‘The Shape of Water’: Guillermo Del Toro fantasy showcases Oscar hopeful Sally Hawkins at Venice Film Festival

The rapturous reception to Guillermo Del Toro‘s “The Shape of Water” at the Venice Film Festival establishes both the writer/director and his star, Sally Hawkins, as firm favorites at the Oscars. In this fantasy film, Hawkins plays a mute woman who communicates through sign language. She gets a job cleaning a government laboratory where she encounters a humanoid aquatic creature (Doug Jones, who played multiple creatures in Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”) who is the subject of scientific research and testing. The film also features Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) as Elisa’s co-worker, plus Oscar nominees Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”) and Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road,” “Nocturnal Animals“).

Fox Searchlight describers the film as an “otherworldly fairy tale.” While that doesn’t sound like  usual Academy Awards fare, remember that another such film by Del Toro, “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), won three of its six Oscar bids. Those wins came for cinematography, production design, makeup, all of which critics made special mention of when reviewing “The Shape of Water.”

Below, just a sampling of the rave reviews for “The Shape of Water.” After reading these excerpts, be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.

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Guy Lodge (Variety): “Guillermo Del Toro is on peak form with this tender, ravishingly imagined romantic fantasy, headlined by an extraordinary Sally Hawkins.”

David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter): “The new picture, by contrast to ‘Crimson Peak,’ applies Paul Denham Austerberry’s dazzling production design and Dan Laustsen’s graceful cinematography to a poignant story in which good and evil are represented in richly drawn figures played by a first-rate principal cast.”

Geoffrey Macnab (The Independent): “It’s a film with the grace and formal ambition of one of those Vincente Minnelli musicals in which the camera never stops moving. This is a monster movie but it plays like a Beauty and the Beast-style romance.”

Robbie Collin (The Telegraph): “It offers what must be cinema’s uneasiest probing of the postwar American psyche since Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’ and is unquestionably del Toro’s best, richest film since his 2006 Spanish-language masterpiece ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.'”

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