Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” a nostalgic representation of nomadic lives on open roads beyond the American West, acquired the best picture at the 93rd Academy Awards, where the China-born Zhao became the first woman of color to accomplish the best director and a historically distinct group of winners brought home awards.
In the huge surprise of a socially distanced Oscar ceremony kept during the pandemic, the best actor went to Anthony Hopkins for his performance in the dementia drama “The Father.” The award had been broadly anticipated to go to Chadwick Boseman for his last performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” The night’s last award, ended the ceremony on a sad note, particularly since Hopkins wasn’t in presence.
But the “Nomadland” victory, while broadly awaited, nevertheless capped the extraordinary appearance of Zhao, a lyrical filmmaker whose winning film is just her third, and which with a budget smaller than 5 million dollars and starring a cast populated by non-professional actors ranks as one of the most modest-sized movies to win Hollywood’s top recognition. (Zhao’s next film, Marvel’s “Eternals,” has a budget approximately 40 times that of “Nomadland.”)
A plain-spoken meditation on isolation, grief, and grit, “Nomadland” hit a chord in a pandemic-ravaged year. It went for an unlikely Oscar champ: A film about people who gravitate to the margins took center stage. With a cry, “Nomadland” star Frances McDormand implored people to try out her film and others on the big screen. Published by the Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures, “Nomadland” premiered at a drive-in and debuted in theaters, but noticed 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 the best actress, too her third such victory. Only Katharine Hepburn, a four-time winner, has won best actress more times.
The grand award show held during the pandemic, the Oscars turned out a red carpet and attempted to restore some glamour to a severe year. For the initial time, this year’s nominees were overwhelmingly perceived in the home during a pandemic year that forced theaters to end and provoked a radical transformation 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 levels, spanning everything from hairstyling to composing to acting. It was, some observers said, a sea change for awards seriously scrutinized as “OscarsSoWhite” in recent years, leading the film academy to considerably expand membership.
The ceremony formed as a movie of its own and styled as a laid back party kicked off with occasion credits and a smooth Regina King entrance, as the camera caught the actress and “One Night in Miami” director in one take as she walked with an Oscar in hand into Los Angeles’ Union Station and onto the stage. Inside the transit hub (trains kept running), nominees remained at cozy, lamp-lit tables around an intimate amphitheater. Some moments like Glenn Close getting down to “Da Butt” were more comfortable, but the function couldn’t just move off the past 14 months.
“It has been quite a year and we are still smack dab in the middle of it,” King said. Daniel Kaluuya won best supporting actor for “Judas and the Black Messiah.” The win for the 32-year-old British actor who was previously nominated for “Get Out,” was widely expected. Kaluuya won for his fiery performance as the Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, whom Kaluuya thanked for showing him “how to love me.”“You’ve got to celebrate life, man. We’re breathing. We’re walking. It’s incredible. My mum met my dad, they had sex. It’s amazing. I’m here. I’m so happy to be alive,” Kaluuya said, while cameras caught his mother’s confused reaction. With the awards capping a year of national debt on race and coming days after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted for killing George Floyd, police brutality was on the thoughts of many attendees. King said that if the decision had been different, she might have purchased her heels for marching boots.
Travon Free, co-director of the live-action short winner “Two Perfect Strangers,” wore a suit jacket lined with the names of those killed by police. His film performs police cruelty as an inescapable event loop like a tragic “Groundhog’s Day” for Black Americans.The best-supporting actress went to Yuh-Jung Youn for the matriarch of Lee Isaac Chung’s tender Korean-American family drama “Minari.” The 73-year-old Youn, a famous actress in her native South Korea, is the first Asian actress to win an Oscar since 1957 and the second in history. She accepted the award from Brad Pitt, an executive producer on “Minari.” “Mr. Brad Pitt, finally,” said Youn. “Nice to meet you.”
Hairstylists Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” became the first Black women to win in makeup and hairstyling. Ann Roth, at 89 one of the oldest Oscar winners ever, also won for the film’s costume design. The night’s first award went to Emerald Fennell, the writer-director of the intriguing revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman,” for best screenplay. Fennell, winning for her feature debut, is the first woman to acquire solo in the category since Diablo Cody (“Juno”) in 2007.
The telecast, produced by a team directed by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, moved out of the awards’ usual home, the Dolby Theatre, for Union Station. With Zoom ruled out for nominees, the telecast included satellite provisions from around the world. Performances of the song nominees were pre-taped and aired during the preshow.Pixar indented its 11th best-animated feature Oscar with “Soul,” the studio’s first feature with a Black protagonist. Peter Docter’s film, an about middle-school music teacher (Jamie Foxx), was one of the few big-budget movies in the running at the Academy Awards. Another was Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” which last September tried to restore moviegoing during the pandemic. It took the best visual effects.
David Fincher’s “Mank,” a lavishly crafted drama of 1940s Hollywood made for Netflix, came in the lead nominee with 10 nods and went home with awards for cinematography and production design. Netflix drove all studios with seven Oscars but again — after close calls with “The Irishman” and “Roma,” again missed out on the top award.“My Octopus Teacher,” a film that found a passionate following on Netflix, won the best documentary. Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round” won best international film, an award he dedicated to his daughter, Ida, who in 2019 was killed in a car crash at age 19.
The red carpet was back Sunday, minus the throngs of onlookers and with socially distanced interviews. Casual wear, the academy warned nominees early on, was a no-no. Stars, limited to a plus-one, went without their usual battalions of publicists. But even a great show may not be enough to retain the Oscars from an conventional rating slide. Award show ratings have cratered during the pandemic, and this year’s nominees many of them smaller, lower-budget dramas won’t come close to the drawing power of past Oscar heavyweights like “Titanic” or “Black Panther.”
Sunday’s pandemic-delayed Oscars draw to a conclusion the longest awards season ever one that changed the season’s industrial complex of cocktail parties and screenings virtual. Eligibility was stretched into February of this year, and for the first time, a theatrical run wasn’t a necessity of nominees. Some films like “Sound of Metal” premiered back in September 2019. The highest ticket-seller of the best picture nominees was “Promising Young Woman,” with $6.4 million in the box office.