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The Florida Project’s Oscar snub

By JACOB TRASK

The complete list of Oscar nominations was announced last week, and the decision for the films nominated for Best Picture needs to be addressed. Among the nominees were some obvious favorites; Lady Bird, Get Out, and The Shape of Water; and some solid underdogs; Phantom Thread and Dunkirk. Darkest Hour and The Post were both nominated, continuing the Academy’s trend of nominating lackluster historical dramas. But this year’s brightest gem, The Florida Project, failed to receive a nomination.

I was a huge fan of this movie when it was released, and I still stand by my early determination that it was the best film of 2017. Not only was I disappointed when I read the nominations list, but I was frustrated because I think this film is visually and tonally the most comparable to Moonlight, last year’s Best Picture, since it was released in October 2016.

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is a profoundly emotional film about low-income and homeless communities living temporarily in motels in the outskirts of Orlando, Florida. The film follows Halley (Bria Vinaite), an edgy single mother who solicits perfume at local hotels during the day and lives in the Magic Castle motel with her six-year-old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). Moonee spends her summer days with her friends, playing in abandoned condominiums and causing mischief around town while Halley struggles for food, money, or anything she can get her hands on.

Through a non-conventional but expressive story structure, Baker takes the audience into the realism of these kinds of communities, and creates a microscopic look at the type of subtle tragedy that happens in them through the experiences of a few endearing characters. The style continues off of Baker’s previous film, Tangerine, which takes an inside look at transvestites living in Los Angeles. Baker seems to specialize in authenticity and groups of people that you typically wouldn’t think about. It’s a style that has stood out immensely in the last few years, and The Florida Project closely resembles the style of Moonlight, which has received a world of praise over the last year due to its message of equality and its inside look at poor black communities in Miami.

Both films were produced by A24, a company that has seemed to maintain a steady output of award-worthy films over the last few years. They’ve been pivotal in pushing realism and intense content into the spotlight, specifically with Moonlight last year. It rightfully won the award for Best Picture, which is why the snub of The Florida Project is so surprising. The films are so comparable, and they seem to achieve their contextual goals, while remaining incredibly artistic and engaging. They’re so similar in vibe and content, and when I first saw The Florida Project, I thought it was a shoe-in for a nomination.

Perhaps the film didn’t receive enough exposure, but one of it’s stars, Willem Dafoe, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Dafoe plays Bobby, a worn and caring motel manager, who watches over the children as they play. Dafoe’s performance definitely deserves the nomination, but the lead performances are far more impressive.

Brooklynn Prince as Moonee is one of the best performances by an actor under seven years old that you will ever see. She provides the light to a very dark story, and she gives the whole film a very innocent facade. Although she and some of her co-stars are incredibly young, the film never feels inauthentic and the scenes never feel staged. Baker’s use of his young cast is incredibly impressive, and his guidance of young Prince is evident in her performance. It’s difficult to tell at such a young age, but it seems Prince will be one to watch as her career continues.

Bria Vinaite is Prince’s incredibly talented counterpart, and made her acting debut in this film. Baker found Vinaite through Instagram, and he cast her based on the look he was trying to achieve. Her casting has been one of the film’s most popular talking points, but her performance never hints at the fact that she had never acted before. Vinaite is incredibly unique, as is her character, Halley. She’s so authentic throughout, and her character takes us to some surprisingly poignant moments. When I saw this film, I thought Vinaite would be a lock for a Best Actress nomination, but it seems her lack of experience and exposure has kept her from the award.

There are so many great things about The Florida Project; its cast, its direction, the cinematography. To me, it’s the best film of 2017. The academy made a mistake this year, and although Darkest Hour, The Post, and some of the other nominees are all are good films, I think The Florida Project deserved a nomination the most. Although I think Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will win the Oscar for Best Picture, The Florida Project at least deserved a nomination. If you haven’t seen it yet, I absolutely recommend it. I can only hope that buzz around the film will continue to build, and that the film community will soon acknowledge its Oscar snub.

Jacob Trask can be reached at jacob.trask@theminaretonline.com.

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