8 Movies You Won’t Want to Miss From A Virtual Film Festival

“Nomadland” is an adjective movie. The second it ended, my mind was swimming with them: beautiful, serene, painterly, honest, heartbreaking. I could keep going, but you get the idea. This is a film so full of emotion that no single word can capture its power. For her third feature, director Chloé Zhao cast Frances McDormand as Fern, an itinerant widow who lives out of her van and finds short-term gigs throughout the American West (an Amazon fulfillment center, restaurants, manual labor, whatever she can get). Fern’s story isn’t unique; she is part of a community of kindhearted nomads unable to sustain the country’s white-picket-fence fantasy in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. “Nomadland” observes her as she adjusts to life in the wild.

Zhao’s first two films, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” and “The Rider,” starred mostly nonprofessional actors, establishing her as a virtuoso who thrives with limited resources. Here, she gets a bigger budget and a movie star but still maintains the verisimilitude that makes her work seem excerpted from someone’s diary. McDormand is surrounded by first-time performers, and what she achieves amid their rawness ranks high in her already impressive career. Her weathered face telegraphs the anguish and euphoria of human connection.

“Nomadland,” which takes inspiration from Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book of the same name, asks how an individual might function when distanced from the conventions of modern life. It is far more than an “Into the Wild”-type saga about a hippie communing with nature, though Zhao seizes plenty of opportunities to emphasize the great outdoors’ allure. This is a miniaturized character study about a population not often legitimized in the American imagination. It is ravishing. I’m not sure we’ll see a better movie this year.

“Nomadland” is scheduled for release on Dec. 4.

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