‘The Shape of Water’ could win Oscars for Best Director and Cinematography, following 5 years of correlation

Guillermo del Toro has won all the major directing prizes so far for “The Shape of Water,” making him the clear frontrunner to win the Oscar for Best Director. Meanwhile, the film is predicted to lose Best Cinematography to “Blade Runner 2049,” according to the latest Gold Derby odds, despite a very clear correlation between the two categories over the last five years at the Oscars.

Del Toro is shaping up to be the Best Director winner at the Oscars, after winning at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards and most notably, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards. Yet, his cinematographer, Dan Laustsen, is ranked second among Gold Derby predictors for Best Cinematography, behind Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049”) Not only that, but Hoyte van Hoytema, cinematographer on “Dunkirk,” is almost tied with Laustsen. If del Toro were to win Best Director while “Blade Runner 2049” or “Dunkirk” won Best Cinematography, it would be the first split in these categories since 2011, when Michel Hazanavicius won the directing prize for “The Artist” and Robert Richardson won the cinematography trophy for “Hugo.”

Of course, Best Cinematography hasn’t always matched up with Best Director, like in the 2000s when they lined up just once — in 2008 for “Slumdog Millionaire.” We’ve seen in the 2010s, though, that it tends to be the biggest technical achievement that wins Best Director, and that typically comes with striking cinematography. “Life of Pi,” “Gravity,” “Birdman,” “The Revenant” and “La La Land” all feature showy, technically proficient work with their respective shots. “The Shape of Water” is not as undeniably impressive on a camerawork level, but there are enough memorable shots, like Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and the Asset (Doug Jones) suspended in water, their reunion at the movie theater and their dazzling musical number, that are strong enough to make an impression.

Another aspect that helps “The Shape of Water” in Best Cinematography is that frontrunner “Blade Runner 2049” is not a Best Picture nominee. The last time a non-BP nominee won the cinematography award was in 2006, ironically enough for “Pan’s Labyrinth,” another del Toro film. If a nominee in a technical category is also represented in Best Picture it traditionally helps its chances, considering more voters will have likely seen it and liked it.

SEE 2018 Oscar nominations: Full list of Academy Awards nominees in all 24 categories

Some have argued that Deakins’ overdue status, having 13 previous nominations and 13 losses, will help put him over the edge here but he has some disadvantages. For one, the name of the cinematographer is not on the official ballot, so some voters might not even know who is behind which film. Additionally, it may be well known among Oscar bloggers and cinephiles that Deakins has never won, but who knows if voters are even aware of his egregious record. His work in “Blade Runner 2049” is staggering, but will voters sit down to watch a 163-minute film that wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture?

This is where “Dunkirk” could benefit, which, like “The Shape of Water,” is nominated for Best Picture. The difficulty in capturing the war action in “Dunkirk” might be considered more impressive than “The Shape of Water,” which mostly takes place in contained spaces. At the same time, if voters are picking del Toro in Best Director, perhaps they aren’t as impressed by the proficiency of Christopher Nolan‘s work, which may extend to Hoytema as well. Either way, this is one of the most exciting Best Cinematography races in years, but the connection between director and cinematography might give “The Shape of Water” and Laustsen the edge to take it home.

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