Oscars Spotlight Top Films in the Industry


Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

(Above) Ideas for the film Nomadland began in 2018 when Chloé Zhao, Peter Spears, and Frances McDormand met in McDormand’s apartment to discuss the film. During that discussion, it was evident that Zhao should take the position of director of the film. They heavily took inspiration from Jessica Bruder’s book Nomadland which focused on similar themes of community and freedom.

Alexandra Caballero, Copy Editor

(Above) For Chloé Zhao, many of her films stem from her interest in the American West. When spending time in New York for a film course, Zhao, “Craved to be close to nature and decided to explore a reservation in South Dakota that reminded me of Mongolia, where I spend time growing up.” It was there in South Dakota where Zhao would find a teenage girl who would play the lead role in her first film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me. Since then, Zhao has continued to include people with little acting experience in her films. (Photo courtesy of Todd Wawrychuk. )
(Above) During filming, Chloé Zhao and her film crew traveled, “From high desert to low desert to the plains to the ocean.” As they meet nomads throughout their journey, producers would record videos of possible characters on an iPhone and then send the recordings to Zhao who would then adapt the script to reflect the stories and personalities of these real people. (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.)

In 2022, the Oscars, also commonly known as the Academy Awards, will be joining together for their 94th year of the award ceremony. The globally recognized awards ceremony seeks to highlight artistic achievements and creative pieces deserving of recognition within the film industry. With the 94th Oscars ceremony approaching quickly, let’s predict what to expect by taking a look at the highlights of last year’s ceremony.

While the 2021 Oscars praised countless films, both studio and independent films alike, the film Nomadland took center stage. The film, while it does not necessarily have a clearly defined plot, focuses on the life of Fern. The film centers on a woman in her 60s who refers to herself as a “Nomad” after the death of her husband and the loss of her house leaves her completely alone. Her life constitutes the definition of a nomad. She never really settles in one place for a long amount of time and constantly moves on to the next experience in life using the van out of which she lives. Fern, played by Frances McDormand, gradually understands the true meaning of being alone as she must depend on herself as she ventures through Western America. It’s a concept for a film that landed Nomadland three awards at the ceremony, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography

While I can confidently say that Nomadland is not what I expected going into it, I was pleasantly surprised by the time the end credits began to roll. While the tone of the film is consistently somber and dreary all throughout, I find it interesting to watch how the characters still remain hopeful despite the many issues they face on a daily basis, including flat tires and meeting basic needs. It is an incredibly realistic depiction of what it is like living on the road in the United States as the characters only possess the clothes on their back and as many items as they can fit in their car. The film’s ability to imitate real life is most likely why this film resonated with so many viewers. Continuously throughout, the film tends to juxtapose the importance of independence and self-reliance, while recognizing that, sometimes, you can’t overcome challenges without the help of others. When living alone, Fern finds some of her closest relationships among other nomads, and there is a connection between those who share the same experience of never really belonging to one place. It’s reassuring to see that in moments like these when nomads may feel the most alone, they can always confide in the ones closest to them.

When watching, I also appreciated the way that the film was directed. It felt as if the script and direction for this film were influenced by the direct thoughts of people who understood the experience of following a nomadic lifestyle. That is exactly how director Chloé Zhao proceeded with the making of the film. When generating ideas for the movie, Zhao visited Linda May, a nomad in Douglas, Arizona, who is living with a community of a few other nomads, including Charlene Swankie. There, Zhao learned firsthand experiences of what it’s like to live as a nomad. May described, “The other ladies and Chloe and I set up a place to sit, and told stories, and talked for a few hours.” As a result, both May and Swankie found themselves written into the film and even playing the characters of themselves during filming. It is this attention to detail and search for real experiences that gained Zhao the title of Best Director at the 93rd Oscars ceremony. 

Finally, the way in which many of the scenes within this film were framed cleverly captured the main theme of solitude and independence in Nomadland. With Nomadland earning the nomination for Best Cinematography, more times than not, the cinematography within the film is visually striking, including skies of gradient pastels and the dry terrain of the South Dakota Badlands. While Fern may be meeting new people along her journey, the film always finds a way to resort back to the image of a single silhouette walking off into an ocean of Arizona desert or Fern’s van traveling off in the distance.  

Overall, I think that Nomadland is a worthwhile film to watch. Would I necessarily recommend it for a party? Probably not. But, I think that if you have some extra time on your hands and are interested in some deep thinking, this film might be a good idea to check out. If interested, the film can be found on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.

For the 94th Oscars, I hold high expectations. Because I found learning about a lifestyle different from my own incredibly interesting, I hope the next Oscars highlights films that will expose its global audience to perspectives they may have never considered or heard about before. Nomadland caused me to reflect on how I live my life and the connections I have made during that time. I expect the next Oscars ceremony to continue that trend and recognize films that cause viewers to reflect deeply about themselves and their personal motives in life. Nonetheless, there are countless incredible films I hope to see in the 2022 nomination lineup, including Don’t Look Up to Tick, Tick… Boom!, and I am excited to see the results in the upcoming 94th Oscars ceremony.