There’s a new film version of the musical “Annie” coming out this week, starring Quvenzhane Wallis as a modern-day version of the optimistic orphan. Full review coming soon, but just know that it’s terrible, and you should avoid it.
However, “Annie” does provide a good opportunity for a discussion of great performances from young actors, and for that I turned to my friend and fellow school parent Chambers Stevens. Chambers is a longtime actor, playwright and author, but he’s probably best known as a respected child acting coach. Each year, he gives out The Chambie Awards for the best work from actors under age 18. He sees through the cloying and precocious tendencies that have become cliches among child stars, and he has great taste (because he usually agrees with me). As you can see from the above photo, he also really likes cake.
So I asked Chambers to pick his five favorite performances from young actors. Here they are below, in his own words and with my thanks.
Jack Wild in “Oliver!” (1968): There are some performances that are badly acted, some that are well acted and some that are so believable that you can’t believe that this is not a documentary. And then there are peformances that are a force of nature. Jack Wild in “Oliver!” is that. His Artful Dodger makes you want to run away from home and join him as a pickpocket.
Natalie Wood in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947): I have seen this film over 50 times and I have yet to see a false note in her performance. It’s like when they started filming, this jaded little studio actress didn’t believe in Santa. But by the last shot, just like us, she believes.
Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon” (1973): It’s easy to see why she won an Oscar for this one. Part little girl, part 40-year-old con man, she steals every scene she is in.
Quvenzhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012): Remember the first time you heard Prince play? Or you saw Shakira shake? Remember when you first tasted a Cinnabon … that perfect mixture of cream and spice? Nothing would ever be the same. When I saw Quvenzhane’s performance, I felt exactly like that.
Matthew Lewis in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001): I love the “Harry Potter” books. I love the “Harry Potter” movies. The three main actors grew to be very good actors. In the beginning, they were a little green, and it shows on the screen. But there is one performance in the first film that is pitch perfect. Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom perfectly captures the loser in all of us. The insecurity. The feeling that we are not the lead in our own movie. And he does this all with only a couple of lines. And in the end — spoiler — when he wins the cup for the house, my heart leaps with joy.