Each year when the Oscars come up I try to write a little bit about what the nominated films mean to me. Some years it is easier than others. Last year was a joy because I could promote Parasite which I loved that actually went on to win! That never happens!
This year we are all grateful we are having an Oscar season at all even if it is late. It’s remarkable in a year where theaters were mostly closed that we came away with as strong a slate as we got in the 8 nominated films. The only one I gave a negative review to is Mank and it’s more self-indulgent than outright bad. It’s really the only one of the 8 I’d be sad to see win. The rest I enjoyed for a variety of reasons.However, today I want to focus on the 2 frontrunners for Best Picture- Minari and Nomadland. On the surface the 2 films seem quite different. One telling the story of a young Korean immigrant family in Arkansas in Minari, and a widow living out of her van after her husband passes away in Nomadland. And yet the 2 movies share a lot in common.
Nomadland has the best odds for winning Best Picture but if it was up to me I’d give the award to Minari. Nomadland felt a little more scrubbed clean and polished than it needed to be. Despite a wonderful performance from Frances McDormand, Fern never felt threatened as a single woman living a nomadic lifestyle might feel. She faces challenges but never anything that can’t be solved by a fire or a song with friends.
I must admit when I watched Nomadland a second time these issues bothered me less but you do have to go with what the film is telling you about Fern’s life in order to enjoy it (and for the most part I did).
Minari, on the other hand, forces its characters to go through a lot more pain and anguish than Fern does in Nomadland. Steven Yeun is fantastic as Jacob the father of the family and little Alan S Kim is adorable as Yeun’s young son David. Youn Yuh-jung will probably win the Oscar as the matriarch grandma of the family.
Both Fern and Jacob are characters who stand on the outside of the American dream and ask ‘why is it not working for us?’ and yet the dream is working. That’s the irony of it all. It comes down to hope. No matter how bad things get there is always hope. Whether it is hope from the next harvest or pit stop, or hope from the freedom to gather with each other and try again that is what makes an American story different than what can come from any other country in the world. It’s the unique combination of community and the individual spirit, which we foster here and both of these films showcase in their stories.
It shouldn’t be a surprise in a year of isolation these 2 films have resonated with so many. They are about never giving up and that’s what we’ve all had to do this year. Fern doesn’t give up. Neither do her nomad friends. Jacob comes close but will get through it with his family by his side. The minari plant doesn’t stop growing and neither will he. That’s an inspiring story and one we need now more than ever.
If you haven’t seen Minari and Nomadland I highly recommend it as well as checking out the rest of the nominees. I think you will really enjoy the chance to see some great American stories!