Not Like The Others

Hushpuppy adrift in a wild world of her own.

In my Sesame Street years, a brief window when my children were preschool age and we lived within range of a television signal, some things rooted in my memory. Among them was a regular feature on the show that revolved around the idea that “one of these things is not like the others.”

That’s a concept to which I can relate, having always felt a bit out of synch myself.

Last night, as I sat through the hours of predictable puffery and praise that fill most Oscar shows, I mused on the always curious mix of contenders for Best Film. I had seen only two of the nine, so I was in no position to judge their relative merits, but I had read and heard a lot about most of them, and I had a pretty good hunch about how the night would go.

My friends have been raving about “Lincoln,” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” “Les Mis,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” also seemed like sure bets. And, having read the “Life of Pi,” and being a great admirer of Ang Lee, I was prepared to see him holding an Oscar before the night was over. Eight of the nine contenders could be defined by genre: historical drama, magic realism, quirky romance, tear-jerking drama, over-the-top theatre musical.

But, while all the films nominated for Best Picture were admirable, I didn’t really care much about which of them won. I was certain that the one that had stolen my heart had no chance in hell of winning. In fact, it’s kind of a small miracle it got nominated at all.

The small miracle at the heart of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is its six-year-old star, Quvenzhane Wallis. Hers is the enchanting voice that tells the tale, part folklore, part dystopian fantasy, of a little girl living on the edge of the Louisiana Bayou, a watery wasteland beloved by its recklessly independent community. The only love story in the film is that of the child and her father, who is wasting away from disease.

The forces of the modern world seem to be lined up against this small band of misfits, yet there is much joy and lyrical beauty and a kind of epic poetry in this film.

In the long history of the Oscars, from time to time something altogether “not like the others” finds its way into the final Best Picture list. This year it was “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

It ain’t Sesame Street.