It’s not over yet, my friends. We still have the preferential ballot to contend with. Before we get there, however, there are the BAFTAs and the Writers Guild awards to help point the way and perhaps clear up the picture. A lot of folks are already certain The Shape of Water will defy the SAG stat, which hasn’t failed since Braveheart. That is going to mean a lot of passionate support for the film across the board, not just as a favorite but as a second or third favorite too. There has to be a reason people support it. Passionate love isn’t good enough, as we’ve seen with last year’s La La Land, as we saw with The Revenant and Gravity in years past. What The Shape of Water has going for it that those films don’t is a solid screenplay, oft-nominated. If The Shape of Water wins the WGA for original screenplay that will be further evidence that it has more broad support heading into Oscar Night.
The Shape of Water, like Gravity and La La Land is also anchored by a strong female lead. The only other movie that comes close that won Picture and Director was The Artist. Though Berenice Bejo was in the supporting category, she really was more of a co-lead in the film. The Revenant was solidly male, which you’d think would have given it the advantage. But for whatever reason the vote that year was split up — possibly because so many voters turned out to like Mad Max: Fury Road a lot more than anyone expected, tipping the race in Spotlight’s favor. Spotlight ended up winning just two Oscars — Screenplay and Picture, up against two massive crafts-reliant films like Fury Road and The Revenant. It seems odd, doesn’t it?
That oddness is the best reason not to be too certain we have our slam dunk winner here. We don’t. The Revenant and La La Land won at the BAFTAS so even that won’t help us. They did not win at the WGA, however, so we’ll be watching to see if The Shape of Water does well there.
What I think is happening with the film is that some people didn’t watch it until they heard it had something to do with sex. Once they heard that, their curiosity was piqued and then it started winning consensus votes. But the SAG ensemble nominees, judging by Oscar history, seem to have the advantage when it comes to the preferential ballot. Since 2009, Best Director at the Globes and the DGA have matched 4 times. Only once did that film go on to win Best Picture, and that was Argo. The other three did not.
The trick will be figuring out if there’s going to be a split, how it will split and which smaller movie might benefit. These are all good movies so there isn’t much to complain about. But if it isn’t going to be The Shape of Water, it probably has to be either — here we go again, back to square one: Get Out, Lady Bird or Three Billboards.
But none of this should prevent anyone from celebrating how magnificent it is that we’ve had three Mexican filmmakers come to Hollywood, re-introduce filmgoers to magical realism, reshape the film industry by setting the bar higher for what the Academy might reward for Best Director. Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity, Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman and The Revenant and now Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water. What a new wave to be living through.
Tomorrow we’ll dig more deeply into the relationship between the DGA, the WGA and Best Picture in the era of the preferential ballot. But for now, good night Oscarwatchers.