The Shape of Water (2017)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on March 7, 2018 @

Why did The Shape of Water win the Oscar as Best Picture?

Is it a niche film - for a specialized audience? Probably, but it also is the biggest money-making Best Picture since Argo (2012). Still, the word of mouth has been a dribble.

It may be most reminiscent of The Artist (2011), since it's a picture one has to make an effort to adjust to. The viewer has to allow the film to reach him or her.

The Shape of Water is a waterlogged fantasy. It's a wet dream of alienation and absurdity. It has its moments - and effective performances - but it often gushes over the top. And sentimentality - approaching hokum - is not absent.

Set in the early 1960s in Baltimore, The Shape of Water is a shimmering tale of the relationship between mousy Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and a scaly, humanoid sea creature (Doug Jones). He is an "asset" for the US government. kept in a tank of water, where he is studied, probed, and treated cruelly. He is from the Amazon. No, not - the other Amazon.

Sally is a mute who works with Zelda (Octavia Spencer) on the cleaning crew at the government laboratory facility. Overseeing the facility and its rare inhabitant is the glowering Strickland (Michael Shannon), an authoritative figure of malice.

In an early scene of Sally masturbating in a tub of water, we realize that she is a sexual being not a frigid one. But the act is brief, taking the duration of an egg timer.

As Sally and the creature develop a romantic relationship, the creature is threatened. Sally, Zelda, her next-door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), and a caring scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg) join in an attempt to save the "monster" from the real monster Strickland.

Violence ensues, and blood spatters. Will the creature survive? What will Sally do? And so flows the fairy tale.

A pod of Academy voters chose The Shape of Water as Best Picture.

The Shape of Water had its premiere in Los Angeles on November 15, 2017.

It went wide - released across the country - on December 22. That gave it precious headway.

A year before, Hidden Figures didn't open wide until the next year after its initial limited release. It had a limited Christmas day release. If Hidden Figures had the release strategy as The Shape of Water, it may well have won Best Picture over Moonlighting and La La Land. The Shape of Water had time to build up support; Hidden Figures didn't. But it became popular.

In recent years rarely does a film that wins the Best Picture Oscar become a classic. Many of the Best Pictures are soon forgotten. Does anyone really remember The Artist or Black Swan (2010)?

The last film that won the Oscar for Best Picture that is a classic was released more than ten years ago - No Country for Old Men, which was released in 2007.

It's doubtful that The Shape of Water will be a classic. Many critics think del Toro's best film is Pan's Labyrinth (2006). Pan's what?

So the question remains - why did The Shape of Water win Best Picture?

There are several reasons. The acting was exemplary. Sally Hawkins gave an emotional, sensitive performance as the mute but independent woman. At one point, when she uses vulgar sign language to Strickland, it's priceless.

I might use the same sign language to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for a moment in the Memoriam for film figures who died in 2017.There was one quick still of Jeanne Moreau, behind Eddie Vetter. No film clip. Jeanne Moreau played one of the best independent women in the history of film when she was Catherine in director Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962). She's a classic. But her photo was far in the background behind Eddie Vetter.

Maybe things haven't changed so much. It was the worst moment of the Oscars for me.

The acting was a strength in The Shape of Water. Although Shannon looked like he wanted to twirl a mustache.

Along with the talent expressed in The Shape of Water, the main theme of communication was a strength of the film. The power of communication and the obstacles to it are major elements in present society. A crucial song in the film is, "You'll Never Know," which seems relevant today.

But perhaps the major reason why The Shape of Water won is that it is directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, who was born and raised in Mexico.

Hollywood is vilified by conservatives for having liberal values. The people in Kansas are still recovering from The Wizard of Oz (1939). Hollywood is about commercialism - a Republican value, but it also is about creativity. And creative people are open to change.

The Shape of Water is Hollywood giving an imaginary finger to Trump and his folks.

Viva The Shape of Water.

© 2000-2019 Tony Macklin