Should Guillermo del Toro be a sure thing at the Oscars for ‘The Shape of Water’?

Directors Guild Awards 2018 Press Room

I’m not a Guillermo del Toro fanatic – I like him as a director just fine, and I think he deserves a lot of credit for plugging away and consistently staying true to his vision, his art. My point is that I don’t read much about del Toro, and so after I saw The Shape of Water this weekend, I read some reviews and analysis of the film and del Toro as a director. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the consensus is that his masterpiece film was Pan’s Labyrinth. I saw Pan’s Labyrinth years ago and I was blown away by the story and magic and the horror of it all. THAT is his vision come to life, and that was the film which should have won a slew of major awards (it did pick up three technical Oscars).

Well, I think what’s happening now around The Shape of Water is that thing that the Academy does all too often and all for the worse: they realize too late that they should have recognized a filmmaker’s greatest film, and so when he makes something else vaguely Oscar-worthy, they shower him with awards. It happens all the time with directors and actors and it sucks.

Anyway, these are photos of del Toro and Sally Hawkins at the Directors Guild of America Awards over the weekend. Del Toro picked up the big prize for The Shape of Water, just as he’s picked up the big prizes (director and picture gongs) at nearly every awards show. Am I being fair in saying that people are recognizing him more for his body of work – specifically Pan’s Labyrinth – rather than TSOW specifically? It feels harsh, but so is my review of the film…

SPOILERS for The Shape of Water.

I didn’t hate this film but I didn’t like it much either. It reminded me, strangely enough, of La La Land. I think it was the nostalgia, the old-fashioned twee-ness, the obsession with Golden Age Hollywood musicals and such. The problem with La La Land was that it was so saccharine and so, so WHITE. Now the Academy will award TSOW because LOOK, he’s a Mexican director and Octavia Spencer is in it, which means the voters think they’ll get Woke Points. Hint: you only get Woke Points if you vote for Get Out.

But really, this film is not del Toro’s best work. He telegraphs everything, and the allegorical nature of the story and the symbolism are just beat-you-over-the-head obvious. I figured how the film was going to end halfway through, and I rolled my eyes at several of the “emotional” scenes. Did I mention that an expressive mute woman has sex with a fish-man? She bangs a fish-man and then she explains how that happened sexually through sign language to Octavia’s character. Octavia played a stock “black best friend who is helpful to the white lead characters” role and she did it well. Michael Shannon plays the villain with scene-chewing fun. And Sally is good in a role which is just too, too twee.

Also: del Toro is the writer-director of TSOW. That’s how he’s listed, and he’s up for Original Screenplay. Except that the estate of writer Paul Zindel is now saying that del Toro openly plagiarized the story from Zindel’s Let Me Hear You Whisper. You can read more about that here.

Directors Guild Awards 2018 Press Room

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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51 Responses to “Should Guillermo del Toro be a sure thing at the Oscars for ‘The Shape of Water’?”

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  1. Valentina says:

    I personally loved the film. I’ll admit I have some bias though, as a disabled woman I don’t see anything close to myself being portrayed on film very often. To see a character that I (even in a small way) saw myself in be treated as capable, intelligent and sexual – and it not have it be some sort of a joke – I dunno, it meant a lot.

    Pan’s Labyrinth is his masterpiece though, that I agree with.

  2. Eve says:

    Yes, he should.

    • Lightpurple says:

      *waves and tosses chocolate to Eve*

      Yes, he definitely should. It is a beautiful film and there’s a lot more to direct/manage in a film like TSOW than in a Lady Bird or Get Out. Directing is not just telling the actors what to do but telling the cinematographer, the sound people, the set designers, the costume people, the special effects people, and the music people what to do too. TSOW scored nominations in so many categories and that reflects on GDT. Plus, I just love him.

  3. Juliette says:

    I adore this movie and Del Toro is really a sweet and nice man. All the cast is adorable.

  4. Una says:

    I love TSoW. It is my favorite movie of the year. The fact that Del Toro managed to make that movie under 20 million is amazing. But each to their own. But I resent the fact that in this review Get Out, a great movie with incredible script is trivialized into “the woke choice”. That takes away from Jordan Peele’s success. In fact that is straight up offensive to both movies. It is embrassing enough that “woke” is now used seriously, let’s not categorize movies like this.

    @Valentina I agree It is great that a woman with a disability is the lead in a movie. In fact you can call it “the woke choice” for disabled people.

    • Kata says:

      I have a question about Get Out – why is there an Asian man among all the white people? Is that accidental or is there some kind of message?

      • PPP says:

        I kind of took it as a comment on the fact that “model minorities” have access to white privilege as well (which, eeeeeehhh), or else that racism against black bodies isn’t just a white attitude.

      • Nik says:


        People of color can also perpetuate anti-blackness and uphold white supremacy.

        At a Klan rally a few months ago, there were Asian women there showing support. Just like there’s also black politicians (e.g. Ben Carson) who work for Trump. Of course it’s mostly white people who are the biggest culprits but Jordan Peele include the Asian mans as a reminder that People of Color can be active in racism amongst each other.

    • ALOT says:

      @Una … Yes to this comment.

  5. aenflex says:

    I mean, didn’t he basically steal the entire premise, down to specific details, from a deceased playwright? I like his work but this one seems unfair.

    • Jag says:

      From what I’ve read about it, he did. I don’t think he deserves an Oscar for taking someone else’s work and not getting permission to use it, nor giving credit.

    • Selena Castle says:

      Yeah, I was soooo disappointed when I heard that. I loved this movie and then to find out it is just a copy without any credit given… I hate that.

  6. Kata says:

    I kinda agree. The movie is visually incredible ( and if the world was fair Sally would win for Best Actress) but there was no nuance in it, it hammered the message a bit too strong.

  7. smee says:

    GdelT is an incredible director – I thought the Shape of Water was magical. I would LOVE it if Sally Hawkins won best actress. I thought casting her as the leading lady was genius – he had a non-conventional beauty as the (occasionally nude) lead – very pro-woman.

    I do agree that he should have won an Oscar Pan’s Lab – which is the Wizard of Oz for our times, imo.

    IF he loses it better be to Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread. I can’t stop thinking about that movie.

  8. OG Cleo says:

    So “twee” strictly means “exaggeratedly quaint or overly sentimental.” I agree that Emma Stone from “La La Land” could be categorized this way, but I really don’t understand how Elisa from “TSOW” could be? Is it because being kind and compassionate is a large part of her character? If it is, it’s very disappointing that that’s seen by some people as a negative. Because she also is portrayed as a healthily sexual being many times and shows enormous emotional strength and cunning when dealing with Michael Shannon.

  9. Coco says:

    I really, really wanted to like this movie but it felt the weakest of the best picture movies I’ve seen so far. Get Out is still my favorite because it’s stayed with me even though I saw it months ago.

  10. pwal says:

    I loved The Shape of Water. It kinda reminded me of Amelie, in that the protagonist was isolated due to a perceived defect. I loved how love and loyalty were treated in this movie.

    Should it win Best Picture? I don’t think so, but of the four contenders I’ve seen, it’s my second favorite.

  11. Lise says:

    Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. I see it every year and always find something new, a different meaning, a different interpretation of Ofelia and that bastard of Vidal. The Shape of Water is a great movie, it was touching the way Eliza explains her feelings in a world that doesn’t care for her at all.

    And yes, Del Toro deserves that freaking Oscar 😀

  12. Grant says:

    I so agree about The Shape of Water. I thought it was really rushed and glossed over so much potential back story.

  13. Margo S. says:

    I was just discussing this last week. They did this with scorcese for the departed. A mediocre film. This guy did Goodfellas!!! They are also going to do it for Rockwell and oldman this year. Both performances are alright, but the award is for the body of work. It’s bull ish.

  14. Tania says:

    I have seen every best picture nominee except Get Out. Not because I’m against it, but I don’t watch horror movies due to unresolved childhood trauma (I was made to watch a bunch of Jason films right when my Grandma died and I always associate the 2, she was one of the loves of my life).

    If someone can assure me that it’s not so much blood and gore and horror and more like the sixth sense, then I’ll definitely watch it.

    Saying that, I can see The Shape of Water winning out of the remaining pictures. I also liked 3 Billboards, and Dunkirk. Lady Bird, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour: they were either over-hyped and oversold or just boring to me, especially Lady Bird.

    • Kata says:

      I agree about Lady Bird. It’s a mediocre coming of age drama Hollywood is filled with – the performances elevate it.

      • amilu says:

        I thought Lady Bird and its performances were SO unworthy of the praise it has received.

      • Ally says:

        Love Greta Gerwig, but ditto.

      • seesittellit says:

        @Kata – I agree. It’s a nice small film and obviously the cast’s hearts were in it, but the performances were better than the script, especially Ronan – I think she is a marvelous actress who always totally inhabits a role and you never see the mechanics of it. I also think she has a lot of range. But the movie itself was small.

    • Lightpurple says:

      I hate the horror genre too but I was okay with Get Out. It’s more suspense and dread than gore. There is some violence at the end but it isn’t a slasher film. More Stepford Wives than Halloween with racism instead of misogyny.

    • deadnotsleeping says:

      It definitely isn’t a horror movie like Jason or Freddie. I put off watching it too because I’m not into horror movies and was never quite in the right mood for it.

      We watched it a few weekends ago and I wish I had seen it earlier. I liked it, but didn’t love it. I’ve heard so much praise for it that I think it’s almost impossible for it to live up to what I was expecting. I wish I had watched it in the theater when it first came out and i didn’t know much about it.

    • AnneC says:

      I hate horror films and overly violent movies (thanks but no thanks Mr. Tarantino) and I got through Get Out this weekend. I did watch it in pieces and that somehow keeps me calmer. It’s actually not that violent-I read an article that lists the violent parts and was prepared for them but it was fine. I really liked the film-I loved Key and Peele and there were some humorous touches in the movie. Now, I tried to watch Dunkirk last night and hated that. Just never ending (and kind of confusing) battles, bombing, drowning etc. No real character development or backstory. It was like a male fantasy of a movie-lots of war stuff and no icky women (just kidding). We’re seeing a panel of directors tonight at the Santa Barbara film festival with Peele, Gerwig, Nolan, Del Toro and Paul Thomas Anderson. Should be really interesting!

      • Eve says:

        @ Annec:

        “Now, I tried to watch Dunkirk last night and hated that. Just never ending (and kind of confusing) battles, bombing, drowning etc. No real character development or backstory. It was like a male fantasy of a movie-lots of war stuff and no icky women (just kidding).”

        That’s Christopher Nolan in a nutshell. One of the most overrated directors I’ve ever seen.

      • seesittellit says:

        Odd, I was deeply moved by “Dunkirk” and didn’t expect to be, as a rule I avoid war movies like the plague. I thought it had a kind of bleak beauty, and I liked that it had no big star turns in it, the historical events were the focal point. I thought the cinematography was breathtaking, especially the aerial stuff. I found the scene at the railroad station (spoiler alert!) when the exhausted soldiers finally get back to England, expecting to be reviled, and the old man is out there with tea, jam and bread, and blankets, muttering, “Well done, lads, well done,” very sad. I ordinarily don’t care for Nolan’s work (with the exception of Memento) but this time I thought he made a striking and innovative film. I think it merits at least some of the technical awards it is up for.

  15. Lala says:

    It’s been a VERY LONG TIME since I saw a movie that reminded me of why I LOVE cinema…and though it evoked “Amelie” and “La La Land”…I ADORED EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS MOVIE!!! When you can make the “bad guy”…three dimensional and give the audience a psychological and emotional understanding of that “bad guy”…which makes him…a good guy that has had to do bad things…THAT’S SOME ACTING/WRITING/DIRECTING for you…and that’s what the Academy Awards are supposed to be about…not to mention the cinematography…the fact that they gave all of the characters meaty story lines…the fact that I could watch a movie based WHOLLY on the background characters…and of course, the SUBLIME Sally Hawkins that I have been rooting for…FOR YEARS…as I am a Mike Leigh FANATIC…and Sally is one of his muses…I have no issue with him receiving an award for this movie!

  16. isabelle says:

    I’ve loved every single one of his films, even Crimson Peak. Seeing SOW this Friday. I’m still hoping Get Out miraculously pulls it off, as much as I love del Toro’s films, Get Out is the original film this year.

    • hmmm says:

      I have loved all his films too, even Pacific Rim. His films are visually opulent, always poetic, and heart centred. He is an artist , a poet and a genius. I want him to win everything. Going to see The Shape of Water this week; I almost never go to see films on the big screen anymore but he is the grand exception.

      • Eve says:

        Wait, what? “Even Pacific Rim”?

        HOW. DARE. YOU.

        Pacific Rim is one of my “happy places”. Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, the mecha robots, the flawless special effects, the sound mixing and editing, RON F*CKING PERLMAN and Ramin Djawadi’s soundtrack.

        Pacific Rim is nerdish PERFECTION.

      • lightpurple says:

        And BURN GORMAN!

  17. TyrantDestroyed says:

    Yeah he should. Directing as other comenters expressed before is more than telling actors what to do.

  18. Tig says:

    I enjoyed TSOW so much more than Phantom Thread. He really is a master at weaving visuals into the plot. Wouldn’t break my heart to see him win Best Director.

  19. Ally says:

    Yeah, I’m kind of skeeved out that he basically worked bestiality into a socially acceptable form in a mainstream movie. Hard pass.

    • Jussie says:

      Beauty & The Beast was the highest grossing film of 2017. He’s hardly charting new waters here.

    • seesittellit says:

      @Ally – as I mentioned in another post, the human/water being love story is sprinkled throughout European folklore and worked into ballets and operas. What’s the difference between this lonely woman falling in love with this aquatic being and the Little Mermaid falling in love with a human prince and getting rid of her tail to get to him even though her human legs are agonizingly painful to her?

    • Ally says:

      The way this is filmed is graphic and overt, not the magic metaphorical fluff of fairytales. But hey, just my opinion.

  20. browniecakes says:

    Kaiser- remember, he directed Hiddleston, Chastain and Mia W. in Crimson Peak? The “hey Chastain, why don’t you just destroy the keys or the box they go to?” movie. That wasn’t that long ago. Glad to see GdT has a hit with this one.

    • seesittellit says:

      @browniecakes – LOL – second that. I thought CP was the utter bottom, when I went to see it, people were laughing at the CGI ghosts. I had been looking forward to it for months, and I was so let down. TSOW is vastly better.

    • Ally says:

      Watched it on Netflix recently. Great imagery, no storytelling ability on display at all.

      Mostly had fun counting all the (better, standalone) tales thrown into GDT’s narrative blender.

  21. Bachmangrl says:

    My favourite film of the year is “Call Me By Your Name” and while it probably will not win best picture since in all likelihood TSOW will win, I am hoping at least James Ivory of Merchant-Ivory fame gets the award for best adapted screenplay since he never won for “Howard’s End” or “Remains of the Day” which are still overlooked and understated masterpieces.

    Having said that, I like GDT as a director and as a person. I loved Pan’s Labyrinth, Hell Boy I and II, Pacific Rim, Chronos. He really does have a very specific and unique artistic vision and I love the fact that he doesn’t shy away from his love of monster movie like the old Ray Harryhausen films. Guillermo del Toro will win, since the Academy sometimes gives the award for a complete body of work instead of one particular piece of work and in recent years the Academy seems to have a nostalgic fondness for films which bring back old, long-dead genres like “The Artist” (silent films) and “La La Land”(the Technicolor dance musical) so why not the 1950s monster movies?

    Watch someone make an Esther Williams swimming musical next year.

  22. aquarius64 says:

    Why don’t they re-name this movie “l Shagged the Creature from the Black Lagoon” ?

  23. Tanya says:

    I love The Shape of Water and saw it twice. But, comparing it to La La Land? No way.

  24. seesittellit says:

    I thought it was quite lovely, but the standout is Hawkins’ very touching performance – it brings the film up a level, I think. That said, I’m amazed how few people have noticed that it’s basically a non-comedy, darkly adult version of “Splash”. del Toro can be very self-indulgent, but I didn’t mind his self-consciousness here.

    FWIW, the human/water-being love story is an old one in European cultures: Ondine/Undine, The Little Mermaid, Dvorak’s opera Rusalka, the Gaelic “Silkie” legends. It’s not new ground at all.

  25. Fleur says:

    I’m so meh about the shape of water. I also think Pan’s Labyrinth was his best work. The nominations should have been for Blade Runner 2049.