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How The Shape of Water, a romance between a mute woman and a fish-man, could win Best Picture – Politics, News, Polls, Economy, Wellbeing, and World
How The Shape of Water, a romance between a mute woman and a fish-man, could win Best Picture

By Alissa Wilkinson

The Shape of Water win it all?” data-portal-copyright=”20th Century Fox” data-has-syndication-rights=”1″ data-focal-region=”x1:886,y1:162,×2:1210,y2:486″ src=”https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/l9erzGGfO-6PIgrKmVxJJ5GN2Bw=/317×0:1780×1097/400×300/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/58853683/shapecover.0.jpg”>

Our critics roundtable discusses the Oscar chances for Guillermo del Toro’s watery fantasy-romance.

Each year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences nominates between five and 10 movies to compete for Best Picture trophy at the Oscars — its most prestigious award, and the one given out at the very end of the night. What “best picture” really means is a little fuzzy, but the most accurate way of characterizing it might be that it indicates how Hollywood wants to remember the past year in film.

The Best Picture winner, in other words, is the movie that represents the film industry in America, what it’s capable of, and how it sees itself at a specific point in time.

So when we look at the nominee slate for any given year, we’re essentially looking at a list of possibilities for the way Hollywood will ultimately characterize the previous 12 months in film. And one thing that’s definitely true about the nine Best Picture nominees from 2017 is that they exhibit a lot of variety.

There are genre films and art films, horror films and history films, romances and tragicomedies. And thinking about what the Academy voters — as well as audiences and critics — found enticing about them helps us better understand both Hollywood and what we were looking for at the movies more broadly this year.

In the runup to the Oscars, Vox’s culture staff decided to take a look at each of the nine Best Picture nominees in turn. What made this film appealing to Academy voters? What makes it emblematic of the year? And should it win?

In this installment, we talk about Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, a lush fantasy-romance between a mute woman and a fish-man. The film is one of the favorites for Best Picture, after raking in acclaim all season and picking up the most nominations of any film at the Oscars.

Alissa Wilkinson: I am surprised by how much I loved The Shape of Water. I’m not usually a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro’s movies, and this one feels like it embodies many of the issues I have with them: a moderately underdeveloped mythology (by design, of course, but it often frustrates me), characters who veer toward caricature, and themes that sometimes seem a little too obvious.

But man, I just loved this movie. I thought for a while that I may have just been in the right headspace for it — the slight delirium that hits around day four of a very intense film festival — so I went back to see it a few months later, and I had the same reaction.

This movie gets me right in the gut. It’s beautiful to look at, its caricatures somehow work for me, and I find its central romance, a story of two creatures who are so totally unlike one another that they somehow are the same, moving. I walked out and was certain it would at least be nominated for Best Picture. (Del Toro has been picking up Best Director awards and is up for the Best Director Oscar as well.)

There’s a lot going on in this film. What do you think attracted the Academy voters to it? Why have people (critics and audiences alike) responded so strongly to it? What is it about The Shape of Water that landed it in the list of Best Picture nominees?

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water20th Century Fox
Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water.

Todd VanDerWerff: I had a similar reaction to you, Alissa. While I tend to like del Toro’s movies (both The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth are big favorites of mine, and there are very few del Toro movies I outright dislike), I wasn’t expecting to love something this slight as much as I did. Something about it feels like a magic trick, like if I think about it too hard, it will ruin the fun. But thinking about it too hard is what they pay us to do, so I’ll roll up my sleeves.

Some might find it mildly baffling that the Academy embraced a movie about a romance between a woman and a fish-man to the tune of 13 nominations (and a very, very, very tentative status as the “favorite” for Best Picture). I did when I first heard the buzz about the film. But pull aside the immediate premise and The Shape of Water reveals itself as three things the Oscars love: a swooning love story, a story about how bad prejudice was in some bygone era, and a tribute to the magic of the movies. Seen in that light, how could it not get 13 nominations?

Truth be told, I find the love story just a touch underdeveloped; del Toro dispatches with most of it in a montage of his heroine, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), feeding the fish-man (Doug Jones) hard-boiled egg after hard-boiled egg. When it’s confirmed that the two have fallen for each other, you can feel the strain just a bit. But del Toro and co-screenwriter Vanessa Taylor advance the love story so rapidly for a purpose: They need to get the fish-man out of government custody and into Elisa’s apartment, where their crush can blossom into something more real. And it’s here that the movie really works for me.

Something I think is a little underrated about del Toro is how smart he is at both casting and knowing how much of the load of his fantastical premises each individual actor can bear. He knows that Jones, his longtime collaborator, can somehow emote beautifully from beneath a rubber costume, and he knows that Richard Jenkins (nominated …read more

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