The movie with the quirky name and its star with an equally quirky moniker were tossed into the running for top honors when nominations for the 85th Academy Awards were revealed Thursday. Beasts of the Southern Wild, a small independent film barely grossing more than 11.2 million in its initial release, is up for best picture, best actress – namely 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis starring as Hushpuppy – best adapted screenplay and best director.
The little film was virtually ignored by the Golden Globes on Sunday. The Globes are widely seen as a predictor of Oscar to come.
Beasts of the Southern Wild opened to extremely limited release in June 2012. And while it’s at the bottom of the heap with it comes to gross box office, USA Today points out it has earned more than six times its estimated $1.8 million budget — garnering the biggest return on investment in the industry.
The entire film is seen through the magical eyes of a 6 year old. Hushpuppy and her dad Wink live in The Bathtub, a forgotten community swallowed deep inside the Louisiana Bayou. Their lives consist of a make-shift home and a boat made of discarded junk deep within a forgotten community built on tossed out odds-and-ends that could be analogous for their virtually homeless existence.
Wallis, who New York Magazine reports was only five-years-old when she auditioned for the film, now becomes the youngest best actress Academy Award nominee ever. Adding even more accolades under her belt, the spunky actress picked up a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Young Actress later that same day. According to Good Morning America, Wallis read her acceptance speech from her iPhone.
Dwight Henry, a Louisiana baker, plays Wink, a no-nonsense father who, when not drinking or partying, knows he has little time to prepare his small daughter for impending disaster. A brewing mega-storm foreshadows a Darwinian style survival-of-the-fittest. But the pair have much more threatening their lives than wind and high tide, as we learn when Wink’s health begins to fail.
Henry walked away with a Best Supporting Actor Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association on Saturday. He is slated to star in British filmmaker Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave, along with Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti.
Beasts of the Southern Wild was a 2010 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award winner. Enjoying it demands leaving grown-up logic and rational thought behind. If you can’t suspend the comforts of normalcy to see life through the whimsical eyes of a child, you’ll be perpetually baffled by its constant whirl of fantasy mixed with harsh reality and a unhealthy sprinkle of dysfunction. Life on the ‘fringe of society’ is far from pretty. Even so there is beauty, creativity and determination to be found, even amid the lost, discarded and seemingly forgotten.
The film is a triumph and vibrant testimony of life, love and resilience in the face of the impossible. Through it all, Hushpuppy reminds us that no life is insignificant. She predicts:
“In a million years, when kids go to school, they’re gonna know: once there was a Hushpuppy, a she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.”
Have you seen Beasts of the Southern Wild? What are your thoughts about the nominations?
Click here for an interview with Quvenzhané by Chicago Sun-Times reviewer, Roger Ebert last year.
Click here for a recent interview with Dwight Henry by Jeff Probst and with PBS host, Tavis Smiley