‘Nomadland’ made history at last week’s Oscars for being the first film directed by a woman of colour to win Best Picture. That woman of colour is Chloe Zhao who made the superior western ‘The Rider’ (2017) and is soon to be seen helming the Marvel superhero flick ‘The Eternals’ (2021). It’s based on the 2017 non-fiction book ‘Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century’ by Jessica Bruder and stars the Oscar-winning Frances McDormand as a woman houseless and travelling across America.
Linda (Linda May), Fern’s friend and co-worker, invites Fern to visit a desert rendezvous in Arizona organized by Bob Wells. This provides a support system and community for fellow nomads. Fern initially declines, but, when the weather turns cold, she changes her mind and struggles to find work in the area.Then, Fern meets fellow nomads and learns basic survival skills…
Frances McDormand is always an indomitable presence. She’s a three-time Oscar winner for goodness sake. And this role certainly has echoes of her hardbitten turns as a pregnant cop in ‘Fargo’ (1996) and as a woman seeking vengeance for her raped daughter in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ (2017). I believed in Fern’s pain and loneliness and destitution. You really get a sense she’s feeling the s**ts of life - especially when you see her literally taking a s**t in her camper van.
But I couldn’t help, but feel we’ve seen better awards performances this awards season. McDormand is steely and determined, but it’s not a particularly challenging role. She doesn’t have to give birth on camera like Vanessa Kirby or get face-slapped by Peter Dinklage like Rosamund Pike in ‘I Care A Lot’ (2021). Those were better performances and those were the ones that should’ve won.
I like the scenery and I like Frances McDormand. But this is a year in which we have Oscar contenders like ‘Minari’, ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ and ‘Sound of Metal’. I’d have been happy if any of those won, but ‘Nomadland’ feels like a safe bet. I wonder whether in the years to come they’ll be pub quiz questions asking “what didn’t win the Oscar the year Nomadland won?”.
It’s forgettable and a bit boring. The worst Best Picture winner since ‘Green Book’ (2019). I don’t reckon it will stand the test of time…
‘Nomadland’ is on Disney Plus now and in cinemas from May 17th.
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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