Song of the Day #4,225: ‘Celebrate’ – Lorne Balfe

Best Movies of the 2010s
#4 – The Florida Project (2017)

For a couple of months at the beginning of 2018, I watched The Florida Project nearly every day. After missing its 2017 theatrical run, I caught up with Sean Baker’s tragicomedy on a long flight and was instantly blown away. When I returned home, I bought the Blu-ray and had the movie on repeat every free moment I got.

More than anything, I just wanted to spend time with its characters — Halley and Moonee, a mother and daughter living in a cheap motel outside of Disney World. Baker and his actors (newcomers Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince) so effectively brought this world to life that I couldn’t bear to leave it.

That’s probably the highest compliment I can pay to a movie, and The Florida Project is worthy of the highest compliments.

Baker’s subjects, based on the real-life “hidden homeless” living in those ramshackle motels, have hard lives, no doubt. But the beauty of this film is how it finds the poetry in their predicament, and the dignity in people the rest of us so readily ignore.

Young Moonee lives just miles from “the most magical place on Earth,” with no hope of ever seeing inside its gates, but she turns her surroundings into her own theme park. Her Animal Kingdom is a field full of cows, her cast of lovable characters includes the neighbor who thinks she’s married to Jesus, and her Walt Disney is Bobby, the motel manager, played with wonderful world-weariness by Willem Dafoe.

The Florida Project is a deeply sad movie, but it is filled with genuine humor and life. This is a kind of movie I’ve been drawn to more as I’ve gotten older — one that fully immerses me in the world of its characters, not through flashy camerawork and intricate plotting but by nailing every observational detail.

Like Roma, this film spent some time at the #1 spot of my 2010s list before my final reshuffling, and it is without question one of the great achievements of that or any decade.

12 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,225: ‘Celebrate’ – Lorne Balfe

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Much like Roma, this is a film I appreciated more than loved. As Amy touched on yesterday, and we have often discussed, expectations and discovery play such a large role in one’s reaction to a movie. Here, like with Roma, I was well-aware of the high critical praise and hype for the Florida Project, so we saw it in the theater-and I came away feeling that it was inspired in parts (particularly the ending), but a bit redundant and slow at other times. You, by contrast, saw the movie on a plane, I’m sure having heard good things, but I presume not being so compelled to see it right away. So, in a sense, you had that moment of unexpected discovery.

    Ironically, this same thing happened in reverse for you and Amy with Biggest Little Farm, where she discovered it on a plane, probably having heard some good things about it, and she fell in love with it. She effusively shared her enthusiasm with you (and everyone else), and I’m sure you also read the strong positive reviews and Oscar buzz- so by the time you watched that movie, your expectations were quite high for something you had not discovered early, and that movie now sits near the bottom of your list of 2019 films.

    • Clay says:

      While I agree that expectations always play a role in how we receive a film, I don’t think they ever mean the difference between love and indifference. There is no way you would be touting this movie as a masterpiece if you had stumbled across it with no prior knowledge. It’s not that kind of movie for you.

      In this case, I had heard voluminous praise about The Florida Project, and really enjoyed the filmmaker’s previous movie, so I definitely went in expecting it to be very good. I didn’t expect it to be ‘best of the decade’ good, so exactly how much I responded to it was definitely a welcome surprise.

      With Biggest Little Farm, I did go in expecting it to be good and was surprised at how much I disliked it. I’m honestly shocked that it has gotten so much praise.

      I think there is another phenomenon related to the expectations factor, which I will call the backlash factor. When you personally don’t respond to a movie that has received a lot of praise (or conversely, when you personally like a movie that has been dismissed), your own negative or positive feelings are amplified.

      • Dana Gallup says:

        Fair points, but, to be clear, I was not indifferent to The Florida Project I liked it, but didn’t love it and it wouldn’t be in my best of decade.

        A similar film that comes to mind is Moonlight. I went in knowing the film had been well received but before the Oscar hype. I came away really loving the movie. You, by contrast, came late to the Moonlight party and I believe liked but didn’t love it- as evidenced by the fact that it is not on your best of the decade list.

        • Clay says:

          Moonlight is a good example of a movie I went into with very high expectations and left rather disappointed. Had I gone in with no expectations, my overall impression might be more positive (due to the backlash factor I just mentioned), but it still wouldn’t get anywhere near a list like this one. My feelings about it are likely very similar to yours for The Florida Project.

          On the flip side, I went into Roma with even higher expectations and wound up loving that movie, believing it lived up to the hype and then some.

          Ultimately, expectations only play a role in relation to your genuine response to the movie. Can being the first to discover a movie take it from a 7 to an 8? Sure. Can a mountain of overblown praise take that same 7 to a 6? Sure. But if you’re at a 10 to start, I don’t think expectations will matter.

          • Dana Gallup says:

            I don’t think you can really ever know just how much these extrinsic factors – early discovery, expectations, hype, backlash, feedback of others with whom you shared the experience – can impact your overall opinion. Add to that the reinforcement or even enhancement of a positive opinion through repeat viewing. For example, you note how you watched Florida Project several times. How many times have you watched Moonlight? If instead of being a 6 or 7, it was an 8 or 9, would repeat viewing make it a solid 9 or even 10? Maybe not best of decade list, but perhaps nearer to the list than you might think.

          • Clay says:

            I definitely think rewatching a movie helps clarify my opinion of it. But I know walking out of a movie whether I want to take the time rewatch it… in the case of Moonlight, I’m perfectly content to never see it again.

          • Amy says:

            Mountain of overblown praise? For Moonlight? The fact that you make a point to watch some films multiple times to be sure to give them their due before passing your final judgement (The Irishman comes immediately to mind), while assuming “it wouldn’t get anywhere near a list like this one” about a film as special and nuanced as Moonlight that you dismissed after a single viewing is rather unsettling. What warrants which films get multiple viewings to be sure you appreciate their greatness while others are dismissed out of hand? I completely appreciate that lists are, by their very nature, subjective, and that films will be at the top of mine that are nowhere near yours, and vice versa. What is troubling is your seeming desire to assume your list is “right” by suggesting that Moonlight, for instance, received “overblown praise.” Perhaps it didn’t resonate with you for a thousand different reasons, but that doesn’t make all those with whom it did resonate wrong to praise it. That film is poetry, with performances as nuanced and heart breaking as I’ve ever seen. It’s currently one of six films on my top 20 list that are of the ilk you’ve suggested you started to love/appreciate more recently than you did in your 20’s but that have not (and will not, I’m sure) appear on your top 20 list. All of the these films that appear on only one of our lists were received well by critics, nominated for awards here and there, and generally considered “good” movies. What makes them arrive in one’s top 20 from there is purely the subjective emotional reaction each of us had to the films that inspired us. To suggest otherwise is pure nonsense. The praise for Florida Project or Ladybird was not “overblown” simply because I didn’t fall as hard for those films’ charms as you did, and the praise for Moonlight was certainly not overblown because you didn’t deem it worthy of a second look.

          • Clay says:

            I have to run so I will respond in more detail later, but I want to make clear that my “mountain of overblown praise” comment was not directed at Moonlight. That was a comment about the role of expectations in general.

            I completely understand why Moonlight is so moving to so many people, and I would never suggest that anybody is wrong to praise anything they love.

          • Clay says:

            Actually, I don’t think I need to reply in more detail because most of your points were reacting to what you thought was a comment about Moonlight but was not. I agree with everything you say here. 🙂

  2. Peg says:

    I felt this movie was good but except for the ending I was not as inspired as I hoped I would be. That said the ending and the acting especially by Dafoe were truly wonderful.

  3. Amy says:

    I am still curious about your quick dismissal of even the thought that viewing Moonlight again might deepen your appreciation for the film, which is inconsistent with the generosity with which you give multiple viewings to other films…. not sure why that is.

  4. Clay says:

    That’s not a phenomenon unique to Moonlight. I watch dozens of films every year that I don’t seek out again. To pick a couple of completely random examples from the past year: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and 1917. I don’t feel any need to watch either of those movies again, even though the latter is (like Moonlight) a likely Best Picture winner.

    In a way, watching Beale Street was akin to a revisit of Moonlight, in that it confirmed I don’t really respond to Barry Jenkins’ style, as lovely as it is. I compare it to my feelings about the similar style of Terrence Malick.

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