The Best Picture Winners: Nomadland (2020)

| April 26, 2021

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been handing out awards for more than 90 years, and the results have been spotty at best.  That applied most aptly to their selections for Best Picture.  In this series I am looking down the barrel at each of their selections for better and, very often, for worse.

Nomadland (2020) - IMDb

The world turned upside-down between Oscar’s 92nd birthday and his 93rd.  A plague stopped civilization in its tracks.  Added to that, the United States experienced fires on the west coast, hurricanes on the east coast and a nightmare clown circus of a Presidential election.  It was, needless to say, an emotional time.  And given that emotional turmoil, I did what I always do: I went to the movies.

Strangely enough, 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, more and more, 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.