#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.