Track my film passions of the past year and the result is this list. These are the films that wowed and moved me, that turned me into a rabid champion, that gave me hope that brilliant cinematic storytelling — and a rebel spirit — is alive and well. It turned out to be a strong year for women directors (five), romances (three), World War II dramas (two), Angelina Jolie movies (two), animation (one), and documentaries (one).
Artists create universes that are extreme visions of our own. With his English-language masterwork “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro builds, brick by brick, an immersive fantasy world (shot in Toronto around the venerable Elgin Theatre) inspired by the ’60s melodramas of Douglas Sirk and the horror classic “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” that could only come from his prodigious imagination. Del Toro artfully mixes genre and commercial elements with his own personal imprint. This fairy-tale romance matches lonely mute laboratory cleaning woman Eliza Esposito (incandescent Sally Hawkins) with a well-muscled captive merman (Del Toro stalwart Doug Jones). They see beauty and sensuality in each other where others, like Michael Shannon’s abusive government torturer, see abhorrent aberration. (He prefers to bludgeon the gorgeous aquatic creature he calls “the asset,” while Michael Stuhlbarg’s Russian-born scientist appreciates the asset’s living, breathing value.) The production is impeccably photographed and crafted, yielding indelible images such as Eliza floating in her flooded apartment above the movie theatre, making watery love to her sexily glowing aquaman.
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