Beasts of the Southern Wild


There really is no difference between awards shows now. When I first started, the Indie Spirits really were about celebrating independent film. I’ve actually been doing this long enough to remember when there wasn’t really such a thing as independent films infiltrating the awards race. Funnily enough, the studio that really changed all of that was Miramax, run by Harvey and Bob Weinstein. They now run The Weinstein Co and they really do find, sell and distribute independent films – The Artist and The King’s Speech were both independent films that were picked up and turned into Best Picture winners by the Weinstein Co. “Harvey” as he’s known here, there and everywhere is really a team of very good, hard working publicists who never get the credit.  Their team is both “Harvey” the schmoozer and the hard core publicists.

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The Oscars can be a kaleidoscope view of our world — spectacular and surreal. Or they can be a microscope, honing in with sharp perspective on matters we’re obliged to observe with crystal clarity. The themes that course through this year’s Oscar race for Best Picture will likely be far more consequential than stories of a king from the 1930s who stuttered or a silent movie star who lost his mojo. For voters in recent years, those films offered a path of least resistance; they delivered a lot but asked so little of us in return.

Between then and now, we’ve witnessed a divided America, a hard fought election, a second-term victory by the first black president, and the subsequent fallout which cannot yet be measured. These events have altered our perceptions of ourselves as Americans. How could they not? 2012 wasn’t a bloody civil war but it often felt that a physical clash was just a few hurled insults away. Racist tweets from young students in the deep South using hateful epithets you just don’t hear anymore were quickly investigated and rightly outed. At this very moment, signatures are being gathered from at least 15 states on petitions to secede from the union. All because a black man is in power and he won’t step aside until he finishes the job he started. Nothing has ever made America lose its head the way it has over this.

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Benh Zeitlin’s remarkable Beasts of the Southern Wild was the only non-documentary that went on to the final round for IFP’s Gotham Independent Film Audience Award contest. The other nominees:

Artifcat (Jared Leto doc)
Invisible War (rape in the military)
Burn (about Detroit firefighters)
Once in a Lullaby: The PS 22 Chorus Story (about the group getting to sing at the Oscars)

Tough lineup I’d say. Beasts of the Southern Wild has a way of really winning people over and almost always wins something everywhere it competes. It’s truly astonishing to see a film hang on for that long even when it isn’t making that much money. This one really IS the “little movie that could.”

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With two weeks before the US Presidential election, nerves are frayed. The horses are kicking in their stalls. Cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon and a country sharply divided. Oscar season had no choice but to start early this year. With ballots being turned in very early in January, there are just two months left to lay it all out. At the end of November and early December we’ll get our critics top ten lists. After that, the critics awards. Then the guild awards followed by the Oscars. That means that a consensus will be forming soon. Usually by the beginning of December the race seems to be about a handful of films that have run the gauntlet and come out the other side with a consensus vote. Some of these movies have been preordained, their places in line held firm. They only have to meet or surpass expectations to fortify their position.

Oscar pundits are busily making their lists, putting certain names at the top of the list because they deserve to be there, or because they hope they will be there. Oscar voters are preparing for the all-out assault of ads and screeners, parties and interviews. Through the noise they’ll lift their fingers and point, “that one. I like that one.” It’s enough to drive any sane person off the cliff, that is, if the election hasn’t done that already. But at this stage of the game, there isn’t a lot more we can know because four of the biggest movies of the year have yet to be seen: Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hobbit. Any one or all or none could shift the race from where it stands right now.

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Over at The Hollywood Reporter busy bee Scott Feinberg breaks the news that the actors from Beasts of the Southern Wild are ineligible for Screen Actors Guild awards either in the lead, supporting or ensemble categories.

That means there will be no precedent set in case Beasts wins any Oscars in lead actress or supporting since it’s impossible for them to win the SAG.  But lest we forget, SAG made history last year with the deserved wins of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, the first two black actresses to win on the same night. But Oscar, sadly, did not choose to follow suit.  Insert disappointed sigh here.  Alas, it looks like the Great White Hope will dominate this year’s SAGs, unless somehow Django Unchained manages to take over.

Feinberg digs into the story, describing the level of difficulty in store in case the film wanted to become SAG-eligible to compete for those awards.

I can’t think of another incidence of a little tiny indie movie like this, made on a shoestring, gets enough attention that the SAG question is even asked, let alone that they were deemed ineligible.

When director Benh Zeitlin was asked for a quote he said “I’m positive they both have long and amazing acting careers in front of them.” If outside the box thinkers like Zeitlin keep making movies, yes.

David Denby talks about the dying breed of originality in art — I assume he’s talking about mainstream Hollywood films, which lose their local flavor because they have to be generic enough to appeal to an international audience. I don’t know that I agree with his premise but I think he’s a great writer – and I am looking forward to reading his book. He talks to Rachel Martin on NPR’s Weekend Edition and had this to say:

On how blockbusters must now be accessible to audiences all over the world, and why they suffer as a result

“Two-thirds of the box office return comes from overseas. They have to play in Bangkok and Bangalore, you know, as well as Bangor, Maine …

“The local flavor has gone out of them. In the early ’70s, there were a lot of things set in American, very specific places like Nashville, [Tenn.,] you know, or The Godfather in New York in the late ’40s, and Long Island and the city. I mean, that sense of a very specific time and place has vanished.

“Now you’re getting it in small films, particularly things that go through the Sundance process of script development, like Beasts of the Southern Wild, this marvelous film that came out this past summer that was shot in the bayous of Louisiana. You can’t get much more specific than that. I miss that. There’s a certain grandeur, a certain ambition [that] has just gone out of studio filmmaking. And they openly say they’re only interested in spectacles made from comic books and games, or maybe young-adult fictions and genre films. “

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