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Nomadland (2020)

JohnRice

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Title: Nomadland (2020)

Tagline: See you down the road.

Genre: Drama, Western

Director: Chloé Zhao

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Gay DeForest, Patricia Grier, Angela Reyes, Carl R. Hughes, Douglas G. Soul, Ryan Aquino, Teresa Buchanan, Karie Lynn McDermott Wilder, Brandy Wilber, Makenzie Etcheverry, Bob Wells, Annette Webb, Rachel Bannon, Bryce Bedsworth, Sherita Deni Coker, Merle Redwing, Forrest Bault, Suanne Carlson, Donnie Miller, Roxanne Bay, Matt Sfaelos, Ronald O. Zimmerman, Derek Endres, Paige Dean, Paul Winer, Derrick Janis, Greg Barber, Carol Anne Hodge, Matthew Stinson, Terry Phillip, Bradford Lee Riza, Tay Strathairn, Cat Clifford, James R. Taylor Jr., Jeremy Greenman, Ken Greenman, Melissa Smith, Warren Keith, Jeff Andrews, Paul Cunningham, Emily Foley, Mike Sells, Peter Spears, Cheryl Davis

Release: 2020-12-26

Runtime: 107

Plot: A woman in her sixties embarks on a journey through the Western United States after losing everything in the Great Recession, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.

I just watched this Hulu movie with Frances McDormand and David Strathairn. It's a slow burn type of meditative drama that won't be for everyone, but by the end I found I had been completely drawn in and it kind of shook me. I suspect the takeaway will be different for different people. I saw a review that talked about the beauty of the freedom that's depicted, but my impression was more about the aftermath of seeing everything crash around you, and how to move on. In fact, both are representative of the story. Definitely bittersweet.
 

Colin Jacobson

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I thought it was OK. A bit too slow and meandering. Or maybe I was just tired.

It's definitely not a plot-based movie - and it's hard to even call it a character piece for much of its running time because we don't get much detail about Fern until the 2nd half.

I agree with the "Into the Wild" comparisons, as both are semi-episodic tales of wandering spirits and the people they meet.
However, "Wild" is much more "journey-focused", as its lead had a specific destination. Fern seems to roam more due to fear of attachment than anything else.

It's an interesting film that's worth a look, and Fran McD offers her usual good work.

It's a tough one to hang your hat on, though, because it really is so loose.

I still liked it overall. I'll be curious to see how I feel about it when I see it a second time and can better accept the movie on its own terms vs. whatever expectations I went into the theater with today...
 

Jake Lipson

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Or maybe I was just tired.

I don't think you were just tired. I didn't feel much for it either.

I felt like it could have been half an hour shorter or half an hour longer and still ended up roughly in the same place. It didn't feel like the end concluded anything for me or represented a significant change in how the character will proceed in her life.

I thought it was technically well made. I guess it did what it wanted to do effectively and the performances were solid. I just wasn't invested in what was happening. I didn't hate it. But I just thought, "That's it?"

Frances McDormand won her most recent Oscar for Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri, which was a really big, showy performance. Saoirse Ronan was nominated at the same time for a quieter, more subdued performance in Lady Bird. Here, McDormand gives a quieter, more subdued performance. Whether she can win with it remains to be seen, but the contrast between it and Three Billboards is striking.

Also, was anyone else taken aback by seeing the Searchlight logo without the Fox name as part of it? Of course I knew Disney was doing that, but this is the first film from Searchlight that I've seen since they made the change. So I wasn't quite prepared for how odd that was going to feel.
 

Colin Jacobson

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I don't think you were just tired. I didn't feel much for it either.

I felt like it could have been half an hour shorter or half an hour longer and still ended up roughly in the same place. It didn't feel like the end concluded anything for me or represented a significant change in how the character will proceed in her life.

Given the way the movie's first 90 minutes or so progressed, a Big Life-Changing Ending would've been completely dishonest and out of step.

That doesn't mean you have to feel satisfied with the ending, but a more concrete finale would've been a betrayal of the rest of the film, IMO...
 

Jake Lipson

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That doesn't mean you have to feel satisfied with the ending, but a more concrete finale would've been a betrayal of the rest of the film, IMO...

Excellent point.

But I was not as clear as I could have been. My "That's it?" reaction was to the film as a whole, rather than just the ending. It didn't really work for me or pull me in at all, and I guess I was expecting more because I had heard all of the awards chatter around it.

It's not a bad film. But I don't think it's anything remarkable either.
 

Colin Jacobson

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Excellent point.

But I was not as clear as I could have been. My "That's it?" reaction was to the film as a whole, rather than just the ending. It didn't really work for me or pull me in at all, and I guess I was expecting more because I had heard all of the awards chatter around it.

It's not a bad film. But I don't think it's anything remarkable either.

Oh - got it.

Yeah, I agree with you there. It's not a movie that really grabs you, IMO.

That's a pro and a con. I appreciate the fact it doesn't pull strings or manipulate, but its essential absence of plot can create frustrations.

Snobby Movie Critic Me says "awesome!"

I Wanna Movie That Goes From A to Z Me says "what was that???" :laugh:
 

Colin Jacobson

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Excellent point.

But I was not as clear as I could have been. My "That's it?" reaction was to the film as a whole, rather than just the ending. It didn't really work for me or pull me in at all, and I guess I was expecting more because I had heard all of the awards chatter around it.

It's not a bad film. But I don't think it's anything remarkable either.

Oh - got it.

Yeah, I agree with you there. It's not a movie that really grabs you, IMO.

That's a pro and a con. I appreciate the fact it doesn't pull strings or manipulate, but its essential absence of plot can create frustrations.

Snobby Movie Critic Me says "awesome!"

I Wanna Movie That Goes From A to Z Me says "what was that???" :laugh:
 

Jake Lipson

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To think this is now the front runner for BP and BD. Fucking Covid!;)

Even with COVID, I can think of enough other things I would nominate over this if it were my call. But you're absolutely correct that the Academy will honor it.

I can't think of a justification for Soul being excluded from the Best Picture category this year, but they'll just give that Animated Feature and call it a day. Funny thing is that if they go with Nomadland, it's a Disney win either way, so I doubt the company will mind.

[/sidebar]
 

JoeStemme

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I can't think of a justification for Soul being excluded from the Best Picture category this year, but they'll just give that Animated Feature and call it a day.

That was the danger of starting an Animated Category -- too many voters say that giving it the Animated Oscar is 'reward' enough. There are more sci-fi and horror films made than animated ones, yet they don't get a category of their own. It should be eliminated. Let's face it, most years there are maybe 5 or 6 really worthy nominees
 

JoeStemme

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For it's entire history, the U,S. has been marked by it's wanderers. Vagabonds. Drifters. It's nomads. Whether they be Native Americans, the early European explorers, pilgrims, frontiersmen, hobos or Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Always searching. Many settle down, but others are driven either by choice or by circumstance to continue their peripatetic ways.

Jessica Bruder's 2017 non-fiction book of the same name took a look at how the last great recession in the late 2000s and early 2010s created a new Nomad culture. Writer-Director Chloe Zhao (THE RIDER) took a passage from the book about an industrial town in Nevada which literally became a ghost-town overnight and draped it around a fictional character in the form of Fern (Frances McDormand). Widowed, without a job or a real place to live, Fern fashions a home out of an old trailer and hits the road. She takes seasonal work at places like an Amazon warehouse and at small dives here and there. Along her travels she encounters other displaced citizens, many also living out of their campers. Eventually, she joins the culture herself.

Zhao isn't creating so much a narrative here around Fern, as a sense of what the road means to her and the other characters. Indeed, the road itself is as much a “character” as any of the people. Still, it's the folks such as an elderly woman known only as Swankie that form both Fern and the viewer's perception of the Nomads (most playing themselves including Bob Wells, who has become a guru to the movement). David Strathairn is of one of the other experienced actors on hand, playing Dave, another rover who takes a liking to Fern. But, Dave is woven into her script skillfully by Zhao who is creating more of a mosaic than a true ensemble, much like Robert Altman at the height of his powers. When Fern briefly exits the road to see her Sister and another family, it's as jarring to the audience as it is to Fern. While a house with a roof and a yard may be the American dream, Fern and the nomads know all too well that this may not be their ideal - but, that it's also increasingly out of reach for many.

Even though it is set a few years ago and was shot in 2018, NOMADLAND has had a special resonance during this pandemic era. It's been a year where many people have had to deal with economic and physical pain, but also deep loss. There's been a yearning to connect with others. To communicate. To feel. Add in the long decline in the Middle class (especially those once connected to “good, steady jobs” and/or a pension) and the nomad experience has been felt in some way by many who would never have imagined that it could happen to them.

McDormand's lived in, committed performance (she even stayed in a trailer herself for some of the shoot) anchors the movie (she helped initiate the project as well). Without a lot of dialogue, she brings an honesty to Fern, who's greatest attribute outside her will, may be that she's a good listener even when she remains resolutely stubborn. She hears people. Zhao's unhurried direction and Joshua James Richards' camera linger over the characters' faces and on the endless landscapes, but, not is a picturesque way. Abetted by Ludovico Einaudi's wistful score, Zhao creates a contemplative mood where the viewer can participate. To connect. It's an immersive experience, and a mighty fine achievement.
 

Colin Jacobson

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That was the danger of starting an Animated Category -- too many voters say that giving it the Animated Oscar is 'reward' enough. There are more sci-fi and horror films made than animated ones, yet they don't get a category of their own. It should be eliminated. Let's face it, most years there are maybe 5 or 6 really worthy nominees

Hey, we got a BP that also won Best Foreign Language Film - or whatever the specific name of the award is now - so it's possible to emerge from the "special category" trap and take home the big prize!
 

Joe Wong

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That was the danger of starting an Animated Category -- too many voters say that giving it the Animated Oscar is 'reward' enough. There are more sci-fi and horror films made than animated ones, yet they don't get a category of their own. It should be eliminated. Let's face it, most years there are maybe 5 or 6 really worthy nominees

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of these more restricted categories. I can understand Foreign Language since many don't get a wide release domestically, so the exposure is welcome (and they should be nominated for the main Best Film category if they're deemed good enough, like Parasite).

But having a separate Best Animated Film almost seems to suggest the Academy recognises the excellence of these films but aren't quite ready to make them mainstream (kind of like the impression I get that comedy is not considered as "prestigious" as drama). Beauty and the Beast (1991) is and was such an anomaly (but deservedly earned its nomination). By the time Up (2009) also got a nom for Best Film, its achievement was somewhat diluted because the category had been expanded (up to 10, from the 5 when BatB was nom'd).

Similarly, the Best Score category was split into Drama and Musical/Comedy in 1996 due to Disney animated films having won the Best Score for The Little Mermaid, BatB, Aladdin and The Lion King (4 in 6 years). The message it sent (to me, at least) was that they were "embarrassed" to have all these "cartoons" win Best Score. This message seemed to be confirmed when they reverted to a single category again for the 2000 Oscars ceremony after Disney's streak stopped/slowed. I mean, why did they split it for 4 years?

To get back to Nomadland, saw it a couple of weeks ago. Found it pretty slow, not much drama or story. But I'm guessing it reflects the monotony of these nomads' lives. Frances McDormand's acting is so compelling, however, that I continued to the end. Director Zhao's style is very minimalist here, focusing on landscapes and tone. Not a film I would recommend for an entertaining 2 hours, but some interesting (and desolate) imagery here.
 
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JoeStemme

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Discuss the ending. Spoilers, of course.

How I interpret the ending. Fern (McDormand) goes back to her Nevada home. Takes one last look. Sells off the few possessions she left in storage. And, moves on. It is that getting rid of the past, both literally in terms of 'things' and spiritually as far as her dead husband and her past in that town that now frees her. We don't know if she will just wander until she expires. Whether she will go back to Dave. Or, something else entirely. But, she has unburdened herself from the past. That's her liberation. I found it uplifting, but, in keeping with the rest of the fine movie, it's left unspoken and open for interpretation
 

Mark Booth

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Fern’s drivable dwelling is a van, not a trailer. A trailer is something you pull behind something else. Swankie has a trailer, which she pulled behind her van.

I loved the film but I would pick The Trial of the Chicago 7 for BP. Those are the only two BP nominees I’ve seen and, sadly, I’m not feeling any desire to see the others.

Of the films I’ve seen, without a doubt, Soul is the best film to be released in 2020.

Mark
 
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