Has there been a stronger year for child film actors than 2012?

I’m not going to go through the formality of checking, but suffice it to say that it’s only September, and we’ve already seen enough keen kids to justify a youth category come awards time, including a one or more that ought to have some grownups looking over their shoulders.


Two movies that premiered Sunday at the Toronto Film Festival, “The Impossible” and “The Company You Keep,” each trotted out important kid players. Virtual newcomer Tom Holland (he played Billy Elliott onstage in London), as the oldest of three brothers in “Impossible,” has an important enough role to call him the film’s lead actor as opposed to the better-known Ewan McGregor, while Jackie Evancho showed she’s more than a singing prodigy with her earnest sweetness as the daughter of Robert Redford’s character-on-the-run in “Company.”

They’re following in the footsteps of Quvenzhane Wallis, who set the tone early in the year with her mesmerizing appearance in Sundance and Cannes favorite “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and who remains perhaps the leading candidate to actually break into the lead thesp race. But wait, there’s more.

Moonrise-Kingdom-007Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward formed arguably film’s most beguiling couple of 2012 in “Moonrise Kingdom,” conveying sincerity through the heart of Wes Anderson’s stylist scout escaper. Meanwhile, in a role that asked more of him than anyone had a right to expect, Pierce Gagnon is practically searing as the son with a dangerous future in Rian Johnson’s Toronto opener, “Looper.”

In another TIFF feature, “What Maisie Knew,” Justin Chang’s Variety review calls Onata Aprile
Onata“piercing” and “remarkable” while noting that the 6-year-old appears in every scene. Having interviewed Aprile as part of our Variety Studio sessions, I can testify that Aprile is not simply replicating her bouncy civilian persona in “Maisie.”

Also to be noted this year among Toronto pics are child thesps as new as Papua New Guinea native Xzannjah Matsi in Hugh Laurie starrer “Mr. Pip,” and as seasoned as Saroise Ronan, who hadn’t turned 18 when she filmed Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium” with Gemma Atherton.

Odds are many of these performances (and others not mentioned here) will be forgotten come awards time, but it needs to be remembered that some of these tykes are doing some heavy lifting in their films, and the degree of difficulty is often one that adults would have trouble handling. So even if there are no kudos … kudos, kiddos.