When Chloe Zhao‘s “Nomadland” won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival it made history as the first movie to ever win both that prize and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. With a busy schedule of more festival screenings in the coming months, Zhao is poised to make even more history should the film earn her an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. If nominated, Zhao would be the first Asian female up for the award.
“Nomadland” tells the story of one woman’s complex inner life in a simple yet unconventional way. Two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Frances McDormand plays Fern, a woman who embarks on a new life journey in the American West after the Great Recession. Along the way she meets and is inspired by other “nomads,” people who, like her, are moving from place to place with no fixed home in the world anymore. These characters are played mostly by real life nomads who not only maintain their real names, but add much of their own personal stories to the narrative as well.
Zhao’s decision to cast real life nomads in those roles is one of the many ways that she’s created such a tightly bound, yet untethered and poetic film. The script, which has earned its fair share of praise, is adapted by Zhao herself from the non-fiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” by Jessica Bruder. Zhao also edited the film herself and so, theoretically, could become a three-time Oscar nominee this year.
With Zhao sitting pretty as our current predictions leader for a Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay nomination (she leads both races with 37/10 odds), it’s safe to assume that if those happen then nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress for McDormand will follow suit. David Strathairn also contends for Best Supporting Actor with his warm hug of a performance as McDormand’s new friend David and you’d be doing yourself a favor to keep your eyes on Joshua James Richards in Best Cinematography, whose stunning camerawork captures the immense beauty and vastness of a stark Nevadan landscape while always looking “down the road.”
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