Monday, April 17, 2006

Request: Best Child Actor

Monday. Time for Reader Request [Use comments to request] Today’s topic was suggested by John T: Favorite Performance By A Child in a Movie

In real life I love kids. If I were super-wealthy like Mia Farrow or Agelina Jolie I'd probably adopt a whole bundle, too. In reel life I sing a different song. When I see tykes in movies I get nervous. They often stink up the joint, ruining good scenes with painfully stilted line readings.

Sometimes I find myself wishing a movie would jump forward in time so that a child actor could be replaced quickly [Example: Just rewatched Auntie Mame and I was counting down the minutes until young Patrick (Jan Handzlik) would go to college when I knew he'd suddenly be played by Roger Smith, an actor that Rosalind Russell, Peggy Cass, and Coral Browne could perform with rather than act around in the Oscar-nominated comedy.]

Generally speaking I think that American children are worse actors than foreign ones. I think this has to do with excessive television-watching and a resulting lack of naturalism: They're trying to do what they see as opposed to just being what they are. Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment, two much lauded child actors, are not typical of their breed. The reason so many people find them spooky is that their performances seem adult in mind if not in appearance.

I haven't looked at any movie lists to write this post so I'm operating on cinematic memory. But my choices for the two best performances are both from films that I've only seen once. I've never been able to shake either.

My runner up comes from an Australian film called Careful He Might Hear You. The actor playing a young orphaned boy is Nicholas Gledhill. Like many child actors not much of a career followed but I remember being astonished by him as well as the woman playing his aunt, Wendy Hughes, when it was released here in America. The movie is a gripping custody battle over the seven year-old.

Without hesitation I'd name the best acting I've ever seen from a child coming from Victoire Thivisol in the French film Ponette. I don't cry much at the movies. A few times a year my eyes will well up. Maybe once or twice a tear might escape. But when I saw Ponette it was plain old school weeping that occurred. I would have nominated Thivisol for Best Actress that year. I would almost have handed her the Oscar. I still remember her work vividly. I still think it's miraculous that the performance exists. I still wonder how it was wrestled on to the screen. She plays a young child who has suddenly lost her mother. She is confused, sad, lonely, and adrift. Victoire Thivisol was four years old. The film is a grade A cinematic study of grief and coping mechanisms. It has to be seen to be believed.

Use the comments to suggest a topic for next week. Or discuss this one.

previous requests: Classics I Haven't Seen (for Glenn) Favorite Animals (for Cal) Cher (for David) and The Sound of Music (for Becky)

tags: Dakota Fanning, child actors, movies, cinema, movies, Auntie Mame, Haley Joel Osment


Anonymous said...

No Anna Paquin? I thought you loved the Piano


J.J. said...

It begins and ends with "Mean Creek."

Calum Reed said...

Considering the age of the Mean Creek ensemble, they are magnificent. The best child actor performance I've seen is probably Haley Joel Osment in Artificial Intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Georges Du Fresne as Ludovic Fabre in Ma Vie en Rose,Owen Klein in The Squid and the Whale, Anna Paquin in The Piano.


Paul C. said...

One of my favorites is Ana Torrent in the Spanish film "The Spirit of the Beehive."

Anonymous said...


I'm right there with you on your love of Victoire Thivisol's performance in the brilliant Ponette. I remember when this premiered -- and she won Best Actress -- at the Venice Film Festival. I thought, "How could they give that award to a four year old? What could she do acting-wise beyond reacting? I bet she's just cute and precious."

However, after seeing the movie years later, it immediately became clear, "How is it she ONLY won one Best Actress award?" For real, she's that good, and I doubt any child performance will EVER eclipse hers.


adam k. said...

Would almost have handed her best actress!? In 1996!? Wow. Who are your best actress nominees for that year, Nathaniel? Can you do a retrospective? I'm assuoming Watson, McDormand, and now, Thivisol, and probably Brenda Blethyn... did Madonna make a wave? The Marvin's Room gals? I am curious. Such a rich year.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, who is your 96 line-up? Mine would be: 1) Watson, 2) Blethyn, 3) McDormand, 4) Madonna, 5) Scott-Thomas.


Anonymous said...

Keisha Castle-Hughes in "Whale Rider" was also pretty good.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Natalie Portman in 'The Professional'

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced that Poinette and Contact are essentially the same movie. Both center on a female character who loses parents in violent circumstances and feel unjustified guilt. Both characters have scenes where they sit around staring into space. Both films have the character reuniting with a parent under mystical circumstances. And both films have very awkward kissing scenes. Of course Victoire Thivisol was only four, and Jodie Foster has her own reasons.


ponette came out in 1997 in the states.

my medalists that year?
CHRISTIE -Afterglow (Bronze)
THIVISOL -Ponette (Silver)

and the other two i'm still arguing with myself about... but they do not include WINSLET -titanic (sorry kids. my least favorite of her 'major' performances) or HUNT

tim r said...

Yep, the kid from Pixote, yep, Ana Torrent from Spirit of the Beehive. Specifically Carly Schroeder in Mean Creek, for me, as she's a cut above the rest, and I think Rory Culkin is quite a lot better in You Can Count On Me.


Rachel Hurd-Wood in Peter Pan.
Both kids I think are bloody good in The Others.
I've always loved Alicia Witt in Dune, too, but maybe it's just me.

par3182 said...

i got a bit teary just thinking about ponette.

how about eamonn owens in the butcher boy and hugh o'connor in my left foot.

Sid said...

I'm not a Dakota fan. But Haley Joel Osment? He makes me cry in AI. I think it's one of the best performances of the decade.

Anonymous said...

I want an early bid for next week! Give us some Tony predictions and/or opinions. Thanks!

- Adam

R.E.M. Borja said...

Jesse Bradford in "King of the Hill" is phenomenal. Quite an underrated film and performance.

Glenn Dunks said...

Oh god, that little kid from The Butcher Boy was soooo annoying.

Some kids performances that don't get enough credit (so ya know, alongside Portman, Paquin, Osment...):

Everlyn Sampi in Rabbit Proof Fence
Heather Matarazzo in Welcome to the Dollhouse
Christina Ricci in both Addams Family movies
Alakina Mann & James Bentley in The Others

I'm sure there's others but I can't really remember.

That Nicholas Gledhill was on "A Country Practice" AND "GP"! Wow, that kid's awesome. Oh course he's not a kid anymore. How freaky would it be if he visited this blog...?

As for Best Actress lineups?
Joan Allen - The Ice Storm
Jodie Foster - Contact
Pam Grier - Jackie Brown (winner)
Frances O'Connor - Thank God He Met Lizzie
Vanessa L Williams - Soul Food

Clair Danes - Romeo + Juliet
Judy Davis - Children of the Revolution
Madonna - Evita
Heather Matarazzo - Welcome to the Dollhouse
Frances McDormand - Fargo (winner)

Glenn Dunks said...

oh god I'm stupid. How could I forget one of my fave performances of the last 5 years Jamie Bell in Billy Elliot?

Calum Reed said...

OMG. I forgot to mention Keisha! Amazing. Also Yuya Yagira in Nobody Knows.

Jill said...

Agreed on Victoire Thivisol. The most amazing child performance in film history, either before or since.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Kirsten Dunst's "Interview with the Vampire" performance. While it's definitely not a great film, boy was she ab fab in it.


Anonymous said...

My request for next week: Fantasy roles for your favorite actors/actresses. I already know from your "Actresses of the Aughts" that your dream role for Toni Collete is to play Liza Minelli. Couldn't disagree on that one.


Anonymous said...

What does everyone think about Cameron Bright in "Birth" and Freddie Highmore in "Finding Neverland"? The former was definetly memorable, if not great, as a supporting actor in the film. I must say I'm surprised nobody mentioned him (Bright).

Lyn said...

My favourites: the two girls from "In America". Every time they were in a scene, I totally believed it.

Vertigo's Psycho said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vertigo's Psycho said...

Looking back to the classics, I think Marcia Mae Jones in These Three (1936) is remarkably convincing in her hysteria, although young Bonita Granville (also impressive) got the Oscar nod for the film. Others that come to mind are Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, Peggy Ann Garner in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Brigitte Fossey in Forbidden Games, and Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens in The Innocents.

Glenn Dunks said...

Freddie Highmore can disappear for all I care.

Anonymous said...

From a classic movie... Natalie Wood in Miracle On 34th Street.

Unknown said...

Sarah and Emma Bolger from In America (as Christy and Ariel), and Keisha Castle Hughes as Paikea in Whale Rider are recent favorites because their performances seemed realistic. I haven't seen Ponette, but I will look for it.

Anonymous said...

That's a great story. Waiting for more. Watch a play online

Anonymous said...

Alright, w/ movies such as Running Scared, Godsend, and Ultraviolet, i believe Cameron Bright is the best male child actor. However, Dakota Fanning is best female child actor. they're both equal in talent, but i feel Cameron Bright is not given enough credit for his work.

Anonymous said...

Dakota Fanning is overrated. Mostly she just screws her face into a wide-eyed look of terror.

But performances that were both dramatic and subtly touching - the below moved me to tears.

Freddie Highmore - Finding Neverland
Christian Bale - Empire of the Sun (I always blubber at the ending scene. He really really deserved an Oscar nom)

now, this is strange, but while Abigail Breslin is of course renown for Little Miss Sunshine, I loved her performance in Signs. Her germaphobic, strangely grave four-year-old was surprisingly touching.

Macualay Culkin, can we say most overrated performance in child-acting history? His brother, Kieran, on the other hand, is absolutely fantastic.

Anonymous said...

7 year old Jimmy Bennett was amazing in The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. It's a shame everything he's done since then has been trash

Anonymous said...

Corey J Smith has got to be the best male child actor. He's a brit but I'll excuse that. I was totally taken in by this natural kid in the film Beaten. Available on DVD but get ready with the tissues.

Haley J Osmet is a sure fine runner up especially in Artifical Intelligence. Another sad performance but so good.

I would be happy to cast either boy depending on what side of the pond I was. But first I guess I have to get to be a casting director.

Hang on boys, Im a coming.

Looks like these guys are popular choices.

Anonymous said...

What about the kid who plays Christy Brown as a child in _My Left Foot_? Yeah, Daniel Day Lewis was great as the adult version of the character, but the younger version was even better. Most amazing kid performance ever.

Anonymous said...

David Bennet in the german movie "Tin Drum" (Die Blechtrommel)

Maaltanen said...

Victoire was amazing as Ponette.

Also Alessandro Morace in "Anche libero va bene" (Kim Rossi-Stuart - 2006) : great kid, but only two movies in his short career.

Marco Cortès in "Khamsa" (Karim Dridi - 2008) is the last amazing child actor performance, i think.

Jackie Coogan in "The Kid" (Charlie Chaplin - 2001) was the first child actor, and one of the best.

Edmund Meschke in "Germania anno zero" (Roberto Rossellini - 1947).

Ana Torrent in "Cria Cuervos" (Carlos Saura - 1975) was a Ponette before Ponette...

The three kids in "Demi-Tarif" (Isild le Besco - 2004) are terrific.

Nikolai Burlyayev in "Ivanovo detstvo" (Andrei Tarkovski - 1963), just wonderful.


Child Acting said...

I loved Jesse Bradford:)