Guillermo del Toro has officially called his new movie “a fairytale for troubled times.” There is no better description to be found. Seriously, there is none. This fantasy romance drama won the top prize, the Golden Lion, at the Venice Internation Film Festival when it premiered on August 31st of 2017. Following a lengthy festival run, it received a limited release on December 1st before expanding in the succeeding weeks. Made for the budget of just under $20 million, it has done considerably well in its limited run but it remains to be seen how successful it becomes when it goes wide. Primarily inspired by del Toro’s childhood favorite Creature from the Black Lagoon, it’s also believed that the full concept of the movie was conceived during a meal 6 whole years ago. 3 years were spent just trying to bring the updated Gil-Man to life, which means this was just as much of a passion project for the Mexican auteur as Pan’s Labyrinth. Set in Cold War America, (1962, to be exact) Sally Hawkins stars as a mute custodian named Eliza Esposito who has spent much of her life alone. While she’s working in a secretive government facility, she discovers that the authoritative Colonel Strickland is holding an ancient amphibian-humanoid captive for research. Out of pity and loneliness, Eliza befriends the creature, falls in love with it, and soon resolves to help it escape. Of all the movies that have been getting hyped up for awards season, none of them had me as excited as The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro’s work can usually be hit or miss for me, but he really hits it out of the park when he’s on top. And Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t just his masterpiece but it’s also my favorite foreign-language film of all time. The fact that this new movie won top honors at Venice only boosted my anticipation for it. A Cold War, adult version of the myth of Beauty and the Beast? Who wouldn’t want to check that out? And I can happily say that I was blown away by del Toro’s newest film. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the most hopeful movies of the year to come out. In the post-Obama era, several filmmakers have had no problem dealing out their feelings on the potential fallout from Trump’s presidency. Another film I’m looking forward to, The Post, addresses this rather directly. But most of these storytellers, no matter how good their intentions may be, come off as either stubbornly naive or relentlessly pessimistic. The Shape of Water addresses contemporary issues- such as prejudice against outsiders and trying to express yourself to people who won’t listen -but does it in a loving way. By avoiding the pitfalls of cynicism, we’re given a whimsical tale that never loses sight of its maturity. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen Sally Hawkins in much, but I hope that changes with her lead performance in this film. She does a lot without saying anything, her use of Sign Language and facial expressions being almost too real to think of as acting. Alongside Frances McDomand in Three Billboards, she gives perhaps the best female lead performance of the year, and it hopefully scores her a Best Actress nomination. Opposite her, in his sixth collaboration with the director, Doug Jones is fantastic as the god-like Amphibian Man. With spots on his skin that glow and moving gills, some viewers might be turned off by this type of romance. But the way that he moves around and expresses himself underneath the thick suit is so magnificent and even sexy. The supporting cast is filled out by Michael Shannon as the villainous Colonel in charge of operations, Octavia Spencer as the snappy work friend of Eliza, Michael Stuhlbarg as a reclusive yet brilliant lab scientist, and Richard Jenkins in his scene-stealing, career-best role as a closeted neighbor. But if I were to be honest with you, I would say that Guillermo del Toro is the real star of this picture. He brings his unique eye to the technical aspects without being clouded by a filmmaker’s ego. Dan Laustsen frames and moves the camera in ways that masters of old Hollywood would have been proud of. It’s steady, fluid, and several scenes are made as if they were shot on one take. There’s even a wipe scene transition, which cemented both its 1960’s setting and love-letter to cinema. Del Toro also flaunts his love of digital cinematography and specifically highlights the color green. Using it as its own character, it plays a factor in defining the future-obsessed setting and even contrasts with the ancient force of the Amphibian Man. Whether it’s the green Cadillac, the green walls of the facility, the green candy, or the green Jello, you’re gonna find a shade. One of the most criminally underrated film composers in the industry, Alexandre Desplat lends his unique talents to the musical score. And man oh man is it lovely to hear in a theater. Because this is still essentially a fairytale, there’s a whimsical quality to the sound, often incorporating plucked strings and soothing flutes. He also blends a French romanticism into the tracks with hints of the accordion and subtle bits of whistling. And the primary piano melody is so elegant that it makes it feel as though we’re floating through the sea. It’s sentimental for sure, but it’s not cheesy or manipulative. But again, there are bound to be people who will walk away from this film feeling cold because let’s face it: This is a story about a mute woman and a fish man falling in love during the Cold War. If that doesn’t scream “weird,” then I don’t know what does. For others like me, The Shape of Water is a gorgeous, warm-hearted love story celebrating the outsiders. By far one of the most impressive fantasy films of recent years, it’s also Guillermo del Toro’s finest English-language work. Given time, I may even say that it’s his best, if not his most mature.