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Well, the 2020 Oscars race officially has its first major contender by way of the forthcoming film, Nomadland from director Chloe Zhao. The film marks Zhao’s third feature film, and it follows her excellent 2017 film, The Rider.

In both The Rider and Nomadland, Zhao populates her films with non-actors. In The Rider, that meant telling the true story of a former rodeo rider, Brady, who suffered brain damage in an accident by having the inspiration for the film and his family – all previously non-actors – star in the film. It gives the movie an intimacy that I don’t think I had ever seen before in a non-documentary film.

For her new movie, Nomadland, Zhao centered the movie with an Oscar-winning actress in Frances McDormand, who plays Fern, a modern-day nomad who explores America and works various jobs while living out of her van, but she surrounded McDormand with several real-life nomads who give the movie a feeling of true authenticity and sincerity

I was able to see Nomadland during the virtual New York Film Festival, and it was truly a piece of filmmaking magic. Like The Rider before it, Nomadland serves as an often meditative character study on the changing landscape of American culture. Nomadland explores grief and loss, as well as the ongoing ramifications from the 2008 financial crisis. It’s virtually impossible to see the movie and not wonder how the next wave of nomads, pushed out of the American economy by COVID-19, may take shape once the virus clears. 

McDormand is stellar as usual, and she manages to make the audience relate to and, if nothing else, at least understand the motivations behind being a nomad, something that remains foreign to most of us. Featuring one of the best acting performances of the year, one of the best upcoming directors currently working and a topic sure to inspire some introspection, Nomadland is not to be missed when it is released this December.

If that feels far away, Zhao’s previous films Songs My Brother Taught Me and The Rider are both available now on demand.

I’m Evan Rook.