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Awards Profile 2020: Chloé Zhao’s ‘Nomadland’ from Searchlight Pictures

nomadland

Welcome to the 2020 Awards Profile series, where we talk about films coming to a theater near you in the coming year (at least at this time of writing). The series analyzes the films and their awards season potential, most notably for the Academy Awards, based on the talents attached, filmmakers involved, and story and source material. Monday through Friday until mid-May, AwardsCircuit will bring you a new and exciting project and discuss its chances for success. If you have a suggestion for a movie we should cover, include it in the comments section below. If you miss a film covered, click on the tag or category for “Awards Profiles.”

FILM: “Nomadland”

DISTRIBUTOR: Searchlight Pictures
DIRECTOR: Chloé Zhao
PRODUCERS: Chloé Zhao, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey
WRITER(S): Chloé Zhao (based on the book by Jessica Bruder)
CAST: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie

SYNOPSIS: A woman in her sixties who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. (IMDB)

SCHEDULED RELEASE: To Be Announced, 2020

POTENTIAL HIGHLIGHTS

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Director Chloé Zhao

Chloé Zhao is a rising star in the industry. Her first feature, “Songs My Brother Taught Me,” landed her nominations at the Spirit Awards for First Feature, plus additional nominations and wins at Cannes, Sundance, and other festivals around the world. Her follow up, “The Rider,” solidified her place as a vital new voice in independent film. Her work landed her the coveted position of directing this fall’s new Marvel movie, “Eternals.” But before she shows us what she can do with a huge budget, first she will bring us another indie film, this time following Frances McDormand around the intermountain west.

McDormand is the other highlight of this project. The two-time Oscar winner is beloved by the industry and by fans alike. And her best roles are as fiery, independent women with nothing to lose. In “Nomadland,” she plays a woman who already lost everything, which feels like the setup for a perfect, intimate, emotional journey.

Zhao’s films are also known for their gorgeous cinematography and quiet, contemplative moments. Watching Frances McDormand explore mountains and deserts is sure to feel like a liberating tour for viewers too.

The story of “Nomadland” also tells the story of a time most of us still remember, when the economy was on the brink of collapse and millions were losing their jobs and homes. While we eventually pulled ourselves out of that madness, it took a toll that will last for a generation. Watching a story of one woman’s struggles and hopes has the potential to be a cathartic experience too.

POTENTIAL CHALLENGES

frances mcdormand

As exciting as “Nomadland” is, the Academy still isn’t particularly open to rewarding films from female filmmakers. In the past five years, even as AMPAS has broadened its membership to be more reflective of the industry, only two films directed by women have been nominated for Best Picture. They were both directed by the same woman.

In addition, it is rare for the Academy to recognize films about women of a certain age. Yes, it’s true that McDormand just won the Oscar two years ago for playing a mature woman, but her age had very little to do with the story of that film and the character she played. AMPAS still mostly prefers the stories of men, occasionally making room for ladies — as long as they are young, pretty, and/or directed by men.

But the Academy is still changing and now that a Korean film in the Korean language has won Best Picture, it’s possible all bets are off.

POTENTIAL AWARD CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

  • Motion Picture (Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao)
  • Director (Chloé Zhao)
  • Actress in a Leading Role (Frances McDormand)
  • Actor in a Supporting Role (David Strathairn)
  • Actress in a Supporting Role (Charlene Swankie, Linda May)
  • Adapted Screenplay (Chloé Zhao)
  • Cinematography (Joshua James Richards)
  • Film Editing (TBD)
  • Sound Design (TBD)
  • Original Score (TBD)

POTENTIAL KEY NOTICES FROM OTHER GROUPS

  • Best Performance by a Leading Female (SAG Awards): With five nominations and two wins at the SAG Awards, if this film has the right traction, look for McDormand to snag her third prize from her peers.
  • Best Feature Film (Independent Spirit Awards): Chloé Zhao’s first two films both made their way to Spirit Award nominations. Could lucky number three be the one that turns her into a winner?

Are you excited or skeptical about Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland?” Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Written by Karen M. Peterson

Karen Peterson is a writer from Southern California. When she is not at the ballpark cheering on her LA Angels, she can usually be found in a movie theater or in front of the television. Karen is obsessed with awards shows, and loves everything from the smallest indie film to the biggest of big budget spectacles. She is also unapologetically in love with Tom Cruise.

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