The nominations: Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay
The film: Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, pronounce kwan-VAN-ja-nay) and her daddy Wink live together in the Bathtub, a fictional Delta community in the Louisiana bayou cut off from the rest of the world by a levee. Hushpuppy attends a makeshift school with the rest of the kids from the Bathtub with Miss Bathsheba who teaches about the Aurochs trapped in the Arctic icecaps, large beasts from prehistoric times. At home Hushpuppy spends a lot of time on her own in her own separate house as her ailing father is away doing whatnot a lot of the time. After an argument one day, her father comes home to find her house set on fire. He chases her down and slaps her; when she punches him back in the chest, he suffers a cardiac arrest and collapses. Hushpuppy runs off to get help only to find Wink gone when she returns with her medicine.
With a horrible storm coming, Hushpuppy gets worried and goes looking for her father. She finds him staggering along the side of the road and he whisks her home to prepare for the inevitable flood and destruction he knows is coming. He tries to help calm her fear by firing his shotgun into the sky to scare away the storm. Luckily they survive and float away on a boat made from an old truck bed. The destruction to their beloved community is vast. When they reconnect with other survivors they celebrate their survival and promise each other to rebuild the community except that everything is dying from the ocean water brought in by the storm. Wink and some other people plan to drain all the bad water out by using some dynamite to punch a hole in the levee. It does the trick and the water recedes, but the authorities come an evacuate the residents to a shelter with other storm survivors. A doctor there performs surgery on Wink though it isn’t able to help him. Fearful of the oddly clean and organized world, the Bathtub’s residents make an escape at the first opportunity they get. Knowing her father is close to death, Hushpuppy takes off on her own, with a few of her young friends tagging along, in search of her mother in the midst of the huge and frightening world.
The odds: AMPAS has always fancied themselves to be the most prestigious and forward thinking of any award-giving film-based society out there, and they are and justifiably so. As the world of independent filmmaking has be gaining so much critical traction over the last twenty years, they have done their part of recognizing deserving honorees and as the indie tradecraft progresses in quality so does its recognition. Beasts of the Southern Wild was by far the most unique film made this year – no one is making movies like this – and that is why its being represented at the Oscars this year. Its no question that the reason Ben Affleck was edged out of a directing nomination this year was because of Beasts writer/director Benh Zeitlin; yes it was terrible that Affleck didn’t get his due and I support views of his injustice, but I still believe in the simple math. Not everyone can be recognized and not everyone is lucky enough to make movies that will get them invited back for another go for gold. Beasts is Zeitlin’s first film and the guy is only thirty-one. Will he win the award for Best Directing? Not a chance. Will he be up for another film someday? Possibly, but its just as possible that this little film is a fluke and he will be unable to recreate such singularity. Will Affleck receive a nomination someday? Absolutely. Yes. Without question (unless he meets an untimely death). With such an intense battle going for the Best Actress prize, its highly unlikely Wallis will win either; she’s nine and not only was she, though tremendously vibrant and wise in her performance, incredibly outgunned by the other nominees but voters will be hard-pressed to put the immense pressure of earning an Oscar at such a young age – just look what happened to Tatum O’Neill. If there were any race this movie gets close to the finish line with it would be with Adapted Screenplay. Lucy Alibar wrote the stageplay Juicy & Delicious, on which Beasts is based, and rewrote the script for the big screen with Zeitlin. Wallis’s Hushpuppy vocally meditates over the movie with the insightful presence of Morgan Freeman’s Red in The Shawshank Redemption, her narration being the embodiment of soulfulness. The phrase “the nomination is the prize” was made for movies like this – having said that, it deserves every prize its won.