CineSavant Column

Saturday November 25, 2017


Well, it’s movie recommendation time — NO SPOILERS. Perhaps I’ve been missing the good stuff, but this has been such a weak year for interesting films that I can barely remember what that the high points were. I finally saw two in a row that were knockouts.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a terrific drama from Martin McDonagh, the writer-director of In Bruges. It popped up on the movie radar just three or four weeks ago, and it’s presently THE hot item for good reason. It’s wickedly tense, funny and deeply affecting, and the performances are bound to attract awards — Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell for sure. A grieving mother purposely makes herself the most hated woman in town; the result is a richly entertaining, dark comedy. I won’t say any more — it was great seeing it stone cold, without a hint of what to expect (try it some time). The show would make an excellent anti-matter pure-opposite double bill with an old Judy Holliday movie. McDormand is always good, but this must be her most impressive performance since Fargo.

The second picture is the one I’ve been waiting for, for months — Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water. I love Del Toro’s nigh-perfect Spanish language horror fantasies but this is his masterpiece to date, a fusion of great monster picture ideas that transcends every category of judgment. It sounds like it might be derivative, but it’s not – every time I was reminded of an older movie, it was clear that Del Toro had done something better with the borrowed ideas. The obvious parallels are Universal’s The Creature and the lesser-known Russian The Amphibian Man, but everything here is so new in so many ways that the result is breathtaking.

The movie has wide, wide audience appeal – expect an E.T.– like groundswell of approval, for a film not appropriate for little kids. When was the last time we could say that a monster movie was a powerful emotional experience? Think Starman without so much obvious bathos. Sally Hawkins has my vote for Best Actress of the year. She goes above and beyond a ‘mime’ performance, playing opposite another superb mime performance by the great Doug Jones.

Saying any more would be a serious disservice – I’m so glad I turned off the teaser last summer and didn’t read any reviews. The show opens in just a few days. I’m happy to see Mr. Del Toro hitting one so far out of the park — we were fascinated and thrilled. The Shape of Water is going to go down as one of the great ones.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson