This is the ninth Guillermo del Toro film I have seen. I have yet to see a bad one. Well, Hellboy wasn't much, but Hellboy II made up for it. Pan's Labyrinth is an all-time great, and The Shape of Water isn't far behind. Heck, The Strain was a decent TV series. So my expectations were high for Nightmare Alley. I liked the 1947 version quite a bit, and looked forward to del Toro's take, even if Joan Blondell wasn't available.
Nightmare Alley had its critical detractors, but for the most part it was well-received. It's considered a flop at the box office, but streaming might eventually change that, plus if it wins any Oscars (it's nominated for four, including Best Picture) that might get people to check it out. (There is an alternate black-and-white version, Nightmare Alley: Vision in Darkness and Light, as well.)
Nightmare Alley is full. It overflows with del Toro's visual touches, which suggests it would be fun to examine on a second viewing when you could ignore the plot and just appreciate everything else. On the other hand, it's 2 1/2 hours long for no apparent reason, so as much as I liked it, I'm not running out to see it again any time soon. He's brought together an incredible cast, starting with Bradley Cooper in the lead. Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe ... two Oscar winners (Blanchett and Mary Steenburgen) and six Oscar nominees (Cooper, Collette, and Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, and David Strathairn). There are even a couple of favorite "That Guys" in Holt McCallany and Jim Beaver. If they offered up poor performances, none of this would matter, but in fact they are uniformly good, and it speaks well for del Toro that such actors want to work with him. (I should mention Ron Perlman, who has now been in seven movies with the director.)
It's based on a noir, and I wonder what the black-and-white version looks like ... the color version fits the genre, anyway. If you don't know the earlier film or the novel on which they are both based, you might wonder who the femme fatale will be, although honestly it's not hard to figure once she shows up. I've seen six of the ten Best Picture nominees, and Nightmare Alley is as good as any of them (although Summer of Soul and Flee are better than all of them).
Here's a spoiler-ific comparison of the two films: