Tag Archives: The Florida Project

33rd Santa Barbara International Film Festival: Willem Dafoe Honored with Cinema Vanguard Award

Willem Dafoe is an actor. He’s not a celebrity, he’s not a movie star, he’s an actor. An actor’s actor like Robert Mitchum or Lee Marvin. He arrived early in Santa Barbara where he was receiving the Cinema Vanguard Award with an hour and a half long Q&A moderated by Deadline’s Peter Hammond. Dafoe took his time with his fans lined up; taking photographs and signing autographs and then spending an ample amount of time speaking to the press.

Dafoe is currently on his third Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. He was first nominated for Oliver Stone’s PLATOON, then SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, and now for Sean Baker’s THE FLORIDA PROJECT where Dafoe plays a motel manager and surrogate grand father to a six year old daughter of an unruly tenant.

Inside the Arlington Theare, a highlight reel started and showed everything from STREETS OF RAGE to PLATOON to THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST to SPIDER-MAN and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Noticeably missing from Dafoe’s greatest hits and Hammond’s Q&A were the four (soon to be five) collaborations with Abel Ferrara and his three films with Lars von Trier. To be fair any one of Dafoe’s performances from any one of his films would be worthy of being in the reel; yet those seven films are incredibly seminal to the Dafoe canon.

He spoke about being fired from his first feature film, Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE for laughing out loud at a joke during a set break. He then went on to speak about how he was asked by Cimino to narrate a feature length documentary about the making (and unmaking) of HEAVEN’S GATE.

Dafoe spoke freely about his rich filmography. He stated the most physically demanding performance of his career had been when he played Jesus for Martin Scrosese. He talked about how taxing the crucifixion scene was, and how he could only stay in that pose for a maximum of twenty minutes before his body would start to give out.

Regarding MISSISSIPPI BURNING, Gene Hackman actually did hit him, they really smoked marijuana during the party scene in PLATOON, and how he was on three foot stilts doing motion capture work for JOHN CARTER ON MARS.

Dafoe is overly deserving for an Academy Award. Both on the account of his performance as Bobby Hicks in THE FLORIDA PROJECT and for one of those “lifetime achievement/we owe you one” Oscars. As Bobby Hicks, Dafoe is playing the guy, and for a career of playing that guy, he finally gets to shine and give one of his best performances as the guy.

Best of 2017 Megacast!

BeFunky Collage

Frank, Tim, and Nate gather together to discuss this year’s Oscar nominations and then get into what they thought should have been nominated, running down their own top ten best pictures, and also giving their top five in each category. We will taking a week off and then we’ll be back with a vengeance with our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast!

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project: Thoughts from Nate Hill


As picturesque Disneyworld looms just out of reach over a Florida welfare assisted motel, so too does the prospect of any normal upbringing for some of it’s pint sized residents. Sean Baker’s The Florida Project exists in a world of pristine pastel promises and lacquered, castle shaped buildings, a colourful, cotton candy paradise that is as tragic as it is eye catching. For six year old Mooney (Brooklyn Prince instills joy and heartbreak in every mannerism) and her friends, this is a kingdom where they run wild, oblivious to the squalor around them and perceiving their surroundings through the idyllic, abstract lens of childhood. Mooney’s mother Haley (Bria Vinaite in a scarily realistic depiction of unabashed ratchetness) is a wayward, self destructive girl whose slack, near non existent parenting leaves the girl mostly up to her own devices. Haley loves her, that much is clear, she just isn’t built to take care of herself, let alone a daughter. None of this strife matters to the children though, and that’s where Baker’s film gets its light from, amongst such troubling themes. All of it is seen through their eyes, youngsters who are still half connected to the subconscious and therefore are affected differently by everything. Peter Travers has called this ‘the best film about childhood ever’, and he may just be right. Much of what we see shows them simply playing, running about and being kids in a naturalistic, unforced way that is enchanting and makes me endlessly fascinated about Baker’s methods of direction, as I imagine children are harder to control on set than animals. To say that music is used sparingly here would be an understatement; ninety percent of the film is soundtrack free except an ironic opening credit sequence set to ‘Celebrate Good Times’, and one jarring musical cue near the end that I won’t spoil except to say it’s so effective I let out an audible exhale of surprise. The film is episodic too, and although contains visible arcs, is told in a hazy, spare and hypnotic ‘fade in, fade out’ fashion, drummed into us until we feel the day to day rhythm of this curious and beguiling part of America. Now let’s talk acting, which, as you all know is the centrepiece of my cinematic musings. Willem Dafoe is a tower of power as stern but compassionate Bobby, motel manager and guardian angel to this group of lost souls. Dafoe is a seasoned pro and knows never to overplay it, and when things get rough for him to bear witness, his moments of quiet devastation are incredible. He’s also the comic relief in bits and the steward of a very irregular township, it’s a delicious role for any actor to get, and he’s about long overdue for an Oscar, so… hint, hint. Prince is an unbelievable find, showing uncanny control and focus on camera for someone her age, and when it’s time for the third act emotional beat-down, she hits every note pitch perfect. Vinaite seems to have no acting experience before this, a choice which Baker also went with in his fiery debut Tangerine from a couple years back. She’s great too, turning a role that could have been one note into something way more complicated and sad, like a tragic fallen angel. I’d also toss cinematographer Alexis Zabe’s name into the Oscar race, as she beautifully captures this really strange looking area in surreal, eye popping colour and always from angles the seem like a child’s POV a la Terry Gilliam. Between his debut and now this, Baker is gathering momentum in leaps and bounds, and he’s quietly released the best film of the year so far, no easy task in the same year as a certain SciFi masterpiece. Florida Project is intimate, focused, loosely spun yet gravely affecting, important, playful, both cinematic and anti cinematic, and something of a small miracle. Seek it out in theatres, even if you have to drive out to the local art house venue.