Review: The Shape of Water - Del Toro delivers a haunting fantasy
Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro recaptures the visual splendour and simmering menace of his Oscar-winning 2006 fantasy Pan's Labyrinth with a swoon-inducing reimagining of the Beauty And The Beast fairy tale set in 1962 Baltimore.
The Shape Of Water is a gorgeous, erotically-charged love story, which empowers its richly drawn female characters to drive forward a tightly wound narrative and defeat prejudice in its myriad ugly forms.
The script, co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, doesn't sugar-coat the central romance between a mute cleaning lady and a carnivorous merman.
Carnal desires of the spirited heroine are laid delightfully bare in virtually the opening scene in which she slides into an overflowing bath and pleasures herself in the two minutes it takes to hard boil three eggs for her packed lunch.
Lustrous period detail evokes an era of suffocating Cold War paranoia with aplomb, reflected in snappy dialogue like when one kind-hearted scientist argues that it would be unconscionable to vivisect any creature capable of understanding and emotions. It delivers on the dizzying promise of 13 Oscar and 12 Bafta nominations, conjuring an intoxicating spell through mesmerising performances, sharp writing and del Toro's directorial daring.
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is luminous and heartbreaking, speaking volumes without saying a word - save for a musical fantasy sequence that choreographs a romantic pas de deux reminiscent of La La Land.
Everyone is expendable in this haunting fable, including at least one unsuspecting household pet that loses its head in lurid close-up. Me-ouch.
Black Panther: A touch of black magic from Marvel
The lucrative Marvel Comics universe will expand exponentially in the next 12 months. Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man And The Wasp are waiting in the wings, tightly coiled with droll humour and hyperkinetic energy to discharge during the summer blockbuster months.
First out of the digitally augmented blocks is a rousing standalone adventure for the eponymous African king, who we first encountered in a snazzy vibranium-enriched bodysuit in the superhero battle royale Captain America: Civil War.
If Black Panther - directed by Ryan Coogler - is emblematic of things to come from the comic books pantheon, then roll on the rest of the year because this frenetically edited odyssey of self-doubt and redemption is the big cat's whiskers.
In some respects, this is identikit film-making from Marvel: prodigal sons tormented by the loss of powerful fathers, computer-generated characters trading bone-crunching blows in mid-air, a throwaway cameo for comic book maven Stan Lee and additional scenes concealed in end credits. Coogler's slinky picture is barnstorming entertainment of the highest pedigree, which sinks its narrative claws into present-day racial tensions, gender inequality and western imperialism with relish.
Star Saoirse flies high as Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig became only the fifth woman in Academy Awards history to be nominated for Best Director for this sublime coming-of-age comedy, which she also wrote.
Set in early 21st-century Sacramento, the sassy heroine is high school student Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who yearns to escape the regulations of her Catholic high school for the bright lights of New York.
She insists on being called by her "given name" of Lady Bird and regularly clashes with her caring mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who works as a nurse.
Christine's laid-back father Larry (Tracy Letts) reluctantly plays peacemaker between mother and daughter. One of the nuns at school, Sister Joan (Lois Smith), casually remarks on Christine's theatrical flair and the teenager subsequently auditions for drama club with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein).
To Christine's dismay, Julie wins a lead role opposite dreamy classmate Danny (Lucas Hedges) while she is consigned to the background.
As hormones rage and Christine searches for acceptance from her peers, her friendship with Julie becomes strained and she pursues romance with an older boy, Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), who plays guitar in a band.