"Nomadland” is this year’s best picture.
Normally, I would be hesitant to make a claim that bold about any movie.
Yet, for a myriad reasons, I would be absolutely stunned if “Nomadland” doesn’t come away with this year’s top prize at the Academy Awards.
The film’s screenplay was adapted from a 2017 book of the same name, which details the joys and the struggles of the nomadic lives led by van-dwelling gig workers.
The movie is a painstakingly detailed dramatization of the lives they have led on the move. Three of these nomads — Linda May, Charlene Swankie and Bob Wells — even play themselves in the movie.
Yet the film mainly focuses on Fern (Frances McDormand), its fictional protagonist who, after the 2008 financial crisis, lost her job and her home in Empire, Nevada. After she finishes a seasonal job at an Amazon fulfillment center in the winter, she takes the van she calls home further south to a desert rendezvous spot for fellow nomads operated by Bob Wells.
Once she arrives, Fern meets up with Linda, the friend who told her about the group, where she meets several colorful characters at the camp. She befriends a man named Dave (David Strathairn), whom she will run into again later on in her travels.
After Fern blows a tire on her van, she is chastised by a woman named Swankie. The two bond after Swankie teaches Fern how to become more self-sufficient. After a while, she has a melancholic conversation with Fern about her cancer diagnosis, and the two part ways after talking about the importance of making good memories on the road.
“Nomadland” depicts the themes of personal and economic hardship in the wake of a crisis alongside the loneliness one might feel when struggling to survive it — both of which will seem eerily prescient as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on.