For filmgoers, the year can roughly be divided into two big periods: Grab Yer Popcorn Time (summer) and Watch Fancy People Drink Tea Time (fall awards season). Sometimes, though, a movie – and a performance – can buck this trend. And sometimes, quite rarely, it happens more than once. Currently, we’ve got our hands in a bucket of corn, and we’re seeing three award-worthy performances in theaters. And there’s something even rarer about the group: They also happen to be from actresses under the age of 18.
Hear us out: Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade), Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace), and Milly Shapiro (Hereditary) have all given the kind of sit-up-and-pay-attention performances that get awards voters clucking about the chance of a surprise young Oscar contender. Their performances come during what’s been a strong year form young performers generally – we’ve already enjoyed Storm Reid, a smart young woman making science cool in A Wrinkle in Time, and can look forward to Myles Truitt in the action sci-fi film Kin.
It’s Fisher, McKenzie, and Shapiro that have the critics talking, though, and each of their performances echoes – and in some cases surpasses – the work of the previous 19 under-18 Oscar nominees or winners. (You know, in our opinion.) Get to know the actors below, the roles that have tongues wagging, and why we think you’re still going to be hearing about them towards the end of the year.
Just when you thought it had totally healed, Elsie Fisher reopens that old middle school-shaped wound you stopped noticing as Kayla in Eighth Grade, currently Certified Fresh at 98%. With her 20-plus credits, including the first two Despicable Me movies, Fisher is no stranger to Hollywood, but there doesn’t appear to be a trace of precocious child-actor affectation in her performance. No matter what era you grew up in, Fisher’s YouTube video sign off of “Gucci!” feels like something we all said, in some way, tinged with anxiety and uncertainty. Growing up gets really difficult at that middle-school stage, and Fisher does it all with a camera running. When you watch it, you get to root for both her and the You of Your Past. Ten-year-old Mary Badham received a nomination for a similar role in To Kill a Mockingbird, where the learning curve was steep and difficult to maneuver.
Nomination reel scene: Kayla burns her hopes and dreams around the fire pit with her father, who is desperate to connect with her. Try and watch it without tears. We dare you.
Milly Shapiro, 15, came to Hereditary as a Broadway veteran, having starred in the stage productions of Matilda the Musical and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. In the Certified Fresh horror film Hereditary, Shapiro’s Charlie didn’t just make a clucking noise mainstream – and utterly terrifying; her restrained and mysterious portrayal of Toni Collette’s character’s introverted daughter resonates throughout scenes she’s not even in, and helps make an unsettling movie even more so. Best Supporting Actress contender? Just maybe. Shapiro brought us straight back to Academy Award nominee Linda Blair in The Exorcist, which is a more physical and aggressive performance – spider walk, anyone?! – but similarly disturbing.
Nomination reel scene: Charlie quietly snips the head off a pigeon with shears and an emotionless stare. That would definitely be an Academy first.
At a rare 100% on the Tomatometer with more than 120 reviews, Leave No Trace is the kind of film that makes a writer excited to professionally discover flicks and spread the word. Much of that excitement is due in large part to 18-year-old Thomasin McKenzie, the New Zealand-born daughter of actress Miranda Harcourt and director Stuart McKenzie, who plays Tom, a young woman growing up off the grid with her father (Ben Foster), and dealing with both their non-traditional lifestyle and his PTSD. McKenzie had starred in big-budget films, television, and New Zealand web series before going into this role, and her quiet confidence and sensitivity fills every frame, making a contemplative film feel rich and impactful at every opportunity. Debra Granik directed this one, and was able to bring forth in McKenzie the same fortitude that Jennifer Lawrence’s character showed us in Winter’s Bone, Granik’s 2010 film. That movie earned Lawrence the first of her four Oscar nominations – will history repeat itself with McKenzie?
Nomination reel scene: Tom’s panic rises when she sees her father packing his belongings, signaling yet another migration. Her response is quietly heartbreaking.