3. 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'
The year's best film from a first-timer. Director Benh Zeitlin, a New York transplant to New Orleans, says his dare was to merge "the poetics of an art film with something that feels like Die Hard." Done. Living on the post-Katrina Louisiana bayou, six-year-old Hushpuppy (the amazing Quvenzhané Wallis, not too young for an Oscar) has no fear of poverty, hurricanes or rampaging creatures that emerge from melting polar ice caps. Zeitlin creates a world of beauty, terror and mythic wonder. And Quvenzhané? She's the man.