Oscar Bait – The Shape of Water / Lady Bird

Happy Acadamy Award season y’all. For the first time in years I will not be staying up to watch the Oscars live… since I will be in Singapore! Now, those posts won’t be going up for another six or seven months, stay tuned for those, so let’s get started with the first of this week’s Best Picture nominees.

This year, I thought it would be fun to publish these films in pairs – the first being a film I was eagerly awaiting to see and the second being a film that I only saw because of awards season. With this being the first of the posts, I am starting with the film I was most looking forward to seeing.

Title: The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Year: 2017
Country: USA

Watching Pan’s Labyrinth in the cinema was one of those movie-going experiences that has remained with me. It is 12 years later and I still haven’t gotten up the courage to put myself through that it again… also just thinking of The Pale Man is enough to give be the heebies.

Still, the seed was planted and I have been awaiting for the next great Guillermo Del Toro film, finding enjoyment in his Hellboy films in the mean time. From the early buzz alone, I knew that The Shape of Water was going to be special. I mean, a dark romantic story between a mute woman and the creature from the Black Lagoon starring Sally Hawkins and Ocatvia Spencer? Someone sign me up.

Little did I know just how much I would love this film. Somehow Del Toro is able to make Baltimore and a secret government laboratory feel magical and surreal. Given his work on Hellboy II it’s little wonder that he can pull this off, but it feels on a completely different level here. The excellent score provided by Alexandre Desplat’s score helps to further highlight this (much like he did with his work for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel).

How can I talk about this movie without mentioning Doug Jones as the creature. Performances like his, and Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings, never get the plaudits they deserve and yet The Shape of Water would be dead in the water (excuse the pun) without it. The make-up job on the creature is one thing, but Doug Jones needs to get us to love him despite the fact that he ends up eating a live cat!

Finally, you have Sally Hawkins in a career best performance as Eliza – the mute cleaner who falls for the creature (I am reluctant to use the term monster because of how you fall for him). Without the spoken word available to her, she is able to deliver an exceptionally engaging and emotive (whilst not being over the top, like in the days of silent movies) performance where she is able to make your heart soar before slowly breaking it.

So yes, in any other year The Shape of Water would definitely stand out as the film to beat. But 2018 is a remarkably strong year for nominees.

Title: Lady Bird
Director: Greta Gerwig
Year: 2017
Country: USA

So occupying the second slot is Lady Bird – mainly because the trailer I saw made this look like a fairly typical (and beautifully shot) coming-of-age comedy about a misfit girl finding love and finding herself. Aaaaaaand that’s pretty much what this film is. Except that it’s a well made film with yet another exceptional performance from Saorise Ronan and an emotional turn by Laurie Metcalf.

Look, I am underselling this, but with a score of 94% on Metacritic it feels like a lot of this went over my head. Then again my experience of being a guy who has no idea about what it’s like to be in an American high school means that I don’t get a lot of this. Also, I know I taught in a Catholic school… but it didn’t have nuns and priests as teachers.

There were some real laugh-out-loud moments… however I wish that I didn’t see all the beats coming. I don’t know if I’ve just seen a lot of high school films (very possible) which ruins some of the reveals, but at least they were done well. Also, it’s nice to see Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet in the first of their two big roles of the year.

Now, unlike last year, I have opted to not do any rankings until the final nominee post of the year. With a lot of these films being written up in retrospect, I know just how difficult the final ranking choice is going to be amongst the top 4. Lady Bird doesn’t rank among them, but that’s just my opinion.


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