The Fish-Monster Sex Movie Will Not Be A Forgotten Best Picture

‘The Shape of Water’ was not the shocking victory some may have wanted, but it sure wasn’t “the safe choice.”
Shape Of Water Best Picture
By  · Published on March 5th, 2018

‘The Shape of Water’ was not the shocking victory some may have wanted, but it sure wasn’t “the safe choice.”

Going into the 90th Academy Awards, there was an idea — maybe even a hope — that the Best Picture race lacked a frontrunner. No one thought Darkest Hour or The Post was walking away with the Oscar, but there were a lot of dreams circling around Get Out or Lady Bird stealing the spotlight from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water

Gold Derby, the Oscar prediction site I always run to before placing my bets, had Three Billboards pegged to win. Meanwhile, others argued that the Academy’s reinstitution of the preferential ballot would actually put Dunkirk in the victory spot. But it looks like none of us quite understand how that process ultimately shakes out.

After last year’s rollicking #Envelopegate confusion, those few that bothered to tune into the Oscars yesterday we’re rewarded with a rather predictable event. The Shape of Water’s Best Picture win did not result in a furious online conversation like the Moonlight/La La Land rumble. If anything, Film Twitter is left fumbling with complicated feelings towards Guillermo del Toro, our greatest movie geek teddy bear.

Writing for NPR, Linda Holmes called the ceremony a “ho-hum night” in which The Shape of Water is “precisely the kind of film that often wins Oscars.” Holmes commends the film’s heart and its performances, but dismisses del Toro’s monstrous love affair when compared to the romantic weirdness of Phantom Thread or the “daring” of Get Out. An undramatic movie for an undramatic ceremony.

IndieWire’s senior film critic, David Ehrlich, cheekily slammed The Shape of Water on Twitter, a few days ahead of its glory, as a forgettable successor to The Artist.

Slate took that even further with their headline, “The Fish-Monster Sex Movie was a Disappointingly Safe Choice for Best Picture.” Author Aisha Harris saw this year’s Academy Awards burdened by meaning, and The Shape of Water failed to capture the political charge of the moment. Like Ehrlich, Harris deemed del Toro’s film as one of the lesser victories: “2018 seems to have found its King’s Speech or The Artist, the kind of likable winner that elicited little more than a shrug when — or if — you ever think back on it.” Ouch.

Is The Shape of Water’s interspecies romance too storybook for a year fueled by so much rage and disgust of the real-world crimes in our history? Eric Vespe, the entertainment writer for Rooster Teeth’s The Know, reminds us that you can love a film without trashing another.

The Shape of Water is the fourth time in five years where a Mexican filmmaker won the Best Director Oscar (del Toro’s compadres Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro G. Inarritu being the others, the latter twice in a row). That’s no insignificant fact in an era where our president won his office by promising to build a wall cutting us off from the country to the south. LA Times critic Jen Yamato expressed glee for the door being knocked down by del Toro’s victory.

To see the acceptance of del Toro’s weird obsessions by mainstream Hollywood is truly hopeful. Especially in a year where he stepped away from Universal Studios’s blundering Dark Universe by lavishly reworking his own Creature From The Black Lagoon fantasy. Del Toro cannot escape his own quirks, and for better or worse, his films have a distinct signature that will always put them above the average Oscar bait that Ehrlich and Harris are looking to label it as.

Our own Tomris Laffly took to Twitter to dismiss anyone calling The Shape of Water the safe choice.

Here is the first female-led Best Picture winner since Million Dollar Baby, and it aggressively challenges our notions of acceptable love. Is it also an obsessive love letter to cinema? Yeah, sure, ok. But don’t we all love movies?

Zeba Blay, the culture critic for The Huffington Post, reminds us that weirdo Fish-Monster sex stories can have as much on their mind as Get Out.

Let’s not ignore the fact that, with a domestic gross of $57.4 million, The Shape of Water also happens to be the top-grossing Best Picture winner of the last five years (Argo was our last top dog money-maker). That might not be Marvel money, but it shows a hunger in our population for the odd and the beautiful. We’re looking to our genre pictures for some cultural conversation, and we’re going to get more of them.

The Shape of Water won four out of its 13n nominations. There were no runaway hits this year, and that kept the love pretty evenly distributed amongst the films. The lack of any wins for Lady Bird is criminal, but Greta Gerwig will have several more chances up at bat with her potential Sacramento Quartet.

Speaking to the press after taking the Best Director statue, del Toro exclaimed the importance of exposing your own culture to the rest of the world:

“I think that every time that we can demonstrate in any forum, be it sports, science, art, culture, anywhere, what we have to bring to the world discourse, to the world’s conversation, is extremely important. And it’s extremely important when we do it to remember where we’re from because it’s honoring your roots, honoring your country.”

If anything, The Shape of Water is another win rejoicing in the connectivity of all cultures. The borders we’ve boxed ourselves in are coming down. The film is not concerned with tapping into our anger like a few of the other nominees. It’s ultimate message is one of hope and love. It’s cheesy and weird and begs us to look at our own cynicism. The Shape of Water is the culmination of everything del Toro has been concocting since Cronos. He deserves his prize as a realization of his dreams and the invitation it offers to the rest of us.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)