What you need to know about the awards-season hopeful about a girl named Hushpuppy:
1. What It's Like: According to reviewers, nothing—as in, it's literally like nothing else. The ultra-low-budget indie by first-time director Benh Zeitlin is a "game-chang[ing]" (Rolling Stone) Bayou fantasy that blends "magic and gritty realism" (New York Post) into a "thing of beauty" (Entertainment Weekly).
2. Why You Know (and Probably Like) Quvenzhané Wallis: You (a): saw the movie, and watched the newcomer command the screen as Hushpuppy; (b) saw Wallis on Jay Leno, and watched her set the host straight; and/or (c) already have the 9-year-old in your Best Actress pool.
3. Why It'll Contend: It's a liked and likable film with killer hooks, from Zeitlin and his merry band of DIY filmmakers, to Wallis and her fellow regular-people-turned-movie-star costars.
4. Why It Might Come Up Short: All that new, off-the-grid talent came back to bite as the film was ruled inelgible for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which typically serves as a blueprint for the Best Picture race. Also, Slate called the film "Rousseau's 'noble savage' nonsense all over again, but with crawdads and zydeco." That's the kind of hot-button criticism that could be heard more as the awards grow nearer, and the claws from the competition grow sharper.
6. What Audiences Think: They've made the film, made for about $1 million and change, an $11 million art-house hit. Playing since June, Beasts has yet to break wide.