The 2021 Best Picture Nominees: Nomadland

| April 21, 2021

At last!  After, arguably, the strangest year in movie history, The 93rd Academy Awards are almost here – just 9 days from now.  And to get ready, I’m taking a look at each of the eight films selected as Oscar’s best.  Are they?  Are they really?

Of all the emotional moments that I had at the movies in 2020 (and there were plenty) I never thought that something as minor as a broken plate could choke me up.  The power of Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland is baked into the simple things.  The idea of home, memories, security and the ever-present question of ‘Where do we go from here?’

Given that, Nomadland is a movie that I badly underestimated.  When I saw it in December, a friend asked for my immediate reaction.  “I think it’s a movie for film critics,” I said, “Not really a movie for ordinary people.”  I thought of it as the kind of movie that critics and Academy voters love but the average moviegoer greets with general indifference.  Well, time makes fools of us all.  Since that time, I have met many people outside of film circles – those ordinary people – who greet this amazing film with a kind of warm kind of, dare to say . . . delight?  Maybe something about it speaks to them on a personal level.  They’re being presented with a film that speaks immediately to the experience of being a citizen of a democracy that often feels confusing and broken.

And yet, why?  Why this film?  Why a film about a widow who sell her house, leaves the dead industrial town of  Empire, Nevada and becomes a nomad living in her van?  It’s not a happy story and when it’s over, it offers no comforting answers.

Why is that?  Maybe in trouble times, we gravitate toward a movie that seems to reflect our culture and possibly Nomadland speaks to our current reality in much the same way that The Grapes of Wrath spoke to an America besieged by the whirling maelstrom of The Great Depression.  I might even go a step further and suggest that 50 years from now, this film will reflect how we lived in the first quarter of the 21st Century.  We’ll have to wait and see.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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