(Shape of Wakka poster taken from this Twitter thread.)
Four thoughts about last night's Best Picture winner:
- Shape of Water’s wasn’t my favorite of the nine nominees last night because it’s basic elements are all taken from other well known movies so it didn’t feel very original. Even worse, it was pretty on the nose about it’s themes… But it was also well executed on a technical level and I like Guillermo Del Toro in general so I’m not against it winning.
Was it the “best picture of last year”? No, not even close. But it’s not an embarrassing pick for Best Picture, which is generally all you can ask for in:re the Oscars.
- That said, I feel pretty confident in predicting that as time goes on it will become a more and more embarrassing best picture pick. The problem is that it’s not the sort of movie that a broad audience is going to revisit over and over again so it will probably recede in the public’s memory. Meanwhile Get Out – which was both a more vital film and which is more directly relevant to the current moment – will probably only grow in stature as time passes because it’s more rewatchable and because it’s going to function as a time stamp for a specific moment in time. So in ten or fifteen years it’s going to be really inexplicable that Shape of Water triumphed over Get Out.
The comparison I would use is the 1980 Oscars, when Ordinary People beat Raging Bull. Ordinary People is a good, well crafted film about a serious subject. It shouldn't be an embarrassing winner in any way. But it has basically dropped off the face of the Earth; nobody ever talks about it anymore. Meanwhile, Raging Bull still endures and De Niro’s performance is still considered a high water mark of method acting. So the decision to give Ordinary People best picture over Raging Bull is defensible… but nonetheless it looks bad in retrospect.
- Ultimately I think that winning Best Picture is probably the worst thing that could have happened to Shape of Water, because if it had lost it would have comfortably settled into the reputation it deserves: it would have become a well respected cult film a la Pan’s Labyrinth. The only people who would have sought it out are people who are predisposed to like Guillermo Del Toro / Lagoon Monster movies and it’s good enough to please those people.
However, now that it has the mantle of “Best Picture” on it Shape of Water is going to be expected to live up to a higher standard and when it fails to clear that bar it will be seen as a let down. Now that movie is going to be on the radar of everyone who cares about the Oscars – and that’s a much bigger audience. Netflix just sent me a promotional email celebrating their 20th anniversary where they listed the most rented movies of each year from 1998 on – and a surprising number of years were dominated by Best Picture winners; the Hurt Locker couldn't beat Avatar in theaters but it beat it on DVD. I can only suspect that a lot of those Oscar-curious people are not going to get the appeal of a movie where a mute woman gets freaky with a fish man, and as more and more people watch Shape the more the aura of “….WTF” is going to grow and grow around it.
And again, that dynamic is only going to get worse over time and as the burden of having to be better than Get Out gets heavier and heavier. When I watched Driving Miss Daisy I thought it was ok; it wasn't my bag but I could see why academy members liked it. However, it’s basically impossible to watch that movie in a vacuum now; it’s main legacy is that it’s the (racist) film that beat (the not even nominated) Do The Right Thing for best picture. So when you watch Miss Daisy now you have to judge it in that context – and in that context it goes from “charming trifle” to “cringe worthy.”
So I suspect that as time passes Shape of Water is going to go from “slightly classied up monster movie” to “the silly fish man movie that inexplicably beat the best social satire of the last few decades for best picture because the academy is full of a bunch of dumb old white people who fall in love with every movie that celebrates the love of cinema, even if it’s just one scene where a merman looks at a movie screen in awe” – and that’s not a good look.
4. Still: it's going to age better than 3 Billboards.