Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film directed by Benh Zeitlin, with a screenplay written by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar. The story follows 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a young girl living with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in an area of southern Louisiana below the levee known as “The Bathtub.” A fierce storm is making its way towards the Bathtub, and the reality that Hushpuppy thought she knew is shifted upside down in an abrupt rage. The storm leaves her house under water, and Hushpuppy must learn to survive while also taking care of her father who becomes gravely ill. With the help of the tight-knit Bathtub citizens, coupled with her keen sense of imagination, Hushpuppy fights to conquer these catastrophes.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is by far one of the best films released this past year. It is fantastical, creative, and enjoyable in every sense of the word. Part of my fascination and appreciation for this movie is the fact that no one associated with this project is anyone I have ever heard of before. Remarkably, this is Zeitlin’s very first feature film, having only created short films in his days as a filmmaker. The screenplay he and Alibar wrote was also adapted from a one-act play (Juicy and Delicious) originally written by Alibar herself.
Aside from the little-known director and writer, some absolutely awe-inspiring acting performances are showcased in this film, and the two lead actors were complete amateurs entering the production of this movie. In fact, Dwight Henry was simply a local business owner in New Orleans, and after developing a relationship with Zeitlin and the other members of his film crew prior to production of the movie, he was offered the role due to his own emotional experiences during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Before viewing the film, I had no knowledge Henry’s pure lack of acting experience, and quite frankly, he fooled us all. The passion and power he brings to the role of Wink is done in a way that only veteran actors could do—but here stands Henry, someone who had never acted before, giving viewers an enthusiastically exquisite portrayal of a man that has fallen on hard times of epic proportions.
The most breathtaking performance in the film, however, is that of Quvenzhané Wallis. Wallis, now nine years old, was only six when the movie was filmed. That fact alone makes her brilliantly astonishing portrayal of Hushpuppy even more impressive. In the film, Hushpuppy is driven by her creative imagination and her fascination with animals, and Wallis’ emotional depiction makes you think it is truly Quvenzhané on the screen in these disastrous circumstances and not Hushpuppy. Her interpretation of this character has not gone unnoticed—she has been nominated for many significant awards, including Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards. After seeing this film, Wallis’ nomination is more than justified. Beasts of the Southern Wild is rated PG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language, and brief sensuality.
Academy Award nominations for Beasts of the Southern Wild:
Best Picture (Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, and Michael Gottwald, Producers)
Actress in a Leading Role (Quvenzhané Wallis)
Directing (Benh Zeitlin)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin)
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:
11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
12. The Dark Knight Rises
14. The Master