Guillermo Del Toro is a master of the modern fairy tale. In The Shape of Water, he tells the story of a budding love between a mute woman named Elisa and a captive fish creature. Like the very best of Del Toro, the film blurs the line between reality and fantasy and succeeds as an allegorical tale about the transformative power of love. Set in the Cold War Era, most of the story takes place in a secret government facility replete with scientists, gung-ho military jerk-offs, and spies. This setting provides the canvass for Del Toro’s peculiar aesthetic, as well as the majority of the tension. The performances are outstanding, from the supporting characters to the leads to the man in the Fish Monster suit. Simply put, The Shape of Water is a gorgeous little tale and the reason why movies can be so magical.
Nocturnal Animals is fashion designer Tom Ford’s second feature film as both writer and director, and once again he has delivered a nuanced film full of emotion, sadness, and intrigue. Starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, the film is a peculiar mixture of crime thriller and relationship melodrama, married through an inventive “story-within-a-story” structural device: the main character reads a manuscript of her ex-husband’s novel, and the film’s narrative ping-pongs between the real world and the world of the novel. As the procedural story unravels in the novel, we learn more about the relationship between these two characters in multiple flashbacks.
Ramin Bahrani’s 2014 film 99 homes is yet another spectacular film to come out involving a plot inspired by the financial crisis of the late 2000s. Instead of focusing on the macro-level of the crisis like Margin Call or The Big Short, 99 Homes is a more personal story favoring Main Street over Wall Street. Hence, the narrative follows the families that lost their homes to bank foreclosures following the collapse of the housing market. A key player in this story is a real estate agent named Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), who knows every angle and never saw a shady deal he didn’t like. Set against him is the protagonist of the story, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), who is one of the “victims” of the foreclosures. But, ultimately this is a film about financial hardship and the lengths that an honest man will go to in order to provide for his family. It is about integrity in the face of hunger and failure, and the opportunism that emerges in the environment surrounding a profoundly rigged game.