Why ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ doesn’t deserves its Oscar nominations


There’s been a lot of Oscar chatter about the fact that “Argo” seems on track to win the best-picture trophy this year – despite the fact that its director, Ben Affleck, was left off the list of best-director nominees.

What seems to have gone undiscussed is the elephant in the room – why Affleck’s nomination went instead to Benh Zeitlin, who directed the wildly overpraised “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Cheap, amateurish and sometimes just plain hard to watch, “Beasts” enjoyed a wave of overwrought critical hosannas, going all the way back to when the film first was shown more than a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival (where it won the always-suspect grand-jury prize, frequently given to an all-but-unwatchable film). It then got a much-vaunted sneak preview at last year’s New Directors/New Films series and, by the time it was released in June, was on track to be one of the best reviewed films of the year.

I didn’t see it until a couple of weeks prior to its release, having heard it buzzed about and hyped as this magical bit of breakthrough movie-making that dealt with race, poverty and Katrina politics, all in one slight film starring a 5-year-old.

And then I actually saw it and thought, well, geez, there’s not much there and I can’t imagine what I would write about it.

Fortunately, its opening came on a week I took as vacation, so I didn’t feel compelled to review it. Indeed, I felt no compulsion to even think about it any further; it neither moved me, nor stuck with me.

Still, given the critical response when the film was released, I assumed it would be a major contender when critics groups began to vote at the end of the year. But while it was competitive in the category for best first film when I voted with the New York Film Critics Circle in early December, it was easily bested by “How to Survive a Plague,” the first documentary to win that award from that group.

And, as the other critics’ groups voted through the month, it never really picked up any momentum.

This commentary continues on my website.

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