Here are all the Baltimore connections to look for at the Oscars this year

"The Shape of Water," a nominee for best picture at this year's Oscars, is set in Baltimore.
"The Shape of Water," a nominee for best picture at this year's Oscars, is set in Baltimore. (Fox Searchlight Pictures / AP)

Looking for a rooting interest in the Oscars on Sunday? Turns out Baltimore has some legitimate ties to this year’s Academy Awards, not the least of which is that one of the favorites to win for best picture is set right here in Charm City. So, if you’re looking for some way your love of the Oscars can dovetail with your love for our fair city, here are a handful of possibilities.

The city where it happens: Thanks to writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” Baltimore appears to be the go-to location when it comes to interspecies romance.


The film, which leads all Oscar contenders with a total of 13 nominations, including best picture, is the story of a lonely, mute cleaning woman at a secret government factory and the captive South American gill man (think a more refined version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon) she falls for. And it’s set right here in Baltimore.

Granted, the film’s Baltimore setting isn’t exactly a key plot point; it could just have easily been set in Norfolk, Va., or Charleston, S.C., or Philadelphia. But it isn’t.


As to why “The Shape of Water” is set in Baltimore, there isn’t much of an explanation. An email to representatives of co-screenwriter Vanessa Taylor came back with the simple reply, “This is a question for Guillermo!" So far, representatives for del Toro have not responded.

But if “The Shape of Water” does, indeed, win best picture, we should be happy to bask in a little reflected glory. It’s been almost three decades since a movie with a Baltimore setting enjoyed such Oscar glory. A good bit of 1992 best picture winner “The Silence of the Lambs” took place here (remember that haunting scene where Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling is checking out a storage locker? Baltimore).

Too bad neither film was actually shot here. But we’ll take what we can get.

The city that draws: When it comes to animation, this year’s Oscars practically has a Baltimore mailing address.

Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, both faculty members at the Maryland Institute College of Art, are among the favorites in the category of best animated short.

Who knew there was a secret government laboratory studying gill men right here in Baltimore? At least, there is in “The Shape of Water,” writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s much-honored movie about a mute janitor and the intimate bond she forms with an amphibious humanoid creature.

“Negative Space,” five-and-a-half minutes of stop-motion animation that feature a man recalling how he bonded with his father over the proper way to pack a suitcase, has already won several prizes, including the prestigious Prix Fipresci at the Annecy Animation Festival in France. And while academy voters may like the idea of bringing Kobe Bryant up onstage to accept an Oscar for his “Dear Basketball” (which he wrote and narrated), our husband-and-wife team from Baltimore has a real shot.

“It’s very surreal,” Porter told The Baltimore Sun of their film’s reception. “For us this is something that we’ve been working together for many years. We’ve been making our own projects. We’ve been so committed.”

She's the Boss: And MICA’s potential Oscar run doesn’t stop there. Alum Ramsey Ann Naito, Class of 1992, is one of the producers of “The Boss Baby,” which is up for a best animated feature Oscar.

The film, in which Alec Baldwin provides the voice for a briefcase-toting infant who makes life miserable for his older brother (until a nefarious corporate plot forces them to join forces), is up against odds-on favorite “Coco,” the annual Oscar contender from Pixar. But if “Boss Baby” pulls off an upset, look for Naito up on the Dolby Theatre stage. end here for print.

Oscar’s Charm City connectors: A few more Oscar contenders with Baltimore connections, some tenuous, but all with the potential to make us proud Sunday night:

Two Maryland Institute College of Art faculty members are Oscar-nominated for their animated short, "Negative Space"

» If Allison Janney wins best supporting actress for “I, Tonya,” remember to watch her Thursday nights on the CBS sitcom “Mom,” where she stars alongside Baltimore native Anna Faris.

» Should Meryl Streep walk off with her fourth Oscar (she’s up for best actress for “The Post,” although Frances McDormand looks like the clear favorite for “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”), let’s see if she mentions in her acceptance speech that one of her first starring roles came in 1979’s “The Seduction of Joe Tynan,” which was filmed in Baltimore.


» Common and Diane Warren’s best original song nominee, “Stand Up for Something,” is from “Marshall,” in which the central character is Baltimore’s own Thurgood Marshall, in the early years of his legal advocacy for civil rights. This is Warren’s ninth nomination without a win, so maybe Academy voters will figure it’s her time?

» If “Baby Driver” wins any of the three Oscars it’s up for — film editing, sound mixing and sound editing — remember: this was John Waters’ pick as the best movie of 2017. And he knows…

Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney are all deserving but their steamrolling of this year's awards season begs for an upset or two.

» If you’ve been a longtime attendee at the annual Maryland Film Festival, you may have been sitting alongside a future nominee and not even realized it. The MFF has always been a preferred forum for filmmakers, both established and on the rise. Among those who have made the trek to Baltimore in past years is best director nominee Greta Gerwig (nominated for “Lady Bird,” she was here for 2007’s "Hannah Takes the Stairs,” in which she starred) and best documentary feature nominee Steve James (nominated for “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” he was here for 2005’s “Reel Paradise,” and other films).

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