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Could Willem Dafoe be in the running to win an Oscar for “The Florida Project”?

Earlier this week, we got a Trailer for a rather small independent movie that could make a pretty big splash during the awards season. This probably won’t shock you, but it’s also an A24 release. The flick in question is The Florida Project, which has been building some steady buzz since the Cannes Film Festival, especially for Willem Dafoe. Long considered by some to be overdue for a statue, Dafoe has received career best notices for his turn here. If he’s truly as good as advertised, he could help drive this movie right through the precursors. Watch out for this one folks.

The film is a look at growing up in poverty. The catch is, it’s seen through the eyes of a rather precocious and innocent six year old girl. Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friends, including Jancey (Valeria Cotto), run around the a week to week motel that Moonee’s mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) has them staying at. Run by Bobby (Dafoe), it’s not the ideal place for children, but Moonee and company find their fun. They also have a watchful protector in Bobby, especially when Halley isn’t always up to the task of mothering Moonee. Bobby may seem stern on the outside, but there’s a tenderness on the inside that will serve them all well. As Halley struggles and looks into more and more dangerous ways of providing for her daughter, Moonee goes about each day as only a child can…looking at it all with wonder and as a gift. Baker co-writes with Chris Bergoch and directs here, as well as edits. The supporting cast includes Caleb Landry Jones, as well as Macon Blair, Sandy Kane, Karren Karagulian, Christopher Rivera, and more. Alexis Zabe handles the cinematography.

Baker so far has proven to be an incredibly underrated indie filmmaker during his short career. From Starlet and Tangerine until now with The Florida Project, he has a distinct eye and a unique voice. This Trailer showcases just that, along with what looks like a phenomenal Dafoe turn. Young discovery Prince seems like something special too, but Dafoe’s doing something that could legitimately cry out for him to be recognized. Voters who actually see the movie may find him hard to resist. If so, the overdue narrative for him could build, making him a huge contender for an admittedly very small flick.

In a best case scenario, The Florida Project has a chance to contend for a couple of Academy Award nominations. It would have to be a fairly targeted campaign, mostly centered on Best Picture, Best Director (for Baker), Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor (for Dafoe), and Best Original Screenplay (for Baker and Bergoch). Honestly, it likely will be Dafoe or bust, and it will partly depend on if he goes Lead or Supporting. Actor seems like a tougher get than Supporting Actor, but the competition will have something to say as well. Don’t sleep on Dafoe, as he could possibly end up winning it all, especially if he’s Supporting this year. That field has a good chance of being wide open.

Here’s my two cents on the matter. Provided that reviews continue to be raves about this one, Dafoe looks like someone who could wind up an early critical favorite to win an Academy Award. Whether it’s in Actor or more likely Supporting Actor, he could sweep through the first phase, setting himself up to be one of the main options once the Guilds chime in. Now, maybe he falls by the wayside, but in a year where there may not be many veteran actors overdue for a win, he certainly fits the mold. At the very least, he has one of the more narrative ready candidacies to put forward in 2017.

Oscar hopes for something this small can always be tricky to figure out, but The Florida Project, and Dafoe especially, has got a fighting chance. Especially considering how A24 is handling it, you can’t count it out. It’ll be playing the fall festival circuit, hoping to build on its Cannes debut, before a platform release begins on October 6th. As long as the film doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, it’s one we’ll be hearing a lot more about. Dafoe appears to be someone tailor made for an Oscar run. Take a glimpse at the Trailer and sit tight for further word on this indie contender…

Here now is the Trailer for The Florida Project:

Stay tuned for much more on Dafoe’s candidacy and The Florida Project in general during the weeks and months to come!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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