The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Running Time: 123 minutes

With 13 Oscar Nominations, The Shape of Water is weird, wonderful, and one of the best films of the year.

Director Guillermo del Toro has said that the film was inspired by seeing Creature From the Black Lagoon as a 6-year-old boy in Mexico. And the movie, which is very adult, has a childlike sense of wonder and fantasy. Set in Baltimore during the paranoid early-’60s height of the Cold War, and painted in an eye-candy palette of greens (from vibrant aquamarine to jewel-like emerald to mossy olive and back again), the film stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a lonely mute cleaning woman who mops up at a top secret government lab where the U.S. military is housing an amphibious gilled creature that the Russians also want to get their mitts on (that’s the sinewy movie-monster maestro Doug Jones beneath the slime and scales).

Richard Jenkins is aces as Elisa’s closeted starving-artist neighbor. The same goes for Octavia Spencer as her loyal wisecracking co-worker. A gonzo Michael Shannon (is there any other kind?) smirks and snarls as the creature’s sadistic, cattle-prod-wielding jailer. And Michael Stuhlbarg does a lot with a little as the scientist who’s sympathetic to the misunderstood merman. But not as sympathetic as Elisa, who forms an unlikely intimacy with it. Hawkins, who was so good in Happy-Go-Lucky and Blue Jasmine, says more with her soulful eyes than she ever could with mere words.

If this all sounds bizarre, well, it is. But it’s also poignant, tender, funny, romantic, and flat-out breathtaking in its shoot-the-moon ambition. There’s even a Busby Berkeley dance-fantasia number! If you’re willing to go with this fishy fairy tale, The Shape of Water is a haunting sci-fi love story like nothing you’ve ever seen before — or dreamed that you ever wanted to see. It’s pure movie magic.

~~ Chris Nashawaty,