Awards Profile: Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Directed By: Benh Zeitlin
Written By: Lucy Alibar, Behn Zeitlin

Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry

Synopsis (from IMDB): Faced with her father’s fading health and environmental changes that release an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy leaves her Delta-community home in search of her mother.

Why it Could Succeed: 
Beasts of the Southern Wild, more than other films in the Oscar discussion this year, presents a fresh, unique option for voters. During the awards season, films often start looking like the sums of a formula ie. period piece+famous director+good cast=Oscar. Academy voters won’t likely forget this whimsical tale when they’re presented with more standard options. This movie is also being distributed by Fox Searchlight, a studio that knows its way around the awards season.

The Sundance hit factor also bodes well, as over the past few years Sundance movies have continuously appeared amongst the Oscar nominated films. Add to that the fact that writer/director Behn Zeitlin created this script while at the Sundance Institute and you can definitely see this being a player in the Oscar race. It says something about a film that even with a cast of unknowns led by 10 yr old Quvenzhané Wallis was able to get this much acclaim. One could easily see the critics rallying around this movie to keep it in the discussion.

The newly released trailer also showed off some impressive technical aspects of the film like the cinematography (it won at Sundance) and incredible art direction of the Bath Tub. It’s always easier for smaller films to reach Oscar glory when multiple branches can appreciate the film and this could have widespread appeal for Academy voters.

Why it Could Fail:
While it was a Sundance hit, Beasts of the Southern Wild is still a small movie that could very well get lost in the shuffle. In fact, since the movie is being released in the glut of the summer (it opens the same day as Magic Mike and G.I. Joe: Retaliation), it could get lost before the awards season actually starts. The Tree of Life and Midnight in Paris made it into the Best Picture race but those films were directed by famous directors and starred major actors. With Benh Zeitlin and his cast being complete unknowns, will the film have that type of staying power?

The uniqueness of the movie might also be its downfall. It doesn’t fit the traditional mold of an Academy film (fairy tale-esque plot, first time director, unknown cast) and that could derail the film’s chances. The trailer made the film looks like a lot like Where the Wild Things Are and while that movie was critically loved, it didn’t translate into Oscar love. I could easily see a scenario where this film gets deemed to family friendly for Oscar or too serious for families.

Child actors are a tough sell with the Academy and audiences, and this film is basically riding on the performance of a 10 year old girl. That’s a lot of faith that Zeitlin has put in the audience to accept a child as the protagonist and Wallis will have to be some kind of special to keep our interest.

Awards Speculation: 
This film will likely be a shoe-in for the Indie Spirits, but for Oscar it might be a tougher road. That said I think the quirks of this film will be enough to keep it in the conversation all year long. The most likely destination for the film would be Original Screenplay, which is where Oscar likes to reward well regarded indie movies. But if the film catches on and becomes a critical and commercial hit, then Best Picture might not be out of the equation. I could also see this movie receiving some craft nominations like Art Direction or Cinematography.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Director (Benh Zietlin)
Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Art Direction
Best Cinematography
Best Editing
Best Score