonance is splitting voters and Call Me By Your Name is just not lifting off.
“That leaves us with Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Get Out. The Academy wants to surely make another political statement. Del Toro’s film, although driven by a tremendous female performance, isn’t a statement. I thought this was the era where mostly-white, Hollywood ass-kissing, self-congratulatory Oscar winners (Argo, The Artist, Birdman) couldn’t win anymore. The academy membership has also changed, and there will be PLENTY of people voting politically instead of emotionally in the age of Trump. I think it’ll boil down to Get Out vs. Lady Bird.”
Forgive me if this sounds patchworky and inconclusive, but I’m just sorting through my thoughts this morning. I’m really surprised by what’s happened. I’m heartbroken that my personal favorites (the unquestionably brilliant Dunkirk, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird) have been elbowed aside, but life is sometimes unfair and we all have to roll with that.