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‘Nomadland’ wins best picture at a social distanced Oscars

April 27, 2021

LOS ANGELES: Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” a wistful portrait of itinerant lives on open roads across the American West, won best picture Sunday at the 93rd Academy Awards, where the China-born Zhao became the first woman of color to win best director and a historically diverse group of winners took home awards, reported international media.

In the biggest surprise of a socially distanced Oscar ceremony held during the pandemic, best actor went to Anthony Hopkins for his performance in the dementia drama “The Father.” The award had been widely expected to go to Chadwick Boseman for his final performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” The night’s last award, it ended the ceremony on a down note, particularly since Hopkins wasn’t in attendance. Hours later, Hopkins made a belated victory speech from his Welsh homeland and paid tribute to Boseman, who he said was “taken from us far too early.”

The “Nomadland” victory, while widely expected, nevertheless capped the extraordinary rise of Zhao, a lyrical filmmaker whose winning film is just her third, and which — with a budget less than $5 million and featuring a cast populated by non-professional actors — ranks as one of the most modest-sized movies to win Hollywood’s top honor. (Zhao’s next film, Marvel’s “Eternals,” has a budget approximately 40 times that of “Nomadland.”)

A plain-spoken meditation on solitude, grief and grit, “Nomadland” stuck a chord in a pandemic-ravaged year. It made for an unlikely Oscar champ: A film about people who gravitate to the margins took center stage. “I have always found goodness in the people I’ve met everywhere I went in the world,” said Zhao when accepting best director, which Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) was the only previous woman to win. “This is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves and to hold on the goodness in other no matter how difficult it is to do that.”

With a howl, “Nomadland” star Frances McDormand implored people to seek out her film and others on the big screen. Released by the Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures, “Nomadland” premiered at a drive in and debuted in theaters, but found its largest audience on Hulu.

“Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible,” McDormand said. “And one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theater, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space, and watch every film that’s represented here tonight.”

Soon after, McDormand won best actress, too — her third such win. Only Katharine Hepburn, a four-time winner, has won best actress more times. The most ambitious award show held during the pandemic, the Oscars rolled out a red carpet and tried to restored some glamour to a grim year. For the first time ever, this year’s nominees were overwhelmingly seen in the home during a pandemic year that forced theaters to close and prompted radical change in Hollywood.

More women and more actors of color were nominated than ever before, and Sunday brought a litany of records and firsts across many categories, spanning everything from hairstyling to composing to acting.