Guillermo Del Toro's gorgeous Gothic romance deserves a second look
Which movie was better: Mean Streets or The Sting? There’s no wrong answer, but here’s something that’s criminal: The Sting, George Roy Hill’s crowd-pleasing reunion with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, won seven Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture. (That’s not the criminal part…) Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese’s gritty crime pic with Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, on the other hand, won zero Oscars. It didn’t win any Oscars because it wasn’t even nominated for a single award. Not one.
So you can debate whether The Sting was the best movie of 1973. But you can’t excuse the Academy for completely ignoring Mean Streets. Sadly, the Academy has a long history of overlooking masterful comedies, action movies, horror flicks, hard-boiled genre pics, and artsy foreign films — films like The Searchers, Groundhog Day, Touch of Evil, and The Big Lebowski.
History, fortunately, is the ultimate arbiter of greatness. Before this year’s ceremony, we’re taking a closer look at 2015 films that were too small, too weird, or perhaps simply too awesome for the Academy Awards. These are the Non-Nominees.
The film: Crimson Peak, the story of aspiring novelist Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), who finds herself fighting to stay alive inside a decaying mansion known as Allerdale Hall. Located in a remote stretch of northern England, the ancestral home of Edith’s aristocratic husband Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his jealous sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) houses a trove of dark secrets — and a collection of blood-red ghosts.
Why it wasn’t nominated: Although director Guillermo Del Toro does have a history with the Academy — his brilliant 2006 Spanish-language fairytale Pan’s Labyrinth collected three of the six Oscars for which it was nominated — Crimson Peak didn’t immediately read as the sort of film that would necessarily collect statuettes. The R-rated love letter to Gothic romance was marketed largely as a horror film, over the protestations of the visionary director, and its genre trappings might have seemed off-putting to more sensitive viewers. Detractors charged that it merely put a Grand Guignol twist on earlier works, such as Hitchcock’s Rebecca — which Del Toro has cited as one point of inspiration — though even the movie’s harshest critics had to concede that the film’s sumptuous visuals were a delight. The mixed buzz didn’t exactly help when it came to the box office. Crimson Peak earned just over $31 million after it opened in October.
Why history will remember it better than the Academy: Let’s talk about those visuals for just a moment. Crimson Peak was nominated for excellence by both the Art Directors Guild and the Costume Designers Guild for very good reason. The story, which opens in turn of the century Buffalo before relocating to a desolate stretch of the U.K., presents a stunning contrast between a developing modern world — where contemporary ladies such as Edith might hope to focus on career over marriage — and the decay of the old guard. The beginning of the film feels like Del Toro’s The Age of Innocence, and it plays as would any finely appointed costume drama, with the threadbare baronet wooing young Edith over the objections of both her dear father (Jim Beaver) and the handsome doctor who also pines for her affection (Charlie Hunnam). With its umbrella-shaded constitutionals and its elegant formal balls, Edith’s world is richly rendered in gas lamp hues, a painting sprung to life. That is, until she marries Thomas and finds herself transported to a dark and dangerous new realm. Not only is Edith trapped inside a dying home where an unforgiving wind blows dried leaves through a hole in the roof and red clay seeps through the floorboards like blood, she’s preyed upon by her new family, particularly the deranged Lucille, who is determined to protect the estate against interlopers and safeguard the family’s fortunes.
In an interview with EW prior to the film’s release, Del Toro described Crimson Peak as a bit of a “feathered fish” — and it’s true that it’s difficult to think of another film in recent memory that bears much of a resemblance. Those who have followed the director’s career certainly will recognize the visual signatures and thematic obsessions present in all his best work (the agency afforded to the female characters feels deserving of special mention, as does Chastain’s wildly committed performance). Those viewers, too, are likely to take note of and respond to the loving homages to Mario Bava, Hitchcock and Hammer Films, among other countless influences. But it’s the film’s singular nature that surely will help it cultivate a must-see reputation over time. Crimson Peak is a gorgeous artifact of romance and terror, a haunted, female-centric, literary thriller in which “loves makes monsters of us all.” Who wouldn’t want to watch that?