Reel Reviews: Oscar nominees hit local screens

By on January 31, 2018


‘The Shape of Water’

For those who have yet to see Best Picture nominee “The Shape of Water,” yes, the plot is as bizarre as you’ve heard. And it may just be weird enough to win an Oscar on March 4.

Sally Hawkins (“Maudie”) is Elisa Esposito, a cleaning lady at a top-secret government facility who generally keeps to herself and her routine. One day, agent Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon, “Elvis & Nixon”) brings in a strange, two-legged, homo-something, water creature he has captured in the Amazon. Unable to speak, Esposito uses taste, sight, and sound to communicate with the creature and eventually falls in love. This poses a problem when the creature is set up for termination for further scientific study and Esposito enlists the help of fellow cleaning crew member Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) and Soviet secret agent Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, TV’s “Fargo”). A plan is formulated to free the creature and the weird gets even weirder when the lifeform moves into Esposito’s apartment.

Divulging anymore of the plot would give the whole story away, but I must relate that this movie is a bit more erotic than I was expecting. “The Shape of Water” will appeal to science fiction fans as much as it will attract the hopeless romantics. The question is: is it enough?

Is “The Shape of Water” the next best picture? Although it has a strong chance against many of the nominees (admittedly, I’ve yet to see “The Post” and “Call Me by Your Name”) I don’t think anything will top “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” I’ve triumphed that picture for months, and I’m not backing down now. But, “The Shape of Water” has enough motion picture homage, deep storytelling, and societal clash to pull off a win, despite being a bit predictable. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if it won best picture; I’m just not putting all my chips down on a pair of flippers.

“The Shape of Water” stars Elisa Esposito, portraying a cleaning woman at a top secret government facility who falls in love with a humanoid creature of unknown origin.

‘Phantom Thread’

While on the subject of films close enough, yet falling just short, to be this year’s Best Picture winner, “Phantom Thread” is making its way through many theaters as the Academy Awards approach.

Led by a powerful performance by Best Actor shoe-in Daniel Day-Lewis,* “Phantom Thread” tells the tale of fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. The House of Woodcock outfits society’s elite, princesses to movie stars, under Reynolds’ delicate and articulate care. His is an art of regimented design, inspired by dedication and obedience fastened to his psyche by the memory of his mother and enabled by his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). Woodcock’s scheduled life is interrupted when he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a country waitress.

We grow comfortable and then uncomfortable with the relationship playing out before us. We empathize even if we don’t understand. What is the phantom thread? It is the thin filament connecting two people’s most personal qualities. Whether it be woven of love, envy, or sadness, the phantom thread binding two people together is strong only when the connection is shared. Alone it becomes a weakness.

Besides Day-Lewis’ contention for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, “Phantom Thread” rightly hold nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Manville, Best Original Score, Best Achievement in Costume Design (and why wouldn’t it?), Best Director for Paul Thomas Anderson, and the greatest honor, Motion Picture of the Year.

*I don’t care what the Globes had to say about Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” this is DDL’s last role…ever. That’s, like automatic for an Oscar, right?

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