If the Oscars have any value, it's hard to understand why a film like "The Florida Project" is being ignored.
The movie, available online to rent or purchase, has all the makings of an awards-season contender. At first glance, "The Florida Project" is 2017's bright, little indie film. But unlike previous winners like "Little Miss Sunshine," writer/director Sean Baker's latest film isn't getting enough attention.
Willem Dafoe, playing the hotel manager and pseudo-father figure, did get a best supporting actor Oscar nomination, and deservedly so. However, his performance is the lone nod for a movie that's easily one of the best of 2017. What should be a no-brainer for nominations aplenty is another movie likely to be relegated to your endless queue you plan to watch (but won't) whenever you have the time (you don't).
Let me be clear: Make time for "The Florida Project."
If it's not the best film of last year, it's easily in the top five. "The Florida Project" is a genuine, realistic slice-of-life movie that is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, without a heavy hand.
"The Florida Project" tells the story of a group of kids living on a less-than-attractive strip near Disney World. It shows life from the point of view of 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince in an Oscar-caliber performance).
Moonee's world is ripe with potentially overdramatic moments: Her mother (Bria Vinaite) makes just enough money to get by, smokes pot and listens to trap music. The mother has been arrested. One more strike, and she's behind bars again. Moonee, her mother and her friends all live in hotels.
In the hands of other filmmakers, these fraught moments are nothing more than overbearing awards bait.
As I watched the film over the weekend, I felt the audience expecting someone to die suddenly or get plowed by a truck. Sadly, as an audience, we have been taught to think that the best movies have shocking twists.
Baker subverts those expectations, showing Moonee and her friends spending time creating whatever fun they can. One day, they run around to the far hotel balcony to gaze and poke fun at an older woman sunbathing in the nude. Another day is spent trying to get passersby to buy them an ice cream cone.
During one of my favorite scenes, Moonee tells her best friend Jancey about her favorite spot: "You know why this is my favorite tree? 'Cause it's tipped over, and it's still growing.' "
Baker cuts to a wide shot of the two kids sitting on the tree. There is no crescendo of Hollywood strings, just the faint whimper of bugs and inaudible dialogue. It's a small, beautiful, natural moment in a movie full of them.
Maybe "The Florida Project" didn't get all those nominations because, with its lack of overwrought moments, it's the anti-Oscar movie.
"The Florida Project" doesn't have the immature shock value of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." It doesn't have the over-the-top performances of "Darkest Hour." It doesn't have the rushed timeliness of "The Post."
"The Florida Project" has none of that fluff. And that's what makes it great.
'The Florida Project'
Now available on demand, to rent or purchase, and on DVD/Blu-ray.
STARRING: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite and Willem Dafoe
DIRECTOR: Sean Baker
RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 51 mins.
MPAA RATING: R (Restricted) Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED R? For language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.
Excellent (****), Good (***), Fair (**), Poor (*)