Bringing ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ back into the Oscar fray

NEW YORK — How do you bring an indie darling back around when the season is filling up with quality work of the “Oscar” sort? Well, you do whatever you can, and for Fox Searchlight and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” it started with an intimate luncheon at Tomate Rouge this afternoon on 60th Street.

Many Academy members turned out to meet and great filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, writer Lucy Alibar and especially young actress Quvenzhané Wallis. Composer Dan Romer was also on hand, along with a number of the film’s producers. Directors Julian Schnabel and Albert Maysles turned out as well as actors such as Joe Pantoliano, Dennis Christopher, Robert Wuhl, Celia Weston and Delroy Lindo, among others.

Zeitlin was excited to be able to speak with so many fellow artists who had seen his film. It’s part of the campaign circuit he hasn’t really dealt with yet as the season is really just now ramping up and events like this are becoming more and more common. Maysles in particular was a heart-stopper for him. “He’s sitting there telling Godard stories,” Zeitlin told me with a bit of awe in his voice.

Wallis was seated at my table, her mother diligently at her side as ever. She’s 9-years-old now but was 6 at the time of filming, and she’s as charming as ever. Weston and Christopher fawned over the young star and Weston cutely explained which fork to use for the salad. She and Pantoliano told Wallis that they were just a couple of “old actors” who had been in many films. “You don’t look that old,” Wallis exclaimed. “Oh, you’re looking for an Oscar nomination,” Pantoliano quipped.

Separately, Christopher explained to me how humbled he was at the opportunity to work with “a director in his prime,” which he was afforded by starring in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” this year. He gushed over the director, noting that he was confused when he first got the script. “I’ve been cold in the business for years,” he said. But Tarantino even re-wrote the part for Christopher’s age, which just lit the actor up. “He’s the tits as far as I’m concerned,” he said. Perhaps another resurrection of a sort? Christopher’s big moment was “Breaking Away” over 30 years ago.

Swinging back to “Beasts,” the film is in an interesting spot. Searchlight’s other films — “The Sessions,” “Hitchcock” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” — didn’t end up having the stuff to make big pushes for Best Picture this year, but “Beasts” could. It was conspicuously absent from the Best Feature category at the Gothams, which will be held this evening, though it did receive breakthrough recognition for Zeitlin and Wallis. Still, if the studio has a player, this is it. Tomorrow’s holiday party will bring more face time for its principals (and for those of the other films), as will Wednesday’s in Los Angeles.

For Zeitlin, though, it’s all about maintaining a foothold amid the whirlwind. “This is amazing,” he told me, looking around the posh restaurant. “I can’t believe I’m here.”