'The Florida Project'
Sean Baker's follow-up to his breakthrough film Tangerine switches from the mean streets of West Hollywood to Orlando, Florida's motel-row periphery that rests in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom. At one of these low-rent residences, a group of feral kids turn the place into their own makeshift amusement park while the adults squabble and scramble to make a living. It's all pastel-colored fun and games, until it isn't. Most filmmakers would have been content to just turn this into stock poverty porn; Baker, however, uses the region and the mostly non-professional cast to turn this life-on-the-margins story into something funny, tragic, vibrant and heartbreaking. Plus he's also gifted Willem Dafoe with the single most tender role he's had to date, a motel manager trying desperately to hold everything together as everything falls apart.