The early favourite to win the time-honoured award, The Shape of Water has been a critical and box office success. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the fantasy-romance film stars English actress Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go-Lucky) and the Academy Award nominated Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Nocturnal Animals, Elvis & Nixon). Described by many as the best of del Toro’s decorated career, the film has a 92% rating on film aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes and an audience score of 78%. Importantly however, the flick has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from key critics including the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw who called it “visually ravishing”, “immersive cinema” and a “deep dive into a dream state, like a two-hour episode of The Twilight Zone written by Puccini”.
That all said, there is one mountain this film needs to climb in order to take out this award. Only one fantasy/sci-fi based movie in the history of the Oscars has taken out Best Picture (The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King in 2003). In that respect, questions are being asked whether an academy voting group that is renowned for its conservatism will consider it the cinematic masterpiece many are calling it.
For the record, The Shape of Water is currently hovering around the $2 mark, slipping slightly in betting after losing out to Three Billboards at the Golden Globes.
In every likelihood Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will go into Monday’s ceremony as the favourite to take out Best Picture. After taking out the Golden Globe, the dark-comedy/drama has become the film to beat and has seen its odds come into $1.70. Directed by Martin McDonagh and featuring powerful performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, it has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 92% and an audience score of 87%. Like The Shape of Water it has also garnered brilliant reviews from key critics with Bradshaw calling it “fiercely written” and a “stabbingly pleasurable tragicomedy”.
However, the criticisms that Three Billboards did receive from critics have been perhaps the most-fierce of all the nominated films. Amrou Al-Kadhi of The Independent (English newspaper) was particularly cutting describing it as an “offensive and insensitive piece of storytelling”. Furthermore, he believed the editing was “lazy” and the direction “unfocused and arrogant”. Although his opinion was not all that widely shared, he certainly wasn’t alone and there is no doubt a minor backlash (primarily through social media) has occurred in recent times. Although the chances of this spooking Academy members is unlikely, it must be said that some pundits believe it could be a faint possibility.
Not forgetting this is a nine-horse race, it may also be worth having a nibble on the crowd-pleasing coming-of-age movie Ladybird. A $9 outsider, it has an incredible 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (after 2918 reviews) and holds the record for staying at 100% for the most consecutive reviews (196). The film also took out the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy and has won countless plaudits for writer/director Greta Gerwig.
In a year the spotlight is being held up to so many in Hollywood, this fresh piece of cinema depicting strong female characters may just be the one to spring the upset.