Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

As awards season kicks into high gear, The Season is serving up daily spotlights on the films that are receiving (or, in our opinion, should be receiving) end-of-year buzz. These posts are aimed at highlighting some of the best cinema of the year and making the case for why they deserve your eyeballs, whether it's for the first, second, or fifth time.

While awards season bridges the December/January divide, you could argue that the cinematic New Year takes place in Park City at the Sundance Film Festival. Annually scheduled for mid-January, the independent film festival is not only the first major “new film” event in the new year, it has become, for better or worse, the first step in the year-long stride towards the Academy Awards. Nowadays, award prognosticators scour the Sundance lineup for the year's “little engine that could.”

At the 2012 edition of the festival, it was immediately apparent that one film that stood above the crowd: Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild. Set in a fictionalized southern Louisana community known as “The Bathtub,” the film follows Hushpuppy, stunningly brought to life by six-year-old newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis, and her struggle in a world that quite literally begins to fall apart after her father becomes ill.

Q&A with Beasts of the Southern Wild director, writer, producer and cinematographer at ND/NF '12. Photo by Godlis.

Despite its indie film leanings—with its Sundance premiere, non-professional actors, and its origins with New Orleans-based creative collective Court 13—you'd be wrong to think of Beasts of the Southern Wild as just another flash-in-the-pan success. Deemed by The New York Times' Manohla Dargis as one of the “best films to play at the [Sundance Film Festival] in two decades,” the film has wowed audiences around the world for the better part of a year now. After taking the top prize at Sundance and being the first-ever surprise Closing Night film at this year's New Directors/New Films Festival, Zeitlin's film went to southern France for the Cannes Film Festival and took home the Camera d'Or Prize, the award for best first feature. 

After a hugely successful theatrical release this past summer, Beasts continues to impress. Just two months ago, Zeitlin's film was awarded the Best First Feature award at the London Film Festival and last month Benh Zeitlin picked up the Breakthrough Director and Bingham Ray Awards at the Gothams.

As they say, everyone loves an underdog. Yet given the endless, richly-deserved recognition it's received throughout the year, Beasts of the Southern Wild isn't so much the little engine that could as it is a magnificent, inspiring force to be reckoned with.

Accolades (So Far):
Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic Excellence in Cinematography: Sundance Film Festival
Camera d'Or: Cannes Film Festival
Best Directorial Debut, Breathrough Actress: National Board of Review Awards
Best Breakthrough Director, Bingham Ray Award: Gotham Awards
AFI Movies of the Year, 2012
….and many, many more.

Watch David Poland's “Cannes Sneak” with Benh Zeitlin and Quvenzhané Wallis for Film Society:

Watch the full New Directors/New Films Closing Night Q&A: