“Shape of Water”: Why it May Be the Film To Beat at the Oscars

“Shape of Water”: Why it May Be the Film To Beat at the Oscars

Sounds like we are campaigning this film? Caught in the act. We hoped for and predicted this outcome in our review of the 2017 Telluride Film Festival where Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” was a monster hit – as was the charming director himself. Del Toro won Best Director for the movie at the Golden Globes.Go here for Globe results. At the Critics’ Awards, “The Shape of Water” took Best Picture, Best Director, plus two other nods. And now for #3: Drumroll please, “The Shape of Water” also won top prize at the Producers Guild Award. Go here to read our review of Film Fest – which leads with “The Shape of Water.” So will this fairytale about a janitor and a merman have the happiest ending ever and win The Golden Statue (or several)? Cara Buckley weighs in for The Carpetbagger in The New York Times asking: “How Did ‘The Shape of Water’ Become the Film to Beat at the Oscars?”

And please note: “The Shape of Water” screens at Telluride’s Nugget Theatre starting this Friday, February 23.

Sally Hawkins as a mute janitor in “The Shape of Water.” Credit 20th Century Fox

This awards season has been all about hitting the zeitgeist, or at least that’s what the media, present company included, has been telling itself and you. Best picture nominees ought to tap into the #MeToo moment or, failing that, anxieties born in the age of Trump.

But is that narrative really true? And does it fully explain how a fairy tale about a janitor who hooks up with a fishman became the movie to beat?

The film, “The Shape of Water,” stars Sally Hawkins as a cleaning lady who falls for a merman held captive in a government lab, and leads the race with 13 Oscar nominations, more than any other movie. It has also scooped up key precursor awards that often culminate in Oscar gold — last weekend, the Directors Guild of America gave the filmmaker Guillermo del Toro its top prize, two weeks after the Producers Guild of America did the same.

That a fantasy film has made it this far is highly unusual. While some fantasy and sci-fi movies have been nominated for best picture (“Avatar,” “District 9,” “Inception” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”), with the exception of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” it is hard to name one that has gone all the way. Meanwhile, should Mr. del Toro nab best director, which is expected, it will mark the fourth time a Mexican filmmaker has done so in the last five years. ¡Viva Mexico!

The movie’s winning trajectory has had its bumps. “Shape” was not nominated for best ensemble performance at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and, as forecasters invariably note, no film since “Braveheart” (1995) has won the best picture Oscar without previously landing a SAG ensemble nomination.

But while the winner of the SAG ensemble prize was “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” presumably making it the stiffest competition facing “Shape,” the “Three Billboards” filmmaker, Martin McDonagh, did not get an Oscar nomination for best director, while Mr. del Toro did. Advantage, fishman.

The Bagger put the question of why “Shape” has surged to the fore to a handful of Hollywood insiders and academy voters, and received answers as varied as the colors of a merman’s scales.

Among the many thoughts: The film was not just beautifully made but also emotionally resonant. It was an elegant genre piece that said something new. Some thought its success was helped by admiration that industry folks harbor for Mr. del Toro; others saw the handiwork of masterful marketers and campaigners, who overcame a familiar plot. Some said the ardor the film elicited had nothing to do with the zeitgeist, and besides, academy members don’t think about such pedestrian matters when voting for best picture. Others said the film was totally plugged into the moment, with its story of a ragtag threesome of underdogs — a mute woman (who is sexually harassed), a black woman and a closeted gay artist — who work to save a demonized “other” from the man.

Michael Shamberg, an Oscar-nominated producer whose credits include “Erin Brockovich” and “The Big Chill,” is among the full-throated lovers of “The Shape of Water.” In a phone chat, Mr. Shamberg said the movie “hits every base of what filmmaking should do.”

“It’s well designed, well shot, well costumed, well acted, well made, and it moves you,” Mr. Shamberg said. “What this guy del Toro has done is say something very emotional about human connection and love using the vocabulary of genre. And that’s why people respond.”

Mr. Shamberg scoffed at the idea that academy voters “think meta about a film to send a message.” He added: “There’s no lens for Trump that anybody is voting through in this category. The Oscars do celebrate filmmaking, and it’s very rare that the best ones don’t win out.”

Dennis Rice, a marketing and distribution consultant who has worked at Miramax and Disney, said the fact that many people found “The Shape of Water” so moving helped explain why it is doing so well.

He also attributed its success to an ace marketing campaign, which, he wrote in an email, “focused on audiences’ emotional connection to the film and led people away from the film’s shortcomings, especially the derivative story,” which he described as “Beauty and the Beast” meets “Splash” meets “Creature From the Black Lagoon…”

Continue reading this great analysis here.

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