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The Major-League Minors of Summer 2013

April 24, 2013

The big question when it comes to child actors is: Who will be the next Quvenzhané Wallis?

After "Beasts of the Southern Wild" debuted last July, the plucky young Wallis walked off the screen and all the way to an Oscar nomination for best actress. She set the bar high, and got compared to everyone from Shirley Temple to Jodie Foster.

Now, there's a new crop of talent rising, including Onata Aprile, Charlie Tahan, Joey King, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, and Sterling Jerins.

In "What Maisie Knew," Onata Aprile digs into a daughter's reaction to her parents' divorce

It's not easy stealing scenes from Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan, but Aprile (who's already logged a guest spot on "Law & Order: SVU") plays the title character. Maisie, 6-ish, experiences the shocks, and aftershocks of the Manhattan couple's split, as they each get a new partner (Alexander Skarsgard for Mom and Johanna Vanderham as the nanny who snagged Daddy).

The merry-go-round of adult romance is a tough ride for young Maisie, and the big-eyed brunette delivers what Linda Holmes of NPR called "the most remarkable performance I've ever seen by a child of this age."

In Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," Charlie Tahan plays with the best cast on the cinema schoolyard

Charlie Tahan ("I Am Legend," "Charlie St. Cloud") gets to scratch "working with Woody Allen" off his bucket list. In "Blue Jasmine," Tahan plays Alec Baldwin's son and surrounds himself with big names like Cate Blanchett, Louis C.K. and, yes, even Andrew Dice Clay.

While minimal plot points have leaked out, we're hearing that it's about Blanchett's Manhattan society wife going broke and moving to San Francisco to piece together her life. Allen, still boyish at 77, continues to globe-hop and see the world through a young man's gaze, while Tahan has an opportunity for which many older actors would sell their souls.

Joey King rises on "White House Down" and faces the supernatural in "The Conjuring"

After voicing China Girl in "Oz the Great and Powerful" -- the best new character to hit the Emerald City -- the 13-year-old King anticipates two major movies premiering over summer vacation.

In Roland Emmerich's "White House Down," she plays Channing Tatum's daughter -- not bad! He's a cop who's touring the White House with his little girl when all hell breaks loose around them. Tatum's policeman must save the president (Jamie Foxx) and, by extension, the free world. (It's the Gerard Butler part in "Olympus Has Fallen.") Oh, Daddy, this time it's personal -- again.

And, then, in "The Conjuring" the bad guys don't bother with guns and explosives. They're supernatural and they're haunting King's family. With Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as her parents and Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as ghost hunters, expect King to spend a lot of time screaming and running. Cue the fear and look for her tonsils!

In "Before Midnight," Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick makes an impression while it's still daylight

As Hank, the son of Ethan Hawke's Jesse, Davey-Fitzpatrick ("Moonrise Kingdom") has one meaty scene as the movie opens. Hank and Jesse are at a Greek Island airport at summer's end to send Hank back alone to his biological mother who has custody -- and actively despises his father.

While Hawke frets and tries to get some kind of big emotional good-bye out of the youth, Davey-Fitzpatrick shows incredible restraint: please, Dad, no scenes. Not here. Not now.

The acting duet between father and son is a perfect example of a child of divorce becoming the parent to his own father. Davey-Fitzpatrick's restraint contrasts with Hawke's needy rawness. The perfection and naturalism of Davey Fitzpatrick's acting stands out -- if there was a best supporting actor for kids, he'd be a contender.

Sterling Jerins faces the zombie apocalypse in "World War Z"

Vulnerability is Sterling Jerins's trademark, and she has more than enough opportunity to use it playing Brad Pitt's daughter-in-extreme-danger in the highly-anticipated tent pole "World War Z." Cue the pitiful scream: "Daddy!!!"

The 8-year-old also plays Vera Farmiga's daughter in "The Conjuring" alongside Joey King, where they confront a different sort of undead spirits. For Jerins, acting is a family affair: Her sister Ruby plays Edie Falco's oldest daughter in TV's "Nurse Jackie."

Up next? Jerins will be playing another man's daughter -- this time it's Owen Wilson in the Cambodia-set thriller "The Coup," out next fall.

And the envelope, please: Who will be the next Quvenzhané Wallis?

If we picked one minor to stroll that red carpet come awards season, we're betting on Onata Aprile for her central role in "What Maisie Knew."

Watch the theatrical trailer for 'What Maisie Knew':