Likewise, Chloé Zhao picked up the best director statue for the film, a modern-day odyssey of the dispossessed surviving on the edges of the American dream.
Zhao, who entered the evening having won every major director award, became only the second woman to land the honor. (Kathryn Bigelow took home the best director prize in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.) Zhao, who was born and raised in China, also became the first woman of color to win the coveted award but the second Asian helmer in as many years, following in the footsteps of Korean director Bong Joon Ho for Parasite.
In perhaps a dig at the streamers, whose success has put pressure on theater owners and eroded the cinematic experience, the film’s Frances McDormand urged everyone to see Nomadland “on the largest screen possible.” She added, “And one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theater, shoulder-to-shoulder in that dark space, and watch every film that’s represented here tonight.”
In accepting the director Oscar statue, Zhao spoke of how she and her father would memorize classic poems back in her youth. “People at birth are inherently good,” she said, quoting from one of them. “I have always found goodness in the people I met. This is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves.”
For the third time in her storied career, McDormand was named best actress, this time for playing Nomadland protagonist Fern, a woman forced to hit the road when her employer shuts down its factory. She previously won for Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. And Anthony Hopkins, who previously won a best actor Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs, repeated the feat for his role in Sony Pictures Classics’ The Father, about a man losing his cognitive abilities.
In an unconventional twist, the best picture winner was announced by Rita Moreno before the best actress and actor categories, setting up for an anticlimactic finish. Hopkins beat out heavy favorite Chadwick Boseman, who died last year at the age of 43 and was nominated posthumously for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Despite becoming a member of an elite group of actors who has won the award twice — a group that includes Marlon Brando and Tom Hanks — Hopkins was a no-show.
But there was no understating the unlikely triumph of traditional studios, which shut out their deep-pocketed streaming rivals in the six major categories of picture (Searchlight), director (Searchlight), actor (Sony Pictures Classics), actress (Searchlight), supporting actor (Warner Bros.) and supporting actress (A24).
Emerald Fennell, a best director nominee this year, nabbed the first trophy of the subdued ceremony, winning the original screenplay Oscar for Focus Features’ Promising Young Woman. Minutes later, Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller took the adapted screenplay prize for The Father. Apropos of the unprecedented circumstances thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, French writer-director Zeller appeared onscreen from a remote location to collect his statue.
Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, which hails from Denmark and was distributed domestically by Samuel Goldwyn Films, beat out a strong field of competitors for best international feature film. Vinterberg, who also was up for best director, teared up as he recounted the tragedy of losing his daughter, who was killed by a distracted driver. “This is a miracle that just happened — and you’re a part of this miracle,” he said of his daughter, who died days into the film’s production. “Maybe you’ve been pulling some strings somewhere, I don’t know. But this one is for you.”
Daniel Kaluuya scored the first acting prize of the night for his supporting role as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in late-1960s Chicago, in Judas and the Black Messiah. The film, from Warner Bros., was the second nominated for best picture to feature Hampton as a character, the other being The Trial of the Chicago 7. Minari’s Yuh-Jung Youn, who played the scene-stealing grandmother in the A24 family drama, provided some of the best quips from the podium after winning best supporting actress, beckoning presenter Brad Pitt back to her. “Where did you go?” she asked.
Nearly an hour into the telecast, Netflix finally got on the board, scoring two trophies for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — best makeup and hairstyling as well as costume design. The streaming giant also pulled off something of an upset, winning best documentary with My Octopus Teacher. The Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed-helmed film beat out the streamer’s own Crip Camp, executive produced by the Obamas, and Amazon’s Time, another favorite.
Pixar continued its Oscar dominance with the best animated feature win for Soul, a love letter to jazz music that earned some of the best reviews of the year. The film had been slated for a theatrical release via Disney until the global pandemic pushed it onto the Disney+ platform. Last year, the studio’s Toy Story 4 won the animated feature prize, a feat that Pixar has pulled off with regularity. Soul‘s Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste accepted the honor for best original score. Batiste noted that there are only 12 notes, used by everyone from Duke Ellington to Bach. “I thank God for those 12 notes,” he said.
This year’s Oscars — marking the 93rd incarnation — caps off a surreal awards season in which social distancing and social justice became talking points as the country endured a still-raging pandemic and experienced nationwide protests for racial equality not seen since the 1960s. Netflix’s Mank, a black-and-white ode to 1930s Hollywood directed by David Fincher, led this year’s Oscars with 10 nominations. As expected, Mank‘s Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale took home the production design statue, while the film’s Erik Messerschmidt pulled off one of the night’s many surprises by winning cinematography honors over Nomadland‘s Joshua James Richards.
After Mank, six films headed into the night tied with six nominations: Searchlight’s Nomadland, Sony Pictures Classics’ The Father, Warner Bros.’ Judas and the Black Messiah, A24’s Minari, Amazon’s Sound of Metal and Chicago 7. Of those, Nomadland fared the best with three wins. Amazon’s Sound of Metal also was a multiple winner, with prizes for editing and sound, as was Judas, with “Fight for You” emerging as original song victor alongside Kaluuya’s award for supporting actor. Chicago 7, by contrast, came out of the night empty-handed.
Regina King kicked off the the hostless telecast, which was produced by Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher and Steven Soderbergh and mostly broadcast from downtown Los Angeles’ Union Station, by invoking racial injustice and her perspective as the mother of a Black teenager. “If things had come differently this past week in Minneapolis, I may have traded in my heels for marching boots,” said King, referencing the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin who was found guilty on three counts in the death of George Floyd.