Guillermo del Toro won the best director Oscar for The Shape of Water, his sumptuous, sensual fairytale that is a Technicolor ode to outsiders. Del Toro began his speech by saying he was an immigrant, as are other Mexican directors and prior Oscar winners Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Inarritu.
For del Toro, it was his fourth nomination and first Academy Award for best director.
The Shape of Water had a leading 13 nominations at this year’s Academy Awards, including best picture, and del Toro was considered a front-runner for best director but faced a tight field of competitors whose wins would have also carried strong story lines.
He beat out Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) who would have been the first African-American to win the award and Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) who would have been the second woman in the Oscars 90 year history to win it. Other nominees were Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk) and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”).
“The Shape of Water” tells the story of a mute cleaning lady, Eliza (Sally Hawkins) who conspires with her gay friend and neighbor (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker (Octavia Spencer) to rescue a creature — a muscular merman — that is being held captive in a secret Cold War-era government laboratory.
Some mainstream movie goers were turned off by the film’s premise — a woman’s love affair with a fish-like monster — but the Academy awarded del Toro for creating a technical masterpiece that is an exceedingly dreamy movie imaginatively brought to life.
It is a love story between two voiceless creatures and a story of overlooked, second-class citizens who plot and succeed in an uprising.
It is also an homage to cinema, and del Toro manages to be both nostalgic for the feel of another era and also expose its nastiness.
Del Toro’s win marks the fourth time in five years that a Mexican director has walked away with the best director awards. Del Toro’s friends and countrymen Cuaron won for “Gravity” in 2013 and Inarritu won back-to-back Oscars for “Birdman” in 2014 and “The Revenant” in 2015.