Sunday night at the 90th annual Academy Awards, Guillermo del Toro’s swoony merman fantasy The Shape of Water took home the awards for Best Directing and Best Picture. Previously in the evening, the film also won for Original Score and Production Design. The film’s four wins came out of a slate of 13 overall nominations for the film.
In his Best Directing acceptance speech, the Mexico-born filmmaker followed the lead of many other winners, immediately pivoting to issues of diversity and inclusion. “I am an immigrant,” he said, name-checking Salma Hayek, Gael García Bernal, and several other Mexican artists who were present in the room. “And in the last 25 years, I’ve been living in a country all of our own. Part of it is here, part of it is in Europe, part of it is everywhere. Because I think the greatest thing that art does, and that our industry does, is erase the lines in the sand when the world tells us to make them deeper.”
It was a particularly appropriate sentiment for The Shape of Water, a film that focuses on the fear and alienation some can feel when faced with people and things they may not understand. In del Toro’s film, it’s personified by the remarkable hate — and improbable love — that a merman encounters when he’s pulled into a Baltimore lab to be studied.
In his Best Picture acceptance speech — which he made as producer of the film, rather than as its writer and director — del Toro was briefer and punchier. He spoke briefly about growing up in Mexico watching foreign films, and about adding his own legacy to the legacy of the filmmakers he admired. He also suggested The Shape of Water could be seen as an example to other filmmakers, proving that genre fantasy can be used to address real-world issues and controversies. “This is a door,” he concluded. “Kick it open and come in.”
The celebrated filmmaker had previously been nominated for his 2007 film Pan’s Labyrinth. This year’s crop of nominees for Best Director included several other similarly heralded Hollywood favorites, as well as a pair of disruptive upstarts. Christopher Nolan was nominated for his work on Dunkirk, while Paul Thomas Anderson received a nomination for his period drama Phantom Thread.
In the Best Picture category, nine films were nominated, and Shape of Water beat out other winners from earlier in the night, including Call My By Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Phantom Thread, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Two other Best Picture nominees, Lady Bird and The Post, went home without any wins.
Lady Bird was a particular surprise since the most intense 2018 Oscar speculation came around the two first-time feature directors nominated in various categories this year. Writer-director Greta Gerwig was nominated for Lady Bird, making her only the fifth woman in Oscar history to receive a Best Director nomination, while first-time director Jordan Peele, known for his work on the racially frank Comedy Central sketch show Key & Peele, was also nominated for his subversive horror-comedy Get Out. Peele won the Oscar for original screenplay for Get Out earlier in the evening.`