In hindsight, it wasn’t such a surprise that film like The Shape of Water became an invitee to the hypothetical future reunion of Best Picture Winners. Its title doubles as a description of its own malleability. A romance film, a monster movie, an “issues” picture – writer/director Guillermo del Toro has created a beast that can change form into whatever the viewer wants to see. There’s even a musical number. At the reunion Shape will find friends among the few genre crowdpleasers (oh, to be a fly on the wall for the stories with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) and it will have dance partners lining up based on visual precision alone (might have to reach all the way back to Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans to find fussier visuals).
But when the night gets late we know who’s going to get a room key and a suggestive smile. Shape and Titanic are going to stagger to the elevator bank together while the other films are calling Ubers. Long after those films have drifted off to sleep, Shape and Titanic will tenderly embrace and get weird.
No sense in being coy about it: sex is a prominent selling point of Shape, the creature feature with a tryst. One could argue the only actually innovative feature of the film is that it reimagines The Creature from the Black Lagoon‘s erotic subtext as erotic text. And del Toro’s best trick? The sex is portrayed with flair and intimacy – a mature rendering of a notion previously only whispered between horny nerds.
Sex is not unheard of in Best Picture nominees, but when it’s anything more than incidental it’s typically mired in the prudish past (It Happened One Night) or an outsized force that needs to be reckoned with (Moonlight, American Beauty). The outlier is Titanic, a film that features sex between its leads and even smuggles some erotic nudity into a PG-13 rating (in a separate scene, naturally). Both features have leading ladies as the instigators who are unabashed in recounting their rendezvous, whether it’s the next day or some sixty years on. It’s a rarity for a Best Picture winner to portray sex as something natural to a romantic relationship and – dare we suggest! – rather sweet.
At the reunion the music has stopped. The lights are coming on. The two films have exhausted the small talk of special effects, underwater photography, and broad antagonists representing a class system failing to keep its precarious grasp on power. It’s time to continue the conversation elsewhere and see where it leads.
Maybe, after some open and honest discussion, they’ll invite Shakespeare in Love to join.