"Nomadland" is a new American movie that premiered back in 2020 already though. Took me until the second half of 2021 to finally watch this because I was surely going for the movie theater experience here. I also see this is a German co-production. Okay, that I did not expect honestly. Luckily, German media did not brand this as one of their own. I still kinda wonder where the German impact is. Anyway, the director is Chloé Zhao and she is still under 40 and now only the second woman to win a Best Directing Oscar. At the same time, she also won Best Picture (just like Bigelow back then) and was also nominated for the screenplay and editing. Having seen Zhao's The Rider a few years ago, I am tempted to say I liked that one even more than this one here, even if the gap is not massive. Both are decent movies. Still it feels as if Zhao focuses very much on lifestyle out there in the open with a connection to nature and also to America. Surely not a given as she was born in China herself. But her very first film over a decade ago (but less than 15 years) was in the English language already and like so many other she, in her early 20s then, launched her career through short films. Also nothing entirely new that she worked as a writer and editor on her releases. For this approximately 105-minute movie she adapted Jessica Bruder's novel. I am pretty sure the latter would not have expected her film to become a Best Picture winner at some point at the Academy Awards. Many other awards here. The lead actress is Frances McDormand and she already won her third acting Oscar and took home one in producing as well. More about her later on. Her howling moment at the Oscars was a bit difficult to understand as it is not just the isolation / lone wolf reference to nomads, but a story linked closely to the production of this film. The biggest surprise was maybe that the Oscar for cinematography went to another film because Nomadland really dominated this category all awards season long.
So with McDormand she was not a safe pick to win this year in a really close Best Actress category. But in the end she pulled through in a similar scenario maybe like it was with her first Oscar win, even if now with her third (and fourth) there were probably even more potential winners. Her second was as safe as it gets though and also fairly recent, which may be the reason why this one here was so heavily-contested. But Hollywood seems to love her enough. She has as many acting Oscars as Streep now and all in lead even and more Oscars in total. Pretty impressive. Then again, she is probably not worse than Streep, so maybe not undeserving and honestly, she really is this movie here from beginning to end. She is in almost every single scene. Every time supporting players have a bigger impact, it is because her character Fern is nearby. Also pay attention to her character's name here and her real name. Not too different. With every other cast member, they went for the real first name. This includes David Strathairn who is always a welcome presence for me, even if the just called him Dave this time. All the other cast members are unknown. I know that Zhao in the past picked non-actors, locals for the part. People who originate from the area in which her films are set. So it could very well be you see some actual nomads here. They are pulling this off really nicely. I mean they do not have deep material or a really great deal of screen time, but moments like the bird nest speech were nicely handled nonetheless. The consequence is that this movie feels a lot like a documentary for the most part. The only exception are maybe the scenes during which Fern is with her family or at her friend's house in the end. All the scenes out there in the open feel as if you were actually watching nomads.
And as good as McDormand may have been (and I said this is her movie),I would still say that some of my favorite moments came from the others. Strathairn of course with my personal preference, but I already mentioned the monologue of the dying woman about the bird nests. The one they compare to Santa is alright too, maybe if him opening up about his son near the end was a bit too much perhaps. I mean he never seemed this close to Fern. The scene when they say goodbye (or "see you down the road") to one character is pretty nice too. Or what people have to say at the camp fire. So yeah, a character dying from cancer is as serious as it gets, but at the same time we find out she has lived the life she wanted to life and is happy about it. There is a component of closure and fulfillment there. It's not depressing. There are also no really dangerous moments in here. The biggest drama is when a character accidentally breaks something from another character. No scenes where people are threatened by bears or bitten by snakes or something. In general, animals did not play the most crucial role here the way you could have expected from a film like this. You get her driving next to a buffalo on one occasions. Not a lot more. This makes sense though. It may include a great deal of wilderness and beautiful sceneries and landscapes, but in the end it is a documentary about humans and not about animals, a bit about the environment they thrive in. In general, you could see really many stunning landscapes here.
Fern's isolation was also depicted nicely through her choices in life. She went away from her sister. Actually, she is so hesitant to ask her to stay for a while that she goes and asks a friend (or "friend") for money and there again it shows why she is simply not good with humans. This also shows when she is supposed to hold a baby during the final stages of a movie and we see she is just not like Dave and does not fit in there. She tried, but also did not fit in with her family earlier. Immediate arguing happens. Or take the scene in which she is asked if she can adopt a dog and says not. She is much more into her car obviously as we find out on several occasions. This is not about cute animal companions. More about finding others out there in the open. But most of all finding yourself. Look how she says goodbye to that dog. I mean she does not despise other creatures. She's just not good with them. Another thing I liked about the movie was the entire sound component. The music, but also how they managed to show the difference between noise (usually at her workplaces like Amazon and also kitchen work) and quietness or relaxation when she is out there living her nomad life. A really soothing experience at times, even if Fern always has to worry about making ends meet. Maybe not a movie you wanna watch when you are a bit tired. Not that it is bad or anything. Absolutely not. But there's good and not so good situations for all movies. In general, the main intention by Zhao here was to come as close to reality as possible and I think she succeeded nicely with that. Also telling that the ending is as simple and unspectacular as it gets. Make it a character study in terms of Fern, but also elaborate from beginning to end on what life mor modern-day nomads looks like. I think the film is set less than a decade ago in the past. Probably same time it was set in the book. Overall, there are tempting aspects of course when it comes to nomads and their lives (most of all, the focus on nature and the lack of big civilizations),but then there's scenes in which we find out she asks for discounts if she does without electricity or, even if included in a playful manner, the elaboration on toilet buckets on one occasion.
Okay, that is pretty much it then. It's a decent film all in all, but the gigantic amount of awards recognition seems a bit exaggerated to me, especially Zhao's direction basically dominating awards season from beginning to end. Then again, most of the other contenders did not really blow me away this year. At least those I have seen so far. There is still a lot to go for. I have high hopes for Minari especially. But that is another story. I think this film here deserves a watch, even if I expected and hoped I could like this a lot more with my connection to nature and my liking in the lead actress. But yeah, it's going down a bit as well now, especially with her Oscar acceptance speech a few years ago. This one was better. Or I should say "these" in terms of the 2021 Oscars because she won several. I'm still curious what's up for McDormand next in terms of movies. Nomadland gets a positive recommendation and thumbs-up from me without really only very minor hesitation. It's also still far away from a good film I must say unfortunately and I doubt I will add one or even two stars on rewatch here to my imdb rating at some point in the future. It's still a solid enough mix of lightness and seriousness all in all and I especially liked that they did not try too hard to get in really many funny moments arising from conversation. The one thing this film surely does is feel natural. In terms of the setting, but also in terms of the characters and that is maybe the biggest achievement. So yeah, go check it out, preferrably on a big screen. I guess at home on a laptop or something and also if you are not that much into McDormand, it will maybe even be a tougher call if it deserves a thumbs-up. But then again, she rightfully said at the Oscars to watch this and others on the biggest screen possible and I agree with that, even if it's maybe not a film that will turn you into a McDormand fan like some of her others could. And that includes even her very, very old stuff like Blood Simple, even if that one barely got any awards recognition. But hey a movie about humans practicing a social distancing lifestyle and a great deal of isolation? Of course this had to win liberal Hollywood's Best Picture Oscar during the pandemic. Never in doubt. Now that's really it.
Action / Drama
Action / Drama
Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. The third feature film from director Chloé Zhao, NOMADLAND features real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern's mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.
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