In a year largely defined by isolation and displacement, ‘Nomadland’, the wistful and melancholic film that explores those themes in its tale about a woman living as a nomad after the recession of a decade ago, was named best film of 2020 by the National Society of Film Critics.
‘Nomadland’ was a favourite as the critics group announced the recipients of its 55th annual awards on Saturday. Chloe Zhao, who wrote and directed the film, won for best director, while Joshua James won the award for best cinematography for his work on the drama. The film’s star Frances McDormand won best actress for her role as Fern, the houseless widow in her 60s who travels across the West in a van looking for a job.
Zhao has been a favourite among critics in the lead-up to the Oscars. Last month, she was named best director by both the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the New York Film Critics Circle when each group announced their awards for 2020. LAFC selected Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’ for best picture, while NYFCC gave the prize to Kelly Reichardt’s ‘First Cow’.
Elsewhere in the acting categories, Maria Bakalova won best supporting actress for her breakthrough (and headline-grabbing) performance in Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’, in which she played the title character’s teenage daughter who accompanies Borat on his travels to the US. Bakalova was also honoured by the New York critics group.
The best actor award went to Delroy Lindo for his role in Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ as a Vietnam War vet who returns to the country with three other comrades to find the remains of their squad leader — played by Chadwick Boseman in one of his final performances — and retrieve gold they left behind during the war. Boseman was runner-up for his role in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’. Previously, Lindo won the best actor award from the NYFCC. And Paul Raci was awarded the society’s best supporting actor for his turn as a deafened counselor who runs a Midwestern sober house for deaf addicts in Darius Marder’s eloquent drama ‘Sound of Metal’.
Meanwhile, Eliza Hittman’s coming-of-age drama ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’, which tells the story of a teenage girl’s quest to get an abortion outside her hometown where she needs parental consent, earned her the best screenplay prize.
Last year, the society’s best picture prize went to Bong Joon Ho’s ‘Parasite’, a black comedy thriller about a family of grifters who devise an intricate plan to insert itself into the home of a wealthy family. The film went on to win the Academy Award for best picture.
The national society, which has 60 members across the country, convened virtually Saturday to determine winners by its usual weighted ballot system. Any film that was released in the United States in 2020 was eligible for consideration — in a year in which release strategies shifted due to the still raging COVID-19 pandemic — including films that opened on the big screen or on streaming platforms.