The Shape Of Water (R)
The Shape of Water” is nominated for 13 Academy Awards, more than any other film this year and it’s the favorite to win Best Picture. And, while it has elements of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” director Guillermo del Toro has created a movie unlike anything you’ll see this year, or anything you’ve seen before.
It’s 1962 and Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute, works the overnight shift as a cleaner at a government research center. She lives a quiet life, watching black and white movies with her closeted gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and a friend at work, Zelda (Octavia Spencer). She is kind and contemplative, and lonely.
One day at work, Elisa and Zelda are assigned to clean up after an incident where a top secret “asset” is being held in a water tank, overseen by our obvious villain, Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon). Elisa sees the sea creature (Doug Jones) and connects with him/it during secret lunchtime visits.
At first you think this will never work or even ewww, but after seeing them together, you’re totally rooting for these crazy kids.
That’s because Hawkins is perfect in a beautiful, wordless performance. “The Shape of Water” would not work if you didn’t believe in Elisa’s affection for the creature. She conveys everything through her eyes, her face, even her hands. She convinces her friends to go along with a dangerous plot, again without benefit of words. Jenkins delivers a wonderful (also Oscar-nominated) turn as a man whose life is reenergized by Elisa and her discovery. Spencer is also nominated for her solid, if not exceptional work. Shannon is no stranger to playing the bad guy and he is certainly bad here. But boy is he good at being bad.
However, you’re here for del Toro’s vision and storytelling. The director’s 1962 Baltimore is bursting with era-appropriate detail. He fills the screen with blues and greens and lots of water. The story is focused on the interspecies relationship but also touches on homophobia, sexism and racism, and thoroughly embraces its Cold War setting. Let’s just say the creature is the least threatening of the monsters in this movie, well most of the time.
“The Shape of Water” is enthralling, but I could do without del Toro’s need to include violence and gore, which had me covering my eyes two or three times. For me, the revelation again is Hawkins. Hers is my favorite performance of the entire year, and while she is not the favorite to win the Best Actress Oscar, she is now my favorite. Hawkins and “The Shape of Water” are mesmerizing.
The Shape of Water: 5 Stars
The Post (PG-13)
Stephen Spielberg’s “The Post” is set in 1971, when The Washington Post risked everything to publish classified documents known as The Pentagon Papers. However, the director doesn’t hesitate to remind us that this battle of the government versus the free press is more than relevant today.
Nixon’s administration had already shut down The New York Times for publishing excerpts from the leaked documents, claiming doing so was a threat to national security. When a reporter from The Post (Bob Odenkirk) gets his hand on the documents, does the paper risk it all or protect itself?
Tom Hanks plays the brash and brilliant editor Ben Bradlee, who strives to up the reputation of his paper and is tired of being scooped by The Times. His publisher is Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) who inherits the job when her husband dies. She’s in the process of taking The Post public just as Bradlee gets his hands on The Papers, which if published could imperil the stock offering.
Spielberg takes us from the bustling, chaotic newsroom where reporters actually type and wait for phone calls and couriers, to the perfectly appointed dining rooms at the parties Graham seems to constantly attend. And can I just say that only Maggie Smith could work a sweeping caftan the way that Streep can.
Graham has more to lose than anyone else at the paper does yet many times the men around her either try to speak for her or leave her out of crucial decisions. In the biggest non-news story of the year, Streep is great here, earning her 400th Oscar nomination. Only an actress of her caliber, which basically means only Streep, could make pondering so fascinating and Graham has to ponder a lot. She is cool, feisty, and feminine, but tough when she needs to be, holding her own against the bores in the boardroom and Hanks’ hard-charging Bradlee.
Spielberg keeps the story moving and balances the suspense with humor, and some really cool shots of the printing press. Seriously, he literally makes ink drying interesting. “The Post” is a history lesson and a cautionary tale and thanks to Spielberg, Streep and Hanks, a terrific movie.
The Post: 4 Stars