Going into this I had one thought going through my mind – something that multiple people online said about this, like Ma Rainey, obviously having started out as a play. When that burrows into your head you can’t help but go into a film with a bit of apprehension… I mean look at how much I disliked Fences and how stilted that felt. Well, if no one had told me that this was a play brought to the screen, the only way I might have worked it out is because most of the film takes place in one room – Regina King directed the hell out of this.
With the exception of Mank, this really has been a good year for the Oscar frontrunners. A film like One Night in Miami, whilst not my favourite of the bunch, sure ticks a lot of the good boxes for what could be an Oscar success. Good direction, well adapted script and some really excellent performances. Leslie Odom Jr, as Sam Cooke, almost steals the show as the ball of energy with exceptional talent that was this amazing soul singer. His rendition of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ over the ending montage is something special, as is the (not entirely true, but not apocryphal) scene where he sings ‘Chain Gang’ to an audience in Boston.
I also found myself really enjoying Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown who, as a non US-native, I had never heard of but now have a massive respect. That scene in the beginning with Beau Bridges… well that just gave me chills and anyone who has seen this film knows why. A film like this still holds so much power given everything that went on and continues to go on. It also reminded me that I need to see X one day.
And the third Oscar goes to… well obviously. As of writing this I am yet to see Promising Young Woman, but I really cannot see Carey Mulligan giving a better performance than Frances McDormand does as Fern the nomad. It is a beautifully naturalistic film that is a character study of a woman who roams the US in her van and the people she meets along the way – all played by real life nomads.
Watching this has also shamed me somewhat that I am yet to see Zhao’s The Rider. Granted, I didn’t see it being shown in cinemas near me – but this was enough of an outsider contender back in 2018 that it is no accident that here she is with this film. Granted as of writing this the bloom is off and it is no longer the frontrunner, but my God what does a woman have to do to get the award if she ends up with nothing for Nomadland. The direction, the editing, the writing – all are spot on.
My fear with this film is that it won’t sell well with the preferential voting system – which is how we ended up with Green Book winning. There is also the spectre over the Best Director award having only gone to one American in the last 10 years (Damien Chazelle for La La Land) and they will oust Zhao’s chance for not only being a woman of colour, but also for being a non US-native. I just hope my fears are unfounded and we see some awards headed towards Nomadland.