Who Will Be Snubbed At Next Year’s Oscars?

We are knee-deep in Awards Season, and with this morning’s announcement of the Golden Globe nominations, it seems clear that we have a predictable Oscars race on our hands. Blah blah blah Lincoln Argo Zero Dark Thirty Silver Linings Playbook, blah blah blah Anne Hathaway Joaquin Phoenix Jessica Chastain Daniel Day-Lewis. Every year there are a handful of folks who seem to go unnoticed in the wake of the heavy-hitters and the PR campaigns behind those bigger, obvious Oscar-baiting movies. Here’s a list of actors who are worth a second look. 

Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild

An audience favorite over the summer, the film has probably suffered in the awards race because it was released so early in the year. (If it’s on DVD by Christmas, odds are the academy will ignore it.) Sure, "independent movies" seem to do well at the Oscars, but… HA HA HA, just kidding. What, did you think it’s the ’90s all of a sudden? This scrappy little favorite is full of surprising turns from unprofessional, untrained actors, and, let’s face it, they’ve handed out enough awards to people of color in the last few years, so you should expect the five nominees for Best Actor to be from movies like Argo, The Master, Lincoln, et cetera. It’s a shame, however, because Henry’s performance broke my heart. Let’s just hope he continues with this late-in-life acting career and shows up in a few more movies.

Kirsten Dunst, Bachelorette

Let’s face it: Kirsten Dunst should have been nominated last year for her brilliant and dark role in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Luckily, that setback didn’t stop her. As Regan, a viciously mean maid of honor, Dunst made a welcome return to the world of comedy. What Bachelorette offered, compared to other female-driven comedy, was an underlying meanness and bite and is woefully lacking (see, for example, Bridesmaids, which received accolades for its gross-out humor rather than its believability). Writer-director Leslye Headland examined more about wedding culture and modern womanhood in an hour and a half than most people (both men and women) can fit into two hours. Holding it all together, though, was Dunst’s pitch-perfect combination of toughness and vulnerability, a combination not usually seen so openly on film. 

Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Films made for and about teenagers are rarely any good. Even those John Hughes movies from the ’80s were more goofy than serious (with the exception, possibly, of The Breakfast Club). I was dubious about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but was really blown away with writer-director Stephen Chbosky’s ability to translate his novel. The film treats its characters like adults rather than patronizing them. Miller’s Patrick could have easily filled the Manic Dream Pixie Gay role—existing solely to bring the main character “out of his shell” by way of flamboyance and zingers. Instead, Perks allows its audience to see Patrick as a three-dimensional character by bringing out his own frustrations and needs. Miller delivers an astounding performance so early in his career that deserves to be recognized at next spring’s ceremony.

Ann Dowd, Compliance

It’s no surprise that middle-aged actresses are pigeonholed into supporting roles that lack any real substance. It’s even worse for character actors who don’t fit into the mainstream ideal of a leading lady. Compliance’s Ann Dowd, who has a long career of smaller roles in big movies (see if you can spot her in films like Philadelphia and Garden State), finally received great notice for Craig Zobel’s meditation on human behavior, earning a Best Supporting Actress award from the National Board of Review and a nod at the Independent Spirit Awards. Will she squeeze it alongside names like Helen Hunt and Anne Hathaway at the Oscars? It’s possible, but it seems unlikely. 

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‘Beasts Of The Southern Wild’ DVD Includes Deleted Scenes

Beasts Of The Southern Wild, a portrait of family life in the Bayou, is coming to DVD on December 4 and the Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog was lucky enough to get a peek at some deleted scenes from the film included on the DVD.

Director Behn Zeitlin narrates each of the clips, explaining they were all funny moments during filming but seemed to "chaotic" to include in the film. For example, one scene shows Hushpuppy (played by pint-sized Quvenzhané Wallis) having a "fish fight" Judging by the way the camera jerks around in the second scene on this clip reel, I’d have to agree.

 Beasts collected an absurd number of prizes everywhere from Cannes to Sundance and is absolutely worth seeing. Watch the clip below:

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

Lucy Alibar on Adapting Her Stage Play Into ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

The experience of watching Beasts of the Southern Wild is like looking in on another universe through a keyhole. You watch the scenes between Hushpuppy and her father and wonder: how was a camera even present in this moment? Visually speaking, the film is pure poetry, shining a light on a unique corner of the world and presenting it in a way that’s entirely magical. But it’s the performances given by everyone in the cast, especially Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, that truly capture the essence of what the film is really about: people having the courage to love and defend the people and place they call home. But before Beasts of the Southern Wild, there was Juicy and Delicious, a play by Lucy Alibar about a boy who feels like the whole world is collapsing as his father is dying. And it’s from that play that Alibar and director, Benh Zeitlin, adapted Beasts of the Southern Wild, carrying through the same themes of loss and strength, all set in a mythical world that’s as brutal as it is beautiful. We sat down with Alibar to see how her play transitioned from its original form, having a strong female hero, and seeing through tough exteriors.

You and Benh had known each other for a long time, but how did you get into writing the film?
Benh came to me to do an adaptation of one my plays but set in Louisiana; all my plays are set in Georgia because it’s where I grew up and it’s where my dad’s from. The land really lends itself to this wild imaginative universe, but he wanted to set it in Louisiana where he had driven down to the end of the road. Then we went and lived in this fishing marina for a couple of months adapting it, going through the Sundance labs, going back to the marina, going to New Orleans, and just doing a lot of location scouting.

Had you been only writing plays at that point?
Yeah, but I write stories too. I never thought I wanted to do a film before.

So you and Benh met at playwriting camp in New York?
Yup! It wasn’t quite camp—they put on your plays. But it was so long ago. We were babies!

Where did you grow up?
I’m from Florida and South Georgia, so I had never been to New York before that. I had never had Chinese food before, and I had never seen live theater that wasn’t, like, a crucifixion scene.

How did you know that you wanted to start writing plays?
I went to this very good public school in Tallahassee, Florida, and in the library they had a copy of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls…, and it just blew my mind because it’s just voices. It’s all first-person narratives, and a lot of southern literature is like that, too. Then I realized that the stuff I was reading like Flannery O’Connor—all these first-person narratives could be theatrical. That’s when I realized that my voice could be theatrical and could be on stage in this way that I never knew from reading Ibsen or any of that stuff.

Did Benh contact you about adapting it?
He wanted to do his first feature with these characters because we write about much of the same stuff. I write a lot about parents and children and the dynamics of unconventional families, and I think he has a similar story. I also write a lot about mythology and southern folklore; his parents are folklorists, and we just had a lot of similar things we were interested in. And visually, he can really put up these images and make these worlds that I just found incredible to look at.

But in your play the Hushpuppy role is a little boy.
I wrote the play about me and my dad, but I had to have some distance from it so I could actually write it. I wasn’t in therapy; I was kind of immature, I guess, but I just had to have some distance. This way I could write everything I was actually thinking.

I love that it was a little girl in this because if it was less conventional to make her so tough.
That’s one of the things I’m proud of now at this stage. We made a hero story with a little girl in it, and she is fighting for her family, not her boyfriend. I never saw that growing up, I thought I had to be a little boy to be a hero.

Were you part of the casting process?
When they narrowed it down I would watch videos, but I would have to rewrite for whoever Hushpuppy was and that could have been anybody. Because it was a non-actor, that part would have really changed depending on who that was. So for me, I couldn’t watch all of them because it became such a different movie every time. So I just watched as they started to narrow it down, and then they showed me Quvenzhané when they found her and I was like, Oh six years old? Sure. I’ll do it.

How did you find her? What did she do for the audition?
Behn tells it better than I do, but for the auditions they did a lot of structured improvisations to see what the kids could do. She had to have a fight with Michael, our producer, because they had to see about that scene where they’re trashing the house and they turn over the table. So she and Michael are fighting and Ben gives Nazzy an empty plastic bottle and is like, Throw this bottle at Michael. She would start to and then she wouldn’t, then she’d start to and she wouldn’t. So Ben was like, Throw the bottle at him! And she turns to him and says, “No I can’t, it would be wrong to do that.” Ben was really struck by that strong sense of ethics and morality that even when there’s a grown-up telling you to do something, she didn’t do it because it was wrong and it involved hurting someone else. So much of the movie is about taking care of people and the courage of empathy and she just had that so strongly—that’s Nazzy’s primary characteristic. She’s so vibrant, too; she’s like flint, shiny flint.

For someone so young, her performance was really incredible.
She was five when we made it! She lied about her age, which I didn’t even know until about a month ago, but the lowest we were going to look was six. Then she lied so she could do it when she was five.

I loved how there was so much brutality in the world they were living in and they were all so tough, but you could tell on the inside they were all very sensitive and sweet and that was echoed by the fact that it was telling this harsh story. But it was visually so beautiful.
I think that was something both of us thought about. That’s how the rural south is for me, and that’s how Ben and I both found Louisiana to be. There are these tough exteriors, but underneath there’s so much. In the Bayou and in the south, the first priority is always family. It’s not like here where what you think about is you. I think that was pretty clear to us early on; there was this real love under this tough exterior that we both really loved to write about.

When you were writing did you meet people and listen to people’s stories? What was your research?
We lived in this fishing marina for a couple months and talked to a lot of people about why they would stay, what would make them ever leave, and hear their experiences of losing loved ones. I remember this one gentleman that was a priest who talked about being in the room when his father died. Just the way he spoke about it was amazing; he was from the Bayou, so he had that way of speaking about it, and he was also a Catholic priest. I did a lot of listening.

The first time you saw it completed, coming from your play to this, what did you think?
I felt like I had been given this great gift from a couple hundred people who I didn’t know before this started. They became my family through doing this. I just felt like I gained this entire world of these incredible artists, so smart, so generous, so hard working. So many people worked so hard. Gratitude isn’t quite the word; I think it is more like graciousness. I felt this real awareness of my fortune—my good fortune. 

‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Is the Best Movie About New Orleans—Ever

One reason, perhaps, that there have been so many movies made about New Orleans is that the very geography of the city is the stuff of Shakespearean drama. The constant threat of annihilation, vibrancy in the face of fear, an electrifying inequality, a touch of hubris perhaps—it’s all there. Equally true is that in many cases these seductive narratives have all but obliterated the people who make New Orleans: New Orleanians.

This is the backdrop against which Beasts of the Southern Wild, the debut feature from director Benh Zeitlin and one of the most powerful movies ever made about the city, emerges. Zeitlin, a 29-year old filmmaker who moved there from Queens in 2004, is a member of Court 13, a community–based film collective headquartered near the French Quarter that has coalesced around what Zeitlin calls, “a code of honor.” It’s like an American Dogme 95. “The most fundamental idea behind our process,” Zeitlin explains, “is that we try to make the creation of the film mirror the reality of the actual story.”

That’s a tall order considering the magical realism of Beasts of the Southern Wild. The film unfolds in a fringe community of misfits called The Bathtub. Residents of The Bathtub live beyond the levee, effectively beyond the reach of either the laws of man or God and beyond the protection afforded the levee. It’s an enclave of beaten-up trailers, jerry-rigged boats, crab feasts, outcasts, and glorious bacchanals. There’s no money in The Bathtub, but as Zeitlin says, an “absence of money doesn’t mean poverty.” His film, executed on a shoestring budget, is proof.

The beating heart of The Bathtub and Beasts is a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) whose angelic face is fierce and feral and wise. Hushpuppy’s father, an alcoholic Thoreauvian saint named Wink (Dwight Henry), is dying, and as a storm approaches, ex- poses himself as a flawed, loving, noble, and failing man. There are no easy answers in the bayou—just beauty, ugliness, joy, and unease.

Henry and Wallis are just two of the many non-actors who populate the film and give it the feel of a Les Blank documentary. Scenes don’t have ends or beginnings; they seem to unfurl and the camera just happens to catch it. This is the fruit of Court 13’s process: the B- roll alone deserves an Oscar. But behind this nonchalance lies tremendous work. “We auditioned 4,000 girls before we found Quevenzhané,” says Zeitlin. As for Henry, a baker-by-trade whose Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Café is a Treme institution, he had to be convinced to act. “I don’t do no acting,” Henry says in his deep Louisiana drawl. “I’ve got my bakery. That’s my heart.” Happily, with the financial sup- port of the Sundance Institute, Zeitlin finally lured Henry from his flour and buttermilk.

The result is magical, but there are so many ellipses—throwaway shots of such arresting beauty, and loose ends of such force—a simple recitation of facts would ill-serve the viewer. Furthermore, true to the Court 13 credo, it’s not the conclusion of events but the unfolding of them that ennobles the movie. And the unfolding continues. Since it debuted at Sun- dance this year, the film has been widely acclaimed, and in May was shown at Cannes. But Henry doesn’t see movie stardom in his future. His words echo the spirit of Beasts and of Court 13 itself. “Material things,” he says, “don’t mean much to me.” It’s the animal spirit that counts.