Oscars 2018: Dafoe Gets a Nomination for The Florida Project but Movie is Snubbed

Willem Dafoe nabs third Oscar nomination in the independent film many are calling overlooked by the 2018 Oscars.

Director Sean Baker’s childhood drama The Florida Project has been critically lauded enough so it was one of The National Board of Review’s top ten films but is competing solely for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars.  Many have lambasted this decision on the Academy’s part, Newsweek calling the latter’s choice not to nominate it for Best Picture a particularly “egregious slight.”  For a film about unsupervised children, running wild with imagination in the economically depressed outskirts of Orlando, Florida, it begs the question about what timeliness means in terms of entertainment and recognition.

The film was particularly unique because of Baker’s approach to the material.  Rather than taking the standard Hollywood route and hiring stars with box-office appeal, he opted mostly for unknowns, an exception being Willem Dafoe who received a third Oscar nomination for his performance.  The movie was shot on 35-millimeter film, on location at several low rent Kissimmee-based motels, some of the working employees landing parts in the story.

Bria Vinaite, who plays Halley, an increasingly impoverished, single mother, landed the part after Baker happened to come across her Instagram.  A climactic sequence in the film, featuring eight-year-old actors Brooklynn Price and Valeria Cotto, was shot at Disney World without the park’s permission, by way of a covert iPhone camera.

For a film with such public appeal, plus a near perfect critical score of 96 percent compiled on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s odd that such little attention has been paid to it in one of the largest accolade ceremonies in the world.  One can only wonder if it has something to do with presenting a distinctly anti-Hollywood kind of story.  In spite of independent films’ appeal and rise in major Hollywood awards circuits, the industry is still dominated by the power and influence of major studios’ Oscar campaigns.  Smaller films, unless boosted by a massive box office performance, often receive little to no recognition against their bigger budgeted peers.  Exceptions to this include Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a satirical horror film allegorical to issues of race and white privilege.  Modestly budgeted at 5 million, it’s crushing 255 million gross was probable to the film being nominated for four Academy Awards.

In spite of the hierarchy big budget films still hold, the potential for the indie opportunity, bolstered by streaming platforms and potential box office appeal, has never been better.  This is partly due to technological innovations including newfound feasibility when it comes to shooting cinema-quality HD video.  In spite of the divide, this advantage has somewhat united both independent and big-budget filmmakers in pursuing new ways to tell stories and share unique visions across a wide margin.

At the time of publishing, we were unable to obtain comments from the cast and crew of the film.  Updates will be provided when this changes.

Directed by Sean Baker
Written by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch
Starring Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto and Bria Vinaite

Sean Baker (film director)

Year Title Role
2000 Four Letter Words Director, writer, editor
2004 Take Out Co-director, co-writer, co-producer, co-editor
2008 Prince of Broadway Director, writer, co-producer, cinematographer, editor
2012 Starlet Director, co-writer, co-producer, editor
2015 Tangerine Director, co-writer, co-producer, co-cinematographer, editor
2017 The Florida Project Director, co-writer, co-producer, editor

Photo credit: The Florida Project official website.

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