Friday, February 19, 2016

A Look at the 11 Youngest Oscar Nominees Throughout History

Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense
The time is upon us. We are officially in the single digits of the Academy Awards countdown. Leading up to the big day, I will be sharing random goodies that will be meant to highlight various Oscar trends. Yesterday was a ranking of every nominated film with more than 10 wins. In honor of today marking only 9 days to go, I have decided to pay tribute to the little guy. By that, I mean the kids who have populated the Oscar circles with their own impressive performances. The following is a list of the 11 youngest performers, for whom cinema would be  greatly different without.

Honorary Mention:
Shirley Temple

Age: 6 years, 310 days
Category: Academy Juvenile Award

It is likely that one would easily be stumped by this question: "Who was the youngest Oscar winner?" Most would jump to Tatum O'Neal or Anna Paquin. However, it's technically Shirley Temple - though not in a competing category necessarily. Between 1934 and 1960, The Academy Juvenile Award was handed out 12 times to promising performers who were under 18. Considering the icon that Temple remains for her child star roles, it makes sense that she would kick things off. While she would never receive a competitive nomination, she remains the youngest winner in history; a record that is likely impossible to ever beat.

Scene from Kramer vs. Kramer
1. Justin Henry

Age: 8 years, 276 days
Category: Best Supporting Actor
Film: Kramer vs. Kramer (nominated)

When discussing actual competitive Oscars, nobody has been nominated that is younger than Justin Henry for his endearing turn in the family legal drama Kramer vs. Kramer. In the film, he serves as the emotional crux to parents Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, who fight for his love. Thankfully, he was still enough of a child to make the film work, giving one of the most convincing and impressive child performances of the 70's while holding his own against actors more than 3 times his age.

Scene from Skippy
2. Jackie Cooper

Age: 9 years, 20 days
Category: Best Actor
Film: Skippy (nominated)

Before Shirley Temple and the other child stars to follow, there was Jackie Cooper's 1931 turn that made him the first Oscar nominee under 10 (fun fact: director Norman Taurog also became the youngest Best Director winner for this film at 32). It was a pretty good achievement, as the film tackled the childlike adventure of saving their pet from an evil dogcatcher. It may not have been the most dramatically complex performance, but it's one of the few that made the idea of a child star seem plausible.

Scene from Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Quvenzhane Wallis

Age: 9 years, 135 days
Category: Best Actress
Film: Beasts of the Southern Wild (nominated)

Among being the most recent child actor nominated, she broke the record for youngest female Oscar nominee (previously held by Mary Badham) for her turn in a film that turns the events of Hurricane Katrina into a fantastical allegory. With confidence and a wildly inventive story, she managed to become a breakout star in a film that had an unprecedented amount of success at The Oscars that year. Don't worry about her, though. She's doing just fine with her post-career, which includes a brief appearance in the Best Picture-winning 12 Years a Slave.

Scene from To Kill a Mockingbird
4. Mary Badham

Age: 10 years, 141 days
Category: Best Supporting Actress
Film: To Kill a Mockingbird (nominated)

There's a lot to love about To Kill a Mockingbird. For most people, it comes with the presence and career-defining performance of Gregory Peck. However, there's the just as endearing Scout, played by Mary Badham. The story that explores racism through childlike naivety has become a hit in large part to Peck and Badhma's stellar chemistry. Still, there's a great reason that she was the youngest actress nominee for over 40 years. She mixed childlike wonder with sensitivity in such a natural way that it's impossible to think of Scout being played by anyone else.

Scene from Paper Moon
5. Tatum O'Neal

Age: 10 years, 148 days
Category: Best Supporting Actress
Film: Paper Moon (won)

For my money, this is quite easily among the greatest child performances in film history. Thanks to the masterful direction of Peter Bogdanovich and great chemistry with real life father Ryan O'Neal, Tatum managed to bring the performance of a tomboyish girl to life by making her slow progression into womanhood an endearing cross country road trip. It's a performance rich with taboos, such as children smoking, that never feels out of place. It's a great film that is anchored by Tatum's ability to be snarky and sweet, depending on what the scene asked for. It explains then why she is the youngest competitive Oscar winner.

Scene from The Goodbye Girl
6. Quinn Cummings

Age: 10 years, 192 days
Category: Best Supporting Actress
Film: The Goodbye Girl (nominated)

While not nearly as memorable as most of the names on this list, Quinn Cummings starred opposite Richard Dreyfuss in a comedy about living with a struggling dancer. Her performance must have been great, especially holding her own against such charismatic actors. While she may not quite be the youngest actress on this list, she definitely managed to be memorable enough to have an Oscar-nominated performance. That's quite an achievement unto itself.

Scene from Little Miss Sunshine
7. Abigail Breslin

Age: 10 years, 284 days
Category: Best Supporting Actress
Film: Little Miss Sunshine (nominated)

It's hard to remember, but there was a time when The Oscars were obsessed with indie comedies. Every year seemed to bring one breakout film with a few breakout talents. Among the more noteworthy was Little Miss Sunshine, which brought a young girl named Abigail Breslin into the spotlight with a performance that balanced awkwardness with confidence in measures that were both satirizing beauty pageants as well as embracing outsider culture. While the film itself is an endearing look into dysfunctional families, most people will likely agree that Breslin was one of the standouts of the film, and who has had a decent career in the years since thanks to appearances in films like August: Osage County.

Scene from The Bad Seed
8. Patty McCormack

Age: 11 years, 181 days
Category: Best Supporting Actress
Film: The Bad Seed

It must have been exciting for Patty McCormack to learn that she had gotten the role in The Bad Seed. While movies about awful children are common nowadays, McCormack provided one of the earliest performances in 1956 while wearing a smile and hiding a secret. The film has a plot description worthy of attention, especially noting that the mother thinks her daughter is a serial killer. Still, it's nice to know that children were allowed to do performances just as dangerous and exciting as those three times older than them.

Scene from The Piano
9. Anna Paquin

Age: 11 years, 240 days
Category: Best Supporting Actress
Film: The Piano (won)

It may be difficult to look back on Anna Paquin's early career, especially if you're a fan of the raunchy True Blood. However, her turn in Jane Campion's period piece about a woman discovering herself definitely turned some heads and got her some much deserved recognition. Her performance is somber and one of those that reflects a dramatic maturity that goes far beyond that of the average child actor. For a film with such rich and adult subtext, it's interesting that there's still a youthful sense in Paquin's performance that helps to ground the film and elevate it to something greater.

Scene from The Sixth Sense
10. Haley Joel Osment

Age: 11 years, 311 days
Category: Best Supporting Actor
Film: The Sixth Sense (nominated)

There's a lot of impressive feats to be found in The Sixth Sense. From M. Night Shyamalan's equally impressive writing and director to the notorious twist, it's a film that resonated with audiences and made it one of the rare horror films to be nominated for Best Picture. However, Haley Joel Osment likely stole the show with an attention-grabbing performance that featured him turning creepy and whispering lines like "I see dead people." His career afterwards may have not given him a role as meaty, but he definitely left a permanent mark on cinema with a fascinatingly complex role.

Scene from Shane
11. Brandon deWilde

Age: 11 years, 312 days
Category: Best Supporting Actor
Film: Shane (nominated)

Rounding out the list is one of the most iconic non-cowboy performances in a western. For many, Shane embodies the genre at its core with a performance by Brandon deWilde as a child who idolizes the mysterious presence. It's easy to see why the performance resonated so well with audiences, as deWilde's obsession with the mythology likely paralleled many of the viewers who were too sad to see Shane ride off into the distance at the end. For a film that's mostly about an unforgettable hero, it's hard to forget about the boy whose life he changed forever. 

That is only 11 of the youngest Oscar nominated performers out there. I was initially going to include everyone under 18, but that proved to inflate the list beyond reason. Still, there's a lot of interesting names that missed the cut, and who you're more likely to recognize (Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?). Still, it's important to note that great performances aren't always done by seasoned vets. Sometimes they come from instinct, such as the case with these 11 names. They have left their mark on cinema, and we are all the more thankful because of that.

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