The Shape of Water (2017, Guillermo del Toro)

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Evaluating a film based upon the awards it has won or is expected to win is, by its very nature, a dubious endeavor. The tastes of a particular organization or festival (especially one whose jury is reconfigured every year) are fickle and often unreliable in selecting the very best films in competition. But the case of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water presents a curious case. As the winner of the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival and an unabashedly romantic fantasy, it represents a sharp break with the winners of the past few years. The previous recipient of the prestigious award was a typically protracted, ascetic effort from Lav Diaz, and in general the tastes of the festival juries have tended towards the more extreme ends of the arthouse.

The Shape of Water, by contrast, lies as close to the mainstream as a film dedicated to an interspecies romance can. Set in early Cold War-era Baltimore, it follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a woman who works the cleaning night shift at a governmental research facility. Rendered mute as a child, her existence is simple but fulfilling, with companionship found in her fellow janitor Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her neighbor Giles (Richard Spencer), a closeted advertising artist. Into this cozy existence comes two distinctly separate, equally emblematic forces: an amphibian creature (Doug Jones) revered in the South American jungle as a god, with whom Elisa quickly develops a longing rapport and attraction born out of common loneliness, and Strickland (Michael Shannon), the authoritarian agent who discovered him.

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This Week at the Multiplex

CrimsonPeak_trailer

After ten days in Vancouver and another couple of weeks trying to recover from ten days in Vancouver, I’d fallen quite a bit behind on the early stages of autumn multiplex season, the time of year when superheroes and cartoons recede from Seattle Screens to be replaced by middling movies for grownups, long shot award hopefuls, and films that star actors people like me (old people) grew up with. So over three trips to the multiplex this past week, I caught up with five of the first wave of what will amount to the (self-proclaimed) best Hollywood has to offer in 2015. More of the same will follow between now and then end of January, when the stragglers of Oscar season will finally make their way onto Seattle Screens, but if the early returns are any indication, this is shaping up to be a solid year for the American cinema. And when you consider that it’s also a banner year for international film, the year in film 2015 is shaping up quite nicely indeed.

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