Alright, so for my Top Ten this week I decided to revisit the 21st Century and the wonderful child performances that we saw come out of it. Part of this was inspired by my recent viewing of ‘Mud’ and my complete admiration for what Tye Sheridan was able to pull out of his performance, and the other part is inspired by the fact that my wife is about to give birth to my third child, due any day now, so I have babies (and kids) on the brain. In looking over my Fisti Awards for the aughts as well as this recent decade, I came up with a slew of child performances both nominated and listed in my top dozen. I tried to limit this particular top ten to the younger kids, cutting out the teenagers (or at least the late teens) so despite Scarlett Johansson, Evan Rachel Wood, Q’orianka Kilcher and Tye Sheridan delivering some of my absolute favorite performances (they probably would have topped this list), I’m excluding them for the mere fact that they were (are) teens, not really kids.
That being said, IMDB didn't always list birthdays for these young actors, so there may be some low teens here, but I doubt anyone on this list was over 13 so I think it stands.
Of the ten I’ve chosen, seven of them are Fisti nominees, with three of them resting in my top twelve of their particular year.
Elle Fanning would have landed on here twice, but I decided to cut her ‘Somewhere’ performance in order to include another actor. I’ll give a special shout out to Dillon Freasier, Saorise Ronan, Rory Culkin and Thomas Turgoose for their tremendous performances in their respective films. I hated knocking them off this list.
This was such a hard role to pull off. You have a very controversial subject that can be difficult to stomach if handled improperly, and while you need to deliver the right amount of emotional affectation, you also need to understand the need for restraint in order to make it truly effective. His line delivery is BRILLIANT (“the knife”) and just underscores the emotional callousness that this child must develop in order to survive his tragic circumstances.
Asa Butterfield/The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Young Asa Butterfield completely took my breath away in this film, finding every ounce of adolescent wonderment wrapped up in a head that is full of mature thoughts. You can see him taking in his surroundings and working things out in his head, confused by the evil he perceives in his adult counterparts and completely filled with childish naivety and innocence.
Sarah Bolger/In America
Reminding me of Dakota Fanning, Bolger shows a beautiful balance in her portrayal of this young Irish immigrant coming into her own as she observes the lives of her parents. She establishes the youthfulness of her character while layering her with this otherworldliness, taking in her surroundings with an unexpected maturity and insight. Her narration is also tear-inducing.
Max Records/Where the Wild Things Are
The spirit of childhood is rarely portrayed with such unbridled naturalism as with Max Records’ beautiful performance in this masterful film. Layering young Max with the aggression, frustration, curiosity and need for love that embodies the purity of childhood, Records is a wonder in this role. The perfect representation of what it feels like to be a child.
Not only does Heran have to deceive us with her gender for a portion of the film, but even after the reveal she needs to hold our attention and maintain believability as a sexually confused young girl trying to establish her own identity. She does so with such restrained intensity. When she is finally confronted you can see the fear, pain, confusion and nervous heartbreak all over her face. Just brilliant!
Elle Fanning/Super 8
Not just one of the greatest young actresses, but one of the greatest ACTRESSES working today, period, the younger Fanning is on fire. Her performance in ‘Super 8’ is a gem, showing such range and awareness. When she is ‘acting’ she is spot on, but when she is settled in and just ‘going with the flow’ she is unforgettable. She just breathes this profession.
Jamie Bell/Billy Elliot
I am not one who has felt that Bell’s career has gone in the direction that it should have, but there is no denying that this performance is one for the ages. Not just the technical aspects of the film (the dancing, the awkward gracefulness) but the emotional pull is remarkable. He finds so many layers, so many earthy textures to completely ground and carry this film. Fearless, that is what he is.
Haley Joel Osment/A.I. Artificial Intelligence
This top three was hard to order, but it had to be done and so Osment lands in third place, but only by a sliver. This multi-layered performance is UNFORGETABLE and defines child acting. The scene where his emotions are tapped into, the scene where he is abandoned, the scene where he kills himself; just OMG! He acts the hell out of this performance and does things many adult actors could never do.
Hunter McCracken/The Tree of Life
An observational performance, one that utters barely a word and yet one that haunts the core of me, McCracken completely took my breath away with a glance in ‘The Tree of Life’. Containing his aggression and fear and anger and then turning it on a dime, McCracken builds so many layers of a child and delivers them with strong convictions, anchoring the film and staying with us longer than any other element.
Ivan Dobronravov/The Return
There really wasn’t another option for this spot. Like I said, the top three were all really close, but there wasn’t going to be another #1. Dobronravov cycles through such a complex character, shading ever action with ample amounts of frustration, resentment and malice all wrapped up in an undeniable love and affection that illuminates the film’s core.