Nomadland (2020): Chloe Zhao May Be the Next Big Director to Watch

“Nomadland” is directed by Chloe Zhao (The Rider, Songs My Brothers Taught Me) and stars Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), David Strathairn, Linda May, and Charlene Swankie in a film where a woman journeys through the American west and lives her life as a van-dwelling nomad after losing everything during the Great Recession. It is also based on the book, “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” written by Jessica Bruder.

“Nomadland” is a film that I have been looking forward to for a long time. My first memory of the film, or more specifically its title, is during the 2020 Venice Film Festival, one of the few things that actually happened that year when it comes to movies, because the film won multiple awards there, including the Golden Lion, which is basically that festival’s equivalent to Best Picture. But that’s not all the praise the film got. The film won the honors of Best Picture through the National Society of Film Critics, the Gotham Awards, Boston Society of Film Critics, Chicago Film Critics Association, and it seems “Nomadland” is only going to continue its hot streak. “Nomadland” was recently nominated for 4 Golden Globes, including Best Picture- Drama. And Frances McDormand was even nominated for a SAG Award for Outstanding Actress.

Statistically speaking, “Nomadland” is impressive, and I think that is part of why it is getting an exclusive IMAX run. Having seen the film myself, “Nomadland” is not the traditional style of film that one would expect to get an IMAX run. The film was made for somewhere around $4 to $6 million, way less than the traditional blockbuster that would usually meet the criteria. I feel like if it were not for the endless critical acclaim before the film came out, it would not have gotten this release in the first place. In fact, as of writing this review, that is all where it is playing. “Nomadland” is out everywhere on February 19th, plus Hulu, but as of right now, you can only see it in certain IMAX theaters. So as a fan of the brand and as one who wanted to see “Nomadland” as soon as possible, I took advantage of the opportunity.

Having walked out of the theater, I must address the hype surrounding the film. If I had to make a guess, I think most people would say that “Nomadland” has the highest chance of winning Best Picture at the Oscars this year as of now. Granted, this is coming from someone who was not the biggest fan of “Mank,” so I may be biased.

Oh my lord, “Mank” could have been ten times better.

“Nomadland” is a good movie, but to call it the masterpiece of our time is a bit excessive, at least to me. What do I like about it? When it comes to recent film, I think “Nomadland” stands out as one of the best displays of one’s slice of life. I was around in the late 2000s, when the Great Recession started, but I was still a kid. I barely had a concept of money so I did not have a full understanding of everything that was going on at the time. Nevertheless, “Nomadland” presents Fern as one of 2020’s most relatable characters, even though I never knew anybody precisely like her. Yes, I know people who have vans, I know people go around the country in vans. But to my knowledge, I never knew anyone who spent a great portion of their time living in a van. This film presents a character with unique traits, but they utilize her uniqueness to harken towards concepts that relate to a lot of people. Fern is a likable woman. She is a hustler, she is patient, she is kind, but she is not afraid to go after what she wants.

One of the best things I can suggest about an actor is when they give a performance that makes me say “I cannot imagine anybody else playing that character.” In the case of “Nomadland,” that statement is true when it comes to Frances McDormand, who already has two Oscars under her belt, and it is difficult to determine whether “Nomadland” will earn her a third, but her performance is certainly a contender. Not only does McDormand have an ideal look for her specific character, but her mannerisms are perfect at times. Her performance feels raw, kind of like the rest of the movie. The way this movie is done kind of feels like a vlog if it were completed in a cinematic style and if it was highly enhanced in the editing process.

Not only does Frances McDormand nail the look of her character, but Chloe Zhao and her crew also nail the look of “Nomadland” itself. “Nomadland” shines with some of the best framing of the year, and a filmmaking style that feels cinematic, although nearly documentary-like. I mentioned just a moment ago that this feels like a vlog. And I mean that, because even though vlogs are completely different from movies, they do a really good job at showing a slice of one’s life. “Nomadland” is not my favorite film of the year, but when it comes to 2020’s slices of life, it stands out. And I would also say that they managed to release this film at the right time because we are in the middle of a pandemic where the future is uncertain, not only in terms of our social lives, but the economy as a whole.

If I had to point out the best part of “Nomadland,” it would have to be the locations. Whoever decided on the locations that went into the final cut has my eternal respect, as they are an integral part as to what makes the framing extremely likable. And as much as I would hate to make a COVID-19 comparison, I have to. The way I would describe “Nomadland” is this… Imagine that I test positive for COVID-19. I lose my sense of taste. But I can still walk, I can still breathe. I don’t have any problems internally. I just need to isolate for 14 days or until whenever it goes away. “Nomadland” is a somewhat unfortunate, nearly depressing film at times, but it also trails along in good spirits. There is nothing in this film that is excruciatingly painful to watch. Nothing tear-jerking, nothing over the top emotionally charging, almost nothing that comes off as an eyesore. There are one or two moments that help the movie earn its R rating, but other than that, nothing really disturbing. “Nomadland” is a film that I feel is core viewing during the current awards season for many reasons, and you should definitely check it out when it gets a wider release.

In the end, “Nomadland” is a film that takes you places. Aside from taking you to an Amazon Distribution Center, a desert, the inside of a van, etc., it takes you to a world full of likable, quirky characters. The film has some memorable dialogue, including one line towards the end of the film that will stick with me when it comes to the 2020 cinematic slate. Frances McDormand gives a solid performance as the main character of Fern, and I think she could be a contender at the Oscars. As for the director, Chloe Zhao, I cannot wait to see what she does with “Eternals,” and this movie gives me hope that she can crank out a killer blockbuster. I am going to give “Nomadland” a high 7/10.

“Nomadland” is playing in select IMAX theatres wherever they are open. If you are interested in watching the film somewhere else, it is getting a wider release on February 19th, where it opens up in more theaters with a simultaneous debut on Hulu.

Thanks for reading this review! Last night, I just saw “Minari” starring Steven Yeun, so I will be sure to have a review up for that as soon as possible. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account, and also check out the Facebook page so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “Nomadland?” What did you think about it? Or, what do you think is the biggest awards season contender this year? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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