Beasts of the Southern Wild
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film that has been drawing acclaim ever since it made its debut at Sundance, and it's easy to see why. This tale of a child and her drunken father surviving in post-Katrina Louisiana is directed with restless energy and brimming with imaginative touches, and in the central role of Hushpuppy it features a disarming turn from Quvenzhané Wallis (who was six when it was shot). But for all its moments of vivid beauty, Benh Zeitlin's wayward film never coheres into anything substantial.
The narrative is littered with missteps, notably a stop at a disaster relief centre that feels horribly rushed, and the incidents of magic realism that he tries to insert into the picture are an awkward fit. Most crucially, the scenes that should feel serendipitous and overflowing with emotion just don't ring true, which is a shame. There's so much natural wonderment in this location, and in Wallis' fierce performance, that Zeitlin shouldn't have felt the need to force it. [Philip Concannon]