‘Nomadland’ Wins Oscar Best Picture as Hollywood Looks to Turn a Corner
“Nomadland” won the award for best picture Sunday at the 93rd Academy Awards, where Hollywood tried to make a case for the power of movies and turn a corner after 14 months of existential crisis for the industry.
“Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible,” said Frances McDormand, a producer of “Nomadland” and its star, in her acceptance speech, urging viewers to return to movie theatres “shoulder to shoulder in that dark space.”
With its vistas of the American West, “Nomadland” was a counterpoint to the cooped-up reality for many viewers in a pandemic, and offered a sombre tale of resilience, with a character learning to live on society’s margins, played by Ms McDormand, who also won the Oscar for best actress.
The film’s director, Chloé Zhao, became only the second woman (after Kathryn Bigelow ) to win the Academy Award for best director. The Beijing-born Ms Zhao is also the first Asian woman to win that award.
Anthony Hopkins won the best actor for his role as a man coming to grips with dementia in “The Father.” At age 83, he is the oldest acting winner ever. His second career win broke a winning streak for the late actor Chadwick Boseman, who was widely expected to win the top acting prize for his final screen performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
Last year the Oscars ceremony played to its smallest TV audience ever. This year, worse ratings seem inevitable after record lows for other televised awards shows. But producers’ mission was to woo audiences back to the movies after the big-screen experience virtually disappeared for much of last year, and new movies joined the overflow of content to a TV.
Producers of the show, including director Steven Soderbergh, had said they were shooting for a ceremony that looked more like a movie than a TV show. The show kicked off in a cinematic style with a long tracking shot of Regina King striding into Union Station in Los Angeles. Credits listed the nominees and presenters who would be “starring” in the night’s show.
The proceedings that followed, however, demonstrated how stubborn the conventions of awards shows really are, especially impassioned and sometimes meandering speeches by winners. This year, there was no orchestra to play off the winners whose remarks ran too long.
Among other breaks with tradition, the show ended with the best actor award, not the best picture. Musical performances had been bumped from the main ceremony. The show was host-less and largely devoid of the self-mockery common to the ceremony in past years. There were occasional jokes, like Harrison Ford’s deadpan reading of brutal editing notes that studio executives once had for “Blade Runner.” Otherwise, the tone of the show was earnest, with testimonials to the power of filmmaking and the nominees’ hard work and origins, such as a quick tale of a young Aaron Sorkin ripping tickets and making popcorn at his local movie theatre.
The audience seen on screen was mostly mask-less, having gone through a regimen of vaccinations and testing used on Hollywood sets. “We are following all the rigorous protocols that got us back to work safely,” Ms King said.
Despite being more stripped down than usual, the show ran long. As the show closed in on its usual three-hour mark, musical director Questlove played a version of name-that-tune that involved Oscar trivia and comedian Lil Rel Howery.
The night’s other winners included Daniel Kaluuya, who won best supporting actor for his portrayal of slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” His competition included his co-star in the film, LaKeith Stanfield, who played the FBI informant who helped set Hampton up.
Youn Yuh-Jung, a 73-year-old star from South Korea introduced to U.S. audiences in “Minari,” won best supporting actress. She played a mercurial grandma in the film portrait of a Korean-American family whose bonds are tested as they start a new life in 1980s Arkansas.
Ms Youn’s win handed a notable loss to “Hillbilly Elegy” star Glenn Close. It was the eighth time she had been nominated and left empty-handed, a record among living actors.
“How can I win over Glenn Close?” Ms. Youn joked. “I have a just a little bit of luck maybe. I’m luckier than you.”
Netflix went into the night the most Oscar nods of any distributor, including two films nominated for best picture. But even in a year when streaming services strengthened their grip on audiences, the coveted best picture Oscar and other top awards eluded Netflix. The streamer did land seven Oscars, more than any other studio, including cinematography and production design (“Mank”).
Though “Nomadland” was released on Hulu as well as in theatres, its triumph marks a win for a traditional studio, Searchlight Pictures. The Disney -owned speciality studio (known as Fox Searchlight under its previous owner) is at a turning point as the streaming future unfolds. The studio’s lead executives, Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley announced their retirement recently after a two-decade run that has now produced four of the last eight best-picture winners, including “The Shape of Water” and “12 Years a Slave.”
Meanwhile, “Promising Young Woman” writer and director Emerald Fennell won for best original screenplay. Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton for best-adapted screenplay for “The Father.”
The best international feature went to the Danish film “Another Round,” starring Mads Mikkelsen. Director Thomas Vinterberg choked up as he recalled how his daughter died in a car accident just as production had begun, which shaped his film about a group of men finding new meaning in mid-life.
Pixar’s “Soul” won the Oscar for the best-animated feature. The Netflix hit “My Octopus Teacher” won for best documentary.