• James Kunovski

Oscar Nomination Predictions: Nomadland

Once a festival darling, Nomadland has burst onto award prospects with resounding speed, and in that commotion seems like a shoo-in for the Oscars. To see an independent film run by women that models an overlooked and perhaps misunderstood American spirit is refreshing. To see it succeed at the Oscars would be game changing. Packed with themes of resilience, hope and community, and glistening with gorgeous cinematography and an understated performance by Frances McDormand, this quiet study of nomads in post-Recession America carries those coveted attributes Academy voters seek. So far, Nomadland has won the People’s Choice at TIFF and the Golden Lion at Venice. It’s not just the favourite to be healthily nominated, but to win Best Picture, as award publications like Gold Derby suspect. With Oscar triumph an inevitability, in what categories could Nomadland find itself nominated?


It’s not that the Academy doesn’t welcome indies, though they held the majority of Best Picture slots for the first time in 1997, something that could repeat this year, but that their acceptance is sometimes fleeting. For Nomadland, its own awards momentum from those seemingly infinite smaller circuits will continue into the makeup of the Academy body and right into the lap of Best Picture.


Chloé Zhao’s remarkable mix of improvisation and discernible approach to naturalism brings her understated yet transcendent control to the forefront of recognition. If the Academy is swayed in the right direction, Zhao will become the sixth female nominated in this category and only the second to win.

BEST ACTRESS (Frances McDormand as Fern) [Lock]

McDormand brings an internalised and profound take on the film’s central lead, Fern, and beautifully encapsulates the spirit of the nomad community behind a pained and reserved facade. Voters enamoured by Nomadland will duly give McDormand a nomination; a win would be her third to date.

McDormand (L) & Strathairn (R) take in the sunset.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (David Strathairn as Dave) [Probable]

Though he doesn’t appear at length, and even if he is offered less emotional meat, Strathairn could follow in the trend of unexpected supporting nominations. We have recently seen the unlikely turns of Lesley Manville from Phantom Thread, Marina de Tavira in Roma and to a lesser extent, Sam Elliott from A Star is Born persuade the acting branch to a nomination. If Nomadland wins over the Academy, Strathairn could likely be swept up in the excitement.


Nomadland’s writing is purposeful, fulfilling and meditative. Designed with reaction in mind and brimming with down to earth soul, it feels deeply authentic. On the other hand, it could suffer from an unclear combination of improvisation (if it even is that) and written material. Thankfully, voters base their judgement off written scripts. Regardless, it is a bold and contemplative take at building moments rather than resigning to storytelling conventions.


Joshua James Richards’ photography shares a beautiful and expansive outlook on the American landscape with the scope of every actors’ expressions, especially when McDormand listens. In that regard, the cinematography equally shines in two different modes. The sometimes dreamlike state, where the camera drifts, not necessarily seamlessly but with a keen eye, mirrors the poetic style of Terrence Malick. If you’re a cinematographer, the American West would be your oyster, and Richards has clearly had a feast.

Takes guts to point your camera directly into the sun, but Richards pulls it off.


Though the editing does not ring as anything particularly noteworthy, its inclusion by the Academy could inch it one step closer to the be-all prize. Nevertheless, there is a nice fluency to Nomadland’s pacing, especially for a film that takes in its surroundings with open arms. Often lingering on the right shot, it revels in long-takes and knows when to cut for humour, or insight.

Nomadland has been a strong frontrunner to win Best Picture in this unlikely ceremony that is bound to welcome an array of independent cinema. To watch it with that preconception is a daunting task but I found myself overcome by the film’s resonant minimalism. A win would signal another shift in the Academy’s taste and a door opener for subversive thinkers over Oscar-bait. This past year, the cinema industry has changed enough. A choice in favour of Nomadland doesn’t feel radical anymore and should naturally come to viewers and voters.