Oscar 8-Ball: ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’


Will the actors and filmmakers from your favorite movie be making room on their mantels this award season? Or will they be watching the Oscars from afar? Gold Standard columnist Glenn Whipp assesses the chances of the films in contention by consulting ... the magic Oscar 8-Ball.

Benh Zeitlin’s little indie-movie-that-could, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” made headlines earlier this week when the Screen Actors Guild deemed it ineligible to compete for SAG Awards because it was made without a SAG-AFTRA union contract. How will this decision -- and Fox Searchlight’s apparent reluctance to bring the movie into compliance with a union agreement by the Oct. 25 deadline -- affect the movie’s chances with the academy?

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We consult the Oscar 8-Ball for answers.

Most likely: Even those who didn’t fall under “Beasts’” spell were charmed by its fearless, 8-year-old star, Quvenzhane Wallis, an unknown who auditioned and won the part of the little force of nature, Hushpuppy, at the tender age of 5. The movie’s vision belongs to Zeitlin, but it rests on the slender shoulders of Wallis, who captured viewers’ attention with a brave, deeply felt performance that recalled the likes of Mary Badham in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Keisha Castle-Hughes in “Whale Rider.” Her work stands on its own merits, but voters adore a great backstory too, and Wallis’ road to discovery has just that. (For one thing, she lied about her age at her audition, as the filmmakers didn’t want anyone younger than 6.) Wallis will probably be irresistible in a lead actress category that isn’t particularly brimming with compelling candidates this year.

As I see it, yes: Zeitlin wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar, adapting her play and changing it several significant ways, moving the setting from Georgia to Louisiana and making Hushpuppy a girl. The story’s seamless mix of fantasy and authenticity should find appreciation among voters in the adapted screenplay category. The movie has a great many fans, and naysayers will grudgingly admit to the writing’s originality and ambition.

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Reply hazy, try again: Whether “Beasts” can ride a feel-good wave to great Oscar glory seems iffy. Dwight Henry, who worked as a baker in New Orleans before being cast as Hushpuppy’s hard-luck father, could receive a supporting actor nom, though it’s a crowded category bustling with such big names as De Niro and DiCaprio. The film’s beautiful score, co-written by Zeitlin and Dan Romer, might win a deserved nomination if voters remember its do-it-yourself vibe amid the booming orchestras of the late-season dramas. But bigger trophies, picture and director, will probably be reserved for Film Independent’s Spirit Awards, where “Beasts” should run wild.


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