“Nomadland”: The Film to Beat at the Oscars This Year

Frances McDormand in "Nomadland." Photo Courtesy: Searchlight Pictures

Watching last year’s Oscars ceremony, I was as stunned as director Bong Joon-ho when his film Parasite won four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. It wasn’t because I didn’t feel Parasite was one of 2019’s best movies — but precisely because the Oscars sometimes have the habit of not awarding the best movies. (The previous year, Green Book had won Best Picture amid controversy and despite superior film nominees like Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, and Roma.)

This year the movie to beat at the Oscars is Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland — especially now that it's been nominated for six Academy Awards. And that's not to mention that the film was awarded four BAFTAs, including Best Film and Best Director, and Zhao also won at the Directors Guild of America Awards. Written, directed, produced and edited by Zhao (The Rider), the film is also produced by actress and star Frances McDormand. The two-time Academy Award-winning actress had bought the film rights to the non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, along with producer Peter Spears (Call Me by Your Name). After catching a screening of The Rider at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2017, McDormand realized Zhao was the ideal director for this project.

Nomadland, available to stream on Hulu, is a neo-western set in 2011 that follows Fern (McDormand), a 61-year-old woman forced to leave her home in Empire, Nevada, after the town is decimated by the Great Recession. Fern becomes a modern-day nomad, living out of her van. She works seasonal jobs at an Amazon fulfillment center, a sugar beet harvesting farm, a cafeteria, a gift shop, and in a National Park. The movie and Fern take the viewer from the Badlands in South Dakota to Western Nebraska, and from Yuma, Arizona to the rugged coast of Mendocino County in California.