Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Actress (Quvenzhane Wallis), Best Director (Benh Zeitlin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar)
What's It About? The pint-sized Wallis carries the film on her back as Hushpuppy, a young 6-year-old girl living with her father (named Wink) in an impoverished Delta community known as "the Bathtub." The residents are preparing for a great storm in their own steadfast way, just as Wink's failing health begins to worsen. As Hushpuppy searches to find her missing mother, her mind is also wracked with the looming threat of the Auruchs, mythological beasts that were frozen in the Arctic, but are now free and thunderously charging toward the Bathtub, thanks to the melted ice caps.
Why You Should See It: It's a totally unique film that came out of nowhere. Wallis has made history as the youngest nominee ever for Best Actress (she's 9), so if nothing else you should see what all the news is about. She's not a novelty however; Wallis brings an unrestrained, genuine child's reaction to the events of "Beasts" and you can't help but be entertained by her charisma.
Most of the cast is rounded out by local amateurs including her father, played by local New Orleans baker Dwight Henry, and they bring a charm and a real-ness that can only be achieved by knowing the lay of the land.
As for the story, it has left people asking "What does it mean?" It's easy to see the film as a lyrical metaphor for the resiliency of the New Orleans community in the wake of Hurricane Katrina -- but the film is not overtly about that. Maybe the Auruchs represent the threat of climate change coming to wipe out the way we do things. Maybe citizens from the East Coast who have been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy can now relate better to the idea of living in a struggling community with few shared resources and the feeling that you can only depend on the people around you. Or maybe it's just a modern folk tale about people undergoing great challenges, and growing and learning from the experience. "Beasts" can be whatever you want to get out of the movie.
It's Kind of Like: "Tree of Life" meets the documentary "When the Levees Broke"
How You Can See It: "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
It is also being re-released in select theaters across the country, starting on Friday, January 18. Check for listings.