What we were left with were more intimate, art-house-y, multicultural, and diverse talent in front of and behind the camera that showed up on streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Disney+ or on VOD. But one movie was swiftly designated as the one to beat: Chloé Zhao’s transcendent “Nomadland.” When it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in early September, it won the Golden Lion. It also claimed the People’s Choice Award at Toronto International Film Festival later that month. The tale of itinerant gig workers who chose to live in their RVs after the Great Recession while freely roaming the American West, which stars two-time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand, was quickly pegged as the front-runner to beat.
Some well-received late arrivals that might bump some of the likely contenders below include “Judas and the Black Messiah,” about Fred Hampton (an electrifying Daniel Kaluuya), the murdered radical chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, who was taken down by an FBI informant (LaKeith Stanfield); “Sound of Metal,” about a rock drummer (Riz Ahmed) who must cope with losing his hearing; and “Soul,” a Pixar animated film about a jazz musician (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who dies just before he gets his big break and ends up as a soul in the “Great Beyond.” It has a chance to become the third Pixar title to compete in the category after 2009’s “Up” and 2010’s Toy Story 3.”
This year, academy voters can still name between five to 10 nominees for Best Picture, but next year, they will be allowed to fill all 10 slots. Here are the favorites to find a spot on the ballot for Oscar’s top prize.
1. “Nomadland” (Searchlight): Frances McDormand could win a third Best Actress Oscar for her role as Fern, a middle-aged widow whose job at a small-town gypsum mine is forced to closed. She decides to buy a van and hit the road while looking for work ranging from Amazon fulfillment centers and cleaning bathrooms at RV parks. Zhao, whose breakout film “The Rider,” surrounds McDormand with actual nomads who give Fern tips and become her colorful and compassionate companions. Mother Nature, meanwhile, provides the perfect panorama for lifting our pandemic blues. If “Nomadland” triumphs, it will be the second time that a female-directed Best Picture has won after Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” in 2009.