“The Florida Project” is one of the year’s best films

The most affecting movies tend to sneak up on you. In the case of The Florida Project, Sean Baker’s new film has been steadily building buzz since the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Still, when I got to see it back in August, there was no way to predict how much it would blow me away, even with that hype. It’s finally hitting theaters this week and should be an Oscar player later on this year. It also represents yet another top notch selection from A24, who have arguably the best taste in the industry. Once you see this flick, you’ll see what I mean. It’s damn near impossible to forget, though trust me, you won’t want to.

Set in a poor section of Florida, right in the shadow of Disney World, we follow six year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) over the course of one summer. She lives with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in a crummy motel run by the stern yet caring and paternal Bobby (Willem Dafoe). While Moonee scampers around playing with fellow kids like Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera), Halley struggles to pay the bills. She also struggles with responsibility and her own childlike urges. As she begins to explore darker and less savory ways of making ends meet, Moonee continues to look at life like any kid would. All the while, a concerned Bobby looks on. Baker co-writes with Chris Bergoch and directs here, with the supporting cast including Macon Blair, Caleb Landry Jones, Sandy Kane, Aiden Malik, Mela Murder, and more. Alexis Zabe handles the cinematography, while Baker himself edits the picture. Everyone involved basically captures lightning in a bottle.

This film is absolutely wonderful. From Dafoe’s turn to Prince’s amazing discovery, as well as Baker’s perfect filmmaking, everything works in a massive way here. You’ll laugh and smile as often as you’ll be horrified at what’s being depicted. By the end, you may just roll a tear or two as well. This slice of life is observational and cinematic in equal measure. Capturing the innocence of children while never ignoring the darkness of the world that surrounds them is no easy task. That Baker pulled it off so poetically is an absolute miracle of cinema. He deserves a heavy set of kudos this for what this represents. Dafoe too has perhaps never been better, so that mixture really makes this something special.

The Florida Project is one of the smallest flicks in contention for Academy Award attention, but Oscar should take notice of it, regardless. It will have to be a targeted campaign, for sure, but efforts in Best Picture, Best Director (for Baker), Best Supporting Actor (for Dafoe), Best Original Screenplay (for Baker and Bergoch), Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. My hunch is that Dafoe is locked in for at least a nomination, provided he stays in Supporting Actor and doesn’t go Lead. Other than that, it’ll interesting to see how Picture, Director for Baker, and Original Screenplay for Bergoch and Baker go. It seems odd that if the movie is feted as it might be during the precursors that Baker isn’t cited in some way. That just remains to be seen. For now, A24 can all but bank on Dafoe being a heavy hitter for them. At the moment, he does seem like the frontrunner in Supporting Actor too.

Starting this weekend, The Florida Project will be opening in limited release and is a must see. It’s among the absolute finest works of 2017 so far and is all but a lock to make my year end top ten list. See it for Dafoe’s turn and to cross off another award contenders, but mainly just see it due to the amazing quality on hand. As it expands throughout the month, you’ll all get your chance and should make sure you don’t waste the opportunity. It’s a special achievement. Don’t you dare miss it. A24 has done it again, ladies and gentlemen…

Be sure to check out The Florida Project, beginning its theatrical run on Friday!

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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