THE Best Picture: “The Shape of Water (2017)”

By Christian DiMartino

Alright, so for the next month or so, on every Saturday and Sunday until Oscar Sunday (April 25th), I’m going to discuss random movies that happened to nab the Best Picture Oscar, and I’ll dive into whether or not these movies were actually worthy/ what their competition looked like. Some of these choices were right on the money… others raised a few eyebrows. In any case, I thought this would be a little fun and a nice little stroll down memory lane… or, well, I’d have fun.

First on “THE Best Picture” segment is one that is still fairly fresh in our minds, Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous The Shape of Water. Del Toro’s film is set in the 1950s, I think, and follows a mute janitor named Elisa (Sally Hawkins, in a brilliant, Oscar nominated tour de force). Elisa works at a top secret research facility, and when she isn’t alone masturbating in a bath tub, she spends time confiding in her friends- Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a co-worker, and Giles (Richard Jenkins), a repressed homosexual. At said facility comes something that changes her life entirely though. That is, the arrival of a top-secret fish man discovered within one of the rivers (Mississippi, I think). Elisa lays eyes upon the fish man and feels an immediate connection. She also senses a vast mistreatment, and hatches a plan with her friends to save the fish man. Yet she realizes that the connection that she has for the fish man cuts deeper than just friendship; she finds that her and the fish man have a love that can even conquer Michael Shannon, who I’m sure is terrifying even in person.

It sounds like I’m poking fun. Well, keep in mind that the Academy must have a decent beastiality policy… again, a joke (if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Yet you’ll also acknowledge other adjectives used to describe The Shape of Water, such as “gorgeous” and “tour de force.” Yes, this is all true. The Shape of Water is a gorgeous film- Del Toro is a true artist and his visionary attention to detail bursts off of the screen. I mean, look at that cinematography, that production design. It all dazzles the eye. The film is also pretty entertaining… I mean, you sell your movie by saying, “woman sleeps with fish man,” chances are, people will want to see it out of, at least, morbid curiosity. It also helps though that Del Toro got some really strong performances out of this. Hawkins does her best work here, in a performance that is tricky- people might think that playing a mute can be easy, yet look at the facial expressions and genuine emotions she’s able to convey. Jenkins and Spencer were also nominated too- both very enjoyable performances, but Spencer’s wasn’t too much of a stretch. That said, she’s a treasure.

Del Toro’s The Shape of Water would nab 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Score, and Production Design. It is a really good film and that’s never something I’d dispute… but I’ve never quite thought it was a great one, nor did I think it deserved a single Oscar it won. Seems very bipolar of me, I’m aware, but to add to the bipolar-ness, I was angrier about this film winning Best Picture than I was about Green Book winning Best Picture, and I like this more than Green Book. So, what exactly is my damage? Well, it all depends on the year, sometimes.

See, when Moonlight won Best Picture over La La Land, it was a stunner, for sure, yet if you’ve seen both movies… it’s pretty difficult to really be upset, because they’re both amazing in their own ways. Last year’s Best Picture winner, Parasite, wasn’t my top choice, but it’s an awesome movie, so it’s difficult to fight against. The Shape of Water was my 7th favorite, of 9 nominees, and it would be one thing if each of those movies were at least on the same level, but no. They were all significantly better. In fact, The Shape of Water didn’t even make my list of the 10 best movies of the year. There is a lot of bashing here, and keep in mind, the movie is really good. Yet it isn’t quite great, and its key flaw is that it’s always been difficult to warm up to a fish man. The fish man might be likable, but he isn’t cute or loveable, like, say, E.T., so it’s kind difficult to care about what happens to him because it’s not like the fish man can speak for himself. The Shape of Water tells a sweet story, and Del Toro tells it very well and it is very well crafted, but it never affected me quite as much as I wanted it to.

So, what was better than The Shape of Water? Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the obvious choice. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was right behind it; Paul Thomas Anderson’s weirdly romantic Phantom Thread was a strange delight; Luca Guadnignio’s Call Me By Your Name was quite the beaut; Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird was a lovely indie instant classic; and Jordan Peele’s Get Out was also an instant classic, and a wonderfully original one. Not to say that the sexual relations between a mute and fish man isn’t original, but it lacks the impact of some of the aforementioned films.

Certainly, The Shape of Water isn’t the worst film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Far from it, considering it’s actually really good. Yet the competition that year was so jam-packed, it just wasn’t quite up to snuff. Aside from Best Picture, I do understand the Oscars that it won, even if it didn’t deserve them. It just makes me wonder though: what was it about this film that resonated so deeply with Academy members? Was it pretty pictures? Was it the overall craft? My guess is, it’s what Del Toro was selling along; that people should love who they want to love, and that that love conquers all. The “Best Picture?” No, but a really good one.

The Shape of Water: A-

Best Picture

Did Win: The Shape of Water

Should’ve Won: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director

Did Win: Del Toro

Should’ve Won: Christopher Nolan- Dunkirk

Best Actor

Did Win: Gary Oldman- Darkest Hour

Should’ve Won: Oldman, or Timothee Chalamet- Call Me By Your Name

Best Actress

Did Win: Frances McDormand- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should’ve Won: McDormand

Best Supporting Actress

Did Win: Allison Janney- I, Tonya

Should’ve Won: Janney or Laurie Metcalf- Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor

Did Win: Sam Rockwell- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should’ve Won: Rockwell

Best Original Screenplay

Did Win: Get Out

Should’ve Won: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (but… hard to top Get Out in terms of originality)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Did Win: Call Me By Your Name

Should’ve Won: Call Me By Your Name

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