The legendary W.C. Fields once said "never work with animals or children," but that advice has thankfully been broken time and time again, and especially in 2013, when a whole crop younger thespians were able to truly show their chops (not to mention the cat performances from "Inside Llewyn Davis”). Since so many of our favorite movies this year were enhanced and made real by younger performers, we wanted to highlight their contributions in a stand-alone feature,
Many of these films are about coming of age, of straddling that line between childhood and adulthood. Then there are other stories of very young people who are faced with very adult problems and performances that capture the complex inner lives of children. Childhood is such a culturally contested time of life—many adults view it through nostalgia-tinted glasses as a time of pure innocence and happiness untainted by life experience. But a more realistic view of childhood is that children are just as emotionally and morally complex as adults; they struggle with the same choices and problems in their own way. These films, and these performers, captured and expressed those themes so well, and for that, we had to give them their due.
10. Annie Rose Buckley – "Saving Mr. Banks"
What all of the commercials for "Saving Mr. Banks"—sprinkled with fairy dust and scored by soaring, inspirational music—aren't telling you is that a fair amount of the movie is set in 1907 Australia and follows the younger version of "Mary Poppins" author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), a lifetime before she entered into the tense negotiations to have her work adapted by affable ole Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). This is where we meet the young Travers, going by her birth name Helen Goff and played by young Annie Rose Buckley. Young Helen is referred to as "Ginty" by her moody, alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), and much of the movie rests on her tiny little shoulders. Buckley still manages to give a rousing performance, not only crafting a believably solid character (one who reacts to what's going on more than actively participates) but also serving as a kind of human time machine for which the elder Travers can revisit her dusty, frontier past. As Buckley goes through the course of the movie, you can watch her resolve start to steel itself. The elder Travers is being formed right before our eyes. And while she doesn't have any of the movie's showy, tug-on-your-heartstrings moments (she unfortunately does not get to join in on "Let's Go Fly A Kite"), it's still a child performance of uncommon depth and subtlety, indeed in places it's downright magical.
9. Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias - “The Kings of Summer”
Much like another entry on this list, “Mud,” Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ “The Kings of Summer” attempts to capture a fleeting moment of teenage boyhood, a version imbued with nostalgia for the wild, natural world. But while Nichols chooses a crime/mystery setting to tell that story, Vogt-Roberts goes for an almost fantastical, funny version, and lets his three leads shine. Nick Robinson, as the tortured Joe, suggests to his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) that they build a house in the woods to escape their overbearing parents. They do, and somehow end up with the delightful weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias) tagging along. Much of the film is unrealistic, but that’s okay, in a way, because it’s like a boy’s fantasy of a perfect world: friends, woods, no parents, beer sometimes, and a nearby Boston Market. Then girls get involved and things go downhill, but it remains up high tonally, never getting into anything too dark. Robinson is a standout, growing a bizarre mustache and descending into a deep hole of madness beyond his years, realizing that he’s slowly turning into his grump of a father (Nick Offerman). Arias is also a treat, letting Biaggio’s truly off-beat freak flag fly, and he brings a fun sense of weird to proceedings that could otherwise get mired in the love triangle between Joe, Patrick and Kelly (Erin Moriarty). Though differing in tone, “Mud” and “Kings of Summer” celebrate that short moment between boyhood and manhood, and both offer tribute to the wild ways of boys, cut all too short these days.
8. Keith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever, Alex Calloway, Kevin Hernandez, et al - “Short Term 12”
We’ve given a lot of shine to “Short Term 12,” for standout performances by Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield (not to mention an excellent turn by John Gallagher Jr.) and ace writing/directing from Destin Daniel Cretton. But as much as it’s a film about young adults finding their way, it’s also about the kids that they work with at the short-term foster care facility, and they too deserve their due. Kaitlyn Dever as the dark and traumatized Jayden is both heartbreaking and terrifying in her performance, as well as Stanfield. Alex Calloway is tasked with an almost entirely physical performance that requires him to be nearly catatonic at times, and running wild in others, his attempted jailbreaks also serve as bookends to the film. Kevin Hernandez’s Luis is a smart ass foil to Stanfield’s Marcus, as both his nemesis and punching bag. What "Short Term 12" does so well is balance the darker moments with authentic humor, which serves as a relief and release of tension but also reflects how things would go in real life. The kids are a large part of that, imbuing the proceedings with their own natural, goofy selves. Kids are weird and funny and these are no different, despite the circumstances. Their presence helps to make the world around Larson’s Grace feel real, but they’re more than just a setting—they’re fully realized and authentic characters with backstories and futures, and it is this multitude of diverse stories that makes "Short Term 12" so powerful.