Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

3. Dakota Fanning as Lily Owens in The Secret Life of Bees

Another movie about abused children and nurturing black mother figures in 1964, Gina Prince-Bythewood's version of the Sue Monk Kidd best-seller may cast its characters' miseries in a slightly too-rosy radiance. But that glow helps illuminate some potent star acting from Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Hudson and, above all, Dakota Fanning as a white girl searching for truths about herself and her dead mother. Fanning, 14, was seven when she emerged as a self-possessed little scene-stealer in the Sean Penn I Am Sam. Now she is negotiating early adolescence with the same gravity and poise. She has the eerie ability to lure the moviegoer's eye over to the part of the screen where she is, seemingly doing nothing. (There are few film pleasures as rewarding as watching Fanning listen.) She also has the gift of living inside the character without editorializing about it. She never pushes an emotion; she's like a doctor with a sixth sense for detecting internal ailments. Fanning wills Lily from fictional stereotype into persuasive movie life, and one of the sweet anticipations in moviegoing will be watching her mature into adult roles. Here's hoping the guys of Hollywood provide some good ones for her.