Beasts of the Southern Wild is the first of the nine Best Picture nominees that I've seen. The film follows the lives of a fictional community in the Southern bayou in the middle of a storm and the resulting flood. It focuses on two characters: 6-year old Hushpuppy (Quvanzhané Wallis) and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry). Their lives aren't conventional, to put it mildly. At least from the perspective of the average viewer. They live in extreme poverty and Wink wouldn't be on the run to win "Father of the Year". But he does try, within his abilities and resources, to take care of his daughter.
Their lives get more complicated as Wink's health begins to worsen due to an unspecified illness, and due to the threat of a huge storm that approaches. The latter leaves their community flooded and their residents scrounging for food, while the former progressively weakens Wink.
The film felt a bit weird at times in that it feels like a documentary at times. There's a realistic and raw approach to it, in terms of directing, that I think benefits the story and its characters. But in the midst of it all, there's also a certain beauty and mystique to the images on screen. Kudos to first-time director, Benh Zeitlin, for that, and for pulling some excellent performances from both Wallis and Henry. Not that it was necessary, but reading about their real-life stories only adds weight to the strengths of the film. I would go as far as to say that, as impressive as Wallis' performance was, Henry was more deserving of a nomination.
The weakest part of the film, IMO, was the addition of a fantasy element with the approach of the "Aurochs". The director chose to integrate that into the main story, but I don't think he succeeded with it. To be honest, I don't think it was necessary, or that it could contribute much to the overall result. In the end, there was a disjointedness, a lack of cohesion and clear purpose between both parts. At least from my perspective.
But still, the film manages to hold its own on the strength of the two lead characters and their interactions. I really enjoyed that. Grade: B+
(All pictures belong to Fox Searchlight and its affiliates)