Guillermo del Toro will be in the thick of the Oscar race with “The Shape of Water”

For some filmmakers, it always seems like just a matter of time until they create something that Academy voters fall head over heels in love with. Guillermo del Toro is certainly someone in that category. Even though Pan’s Labyrinth had been nominated for Oscars, del Toro seemed to still have a big player in him. Well, opening this week, we have it in The Shape of Water. Not just his most awards friendly movie to date, it’s likely going to be cited by many as among the best films of the year. As such, it’s most certainly a contender to reckon with.

The film is a fantasy drama/romance, essentially a hybrid tale as only del Toro could tell it. In fact, I’ll let IMDb describe it, since their description is pretty spot on: “An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.” That’s a solid set up for what’s to come, though it doesn’t take into account Elisa’s kind neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), the evil government agent in charge of the lab Strickland (Michael Shannon), or any of the surprises to come. The aforementioned del Toro co-writes with Vanessa Taylor and directs, while the rest of the cast includes Doug Jones, Nick Searcy, Michael Stuhlbarg, and more. Alexandre Desplat contributes another wonderful score, while the cinematography is by Dan Laustsen.

Personally, I think it’s been over hyped just a bit, but the flick is still really great. The acting is very strong, with (especially) Hawkins, Jenkins, and Jones really capturing your heart. The visuals are striking, the mood is compelling, and it just feels like something unique. There’s a sense of play on display that’s a real credit to del Toro. If Pan’s Labyrinth was his most personal work, with the Hellboy pictures his most commercial, this exists right in the middle, a sweet spot. In all likelihood, voters are going to go for this one in a bad way. It hits almost all the notes required to sway the Academy.

Awards wise, The Shape of Water potentially is going to do very well. The precursors haven’t paid attention to it yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Look for campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for del Toro), Best Actor (for Jones), Best Actress (for Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor (for Jenkins, Shannon, and Stuhlbarg), Best Supporting Actress (for Spencer), Best Original Screenplay (for del Toro and Taylor), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects. Picture, Director for del Toro, and Original Screenplay for del Toro and Taylor seem like safe bet nominations right now, with Hawkins in Actress likely too, though that category is a bloodbath. Stay tuned.

Starting on Friday, audiences in New York City will be the first public ones to witness The Shape of Water. Over the coming weeks, it’ll expand across the country, likely showing itself to be just as crowd pleasing as it was on the fall film festival circuit. The movie will thrill del Toro fans, but it also will gain him a whole bunch of new ones as well. It seems poised to become a heavily nominated film by Oscar, but that remains to be seen. Even if it’s somehow snubbed, this will stand out as one of the more creative and unique works of the year. Give it a shot and see what you think…

Be sure to check out The Shape of Water, opening in theaters this weekend and expanding in the weeks to come!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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