'Beasts of the Southern Wild': 5 things to know about the Oscar nominated sensation

Quvenzhane-Wallis-beasts-of-the-southern-wild-hushpuppy-oscar-nominee-fox-searchlight.jpgWhen the 2013 Oscar nominations were announced this week, one title near the top of the Best Picture list may have been a surprise to casual moviegoers: "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

While "Beasts" was an arthouse sensation when it opened in the U.S. last summer (grossing a solid $11.2 million), and we here at Zap2it named it as the best film of the year back in December, it's still far from a mainstream mega-hit.

There's no doubt the Oscar nominations have now kicked the movie's profile up a couple notches. If you're one of the many people wondering "What is 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'? And why did it get nominated for four Oscars?" here are a few things you need to know:

1) "Beasts'" awards trajectory started early

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and immediately became one of the fest's famed word of mouth sensations. There was widespread agreement that this little movie with no stars, made by a first-time director and featuring a story that blends magical realism with heartfelt emotion was something special. It went on to win the festival's Grand Jury Prize and an award for Excellence in Cinematography. A few months later, "Beasts" won four awards at the Cannes Film Festival including the Camera d'Or prize for best debut film.

2) Its star, Quvenzhane Wallis, is the youngest Best Actress Oscar nominee ever

One thing everyone who's seen "Beasts" can't stop talking about is its dazzling young star, Quvenzhané Wallis. (In case you're wondering, that's pronounced: kwa van je nay.) She was only 5-years-old when she auditioned for the starring role of headstrong young Hushpuppy and, like the rest of the film's cast, had never before landed a professional on camera acting job. Wallis was 6 when she filmed the movie and 9 when she became an Oscar nominee this week. The previous youngest Best Actress nominee was New Zealand's Keisha Castle-Hughes who was 13 when she was nominated for "Whale Rider" in 2004.

3) It was filmed on location in and around Montegut, Louisiana

First-time director Benh Zeitlin worked with his friend Lucy Alibar to adapt her one act play "Juicy and Delicious" for the screen. (They're both up for Oscars now too: Zeitlin is in the running as Best Director and jointly nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay with Alibar.) But Zeitlin proudly describes the final product as the result of a collective effort dubbed "Court 13." Zeitlin and the filmmaking team were determined to capture the essence of the tiny Louisiana bayou town of Montegut, and lived among the locals for nearly a year before filming even began. Although the film's setting, called The Bathtub by its residents, is fictional, it's very much inspired by the real region in which it was shot.

4) President Obama is a fan

Even before "Beasts" was released it attracted some high profile fans including Oprah Winfrey (who dedicated an episode of her OWN series "Super Soul Sunday" to the film's story) and President Barack Obama. Winfrey said it was Obama who first told her about the movie. In a year end interview with People magazine, Obama singled out "Beasts" as one of his favorite movies of 2012 and called it "spectacular."

5) It's on DVD right now

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" was released on DVD and Blu-ray on Dec. 7, so it's available to rent, download from Amazon or iTunes, or order up on demand right now. If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?
Photo/Video credit: Fox Searchlight