‘Water’ world: The case for Guillermo Del Toro as best director

It’s a case of who does the most different things amid what everyone else has done. While there have been cases of the best director not even getting a nomination for Best Director (looking at you, Ben Affleck, for “Argo” in 2012), that is not the case for this year’s Academy Awards, even with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s” Martin McDonagh being left out (it would also have been nice to see “Wonder Woman’s” Patty Jenkins here, and surely somebody must have noticed Steven Spielberg is missing in action despite “The Post” being nominated for Best Picture. But the five nominated directors clearly did accomplish the most consistently proficient jobs. Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” has a lot of doubters (mostly people who haven’t actually seen the darned thing) and it’s not your usual Oscar bait material, but Peele’s work with actor Daniel Kaluuya is taut and tense. Greta Gerwig got a rousing Academy Award-worthy performance out of the magnificent Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird.” This is also something that the immensely eccentric Paul Thomas Anderson and the extraordinary Daniel Day-Lewis did in “Phantom Thread.” Those two performances carry their films—the directors did well by letting their actors loose but it felt more like actors’ showcases than directorial brilliance. But the director who dealt with the most challenges was Christopher Nolan, forging a compelling and yet utterly believable “Dunkirk” out of what could easily have been a chaotic, sprawling production. But we’ve seen movies like “Dunkirk” before, just in no way as good as “Dunkirk,” which is why Nolan is the dark horse for this category. But there is a reason all the pre-Oscar Best Director trophies went to the same game. No one has seen films like “The Shape of Water,” except if they were directed by Guillermo del Toro as well. From “Pan’s Labyrinth” to “Hellboy,” Del Toro’s films are simply like nobody else’s in Hollywood. And his fish-man-out-of-water drama was infused with sexual and social tension you wouldn’t associate with science fiction (which it is, duh). Del Toro will probably win this award partly because of all the cool stuff he’s done. But it should escape notice that, of all the directors and despite Nolan’s technical mastery, Del Toro is the only one whose movie, “The Shape of Water,” is completely, spectacularly different from all the others. If that’s not reason enough, then just look at the 13 total nominations, ranging from Best Actress to Best Sound Mixing. This is Guillermo del Toro’s year, and it’s a very, very good one. It is about to get its crowning achievement. Bravo, Guillermo.