Nomadland ★★★★½

"One of the things I love most about this life is that there's no final goodbye. You know, I've met hundreds of people out here and I don't ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, 'I'll see you down the road'. And I do. And whether it's a month, or a year, or sometimes years, I see them again."

If you had told me ten years ago that it would take a decade for another woman to have a shot at winning Best Director, I would've laughed at you. After Kathryn Bigelow's historic win for The Hurt Locker in early 2010, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that another woman would have that shot again and fairly soon. Since then, only Greta Gerwig has been nominated for Lady Bird and the progressive qualities that came with Bigelow's win seem to have been all but lost. Thankfully though, we now have Chloé Zhao.

Her newest work, Nomadland, follows her critics' darling The Rider, an Indie Spirit Award nominee that put her on notice on the larger Hollywood map in 2018. She continues in the same vein here, scoping out the farther reaches of what makes a neo-realistic Western, adapting Jessica Bruder's non-fiction book and inserting the fictional character of Fern into this introspective look at modern-day nomads following the financial crisis of the late 2000's.

The strength of this film, of course, lies with Frances McDormand. If I had my pick of a leading actor for my film, I'd probably be choosing McDormand out of a very small lineup. The kind of work she does here is very different from her most known roles that are more forthright, front and center, even brash. But here, she's as reserved as she's ever been. Her smile belies the depths of a woman overwhelmed with grief still after the loss of the life she knew and the husband she still loves. Grief, for each and every person, is a varied journey; and this is what is best represented here by Zhao's camera and McDormand's performance. This is such a clear trace of her path through her grief. Each person she meets on her way has had their share of loss as well, but seem much more certain of themselves and the road ahead, which provides a constant foil for Fern. When she is finally able to go back to Nevada and specifically to the house she and her husband shared, we see the full scope of this woman, what this world and this part of her life meant to her and how this new segment is just as important as the life with her husband was before. She's carving out something for herself, a path of hope like so many nomads that are featured alongside her in this story, and this story - her story - is just as worthy and American a story as any other out there.

Next up for Chloé is Marvel's Eternals, one of the signature pieces in Phase 4 of their cinematic universe and is in such stark contrast to the observant character study here. She is indeed the new Hollywood. And hopefully, she'll have that Best Director Oscar in tow.

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