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The Florida Project: This Year’s Moonlight?

October 17, 2017

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Almost a year ago to the day, upstart indie A24 released Moonlight to rave reviews and promising box-office returns, but there was no reason to believe it would move beyond a niche hit and become an Oscar winner for Best Picture. Maybe that’s why no one blinked when La La Land was mistakenly announced as the victor. Could history repeat itself ? Not with the envelope snafu — the Academy had better be sure of that. But A24 recently released another “little” movie that could make a big noise: The Florida Project. Here are four reasons why it could be this year’s Moonlight.

It tells a story from a fresh perspective. Just as Moonlight saw the world through the eyes of a young, gay African-American man, The Florida Project shows us the universe as viewed by a six-year-old girl, Moonee (the luminous, remarkable Brooklynn Kimberly Prince), who lives at a low-rent motel in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World. Somehow she transforms her meager surroundings into the Happiest Place on Earth as she runs wild with little supervision from her mother (Bria Vinaite), who’s scraping to pay for their room by any means necessary.

It marks the emergence of a major filmmaker. Barry Jenkins had only made a few little-seen movies before Moonlight, and the same holds true for The Florida Project‘s Sean Baker. His last film, 2015’s Tangerine, was shot entirely on an iPhone, and he takes a huge step forward here. Made for $2 million, Florida projects a dazzling visual style with candy-coated color schemes and kid’s-eye POVs.

It features an endearing unlikely father figure. Mahershala Ali deservedly won Best Supporting Actor as the drug dealer who proves a surprisingly strong male role model to young Chiron in Moonlight. Similarly, Willem Dafoe does heartbreakingly subtle work as the motel manager who keeps a close watch on Moonee. The profoundly versatile Dafoe (the guy has played everyone from Jesus to the Green Goblin!) has been Oscar-nominated twice before, for Platoon and Shadow of the Vampire, and he’s long-overdue for a win.

It’s a movie whose time has come. Moonlight gave insight into the struggles of being young, African-American, gay and poor — basically everything Donald Trump is not. The Florida Project shines a light on the day-to-day grind of America’s working-class, single-parent households and its effect on the most innocent members of our society: kids. God bless Barry Jenkins and Sean Baker: They’re making American movies great again.

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