Nomadland is one of the best films of 2020. Frances McDormand plays a recent widow who also lost her job, house, and savings after the Crash of 2008. Reduced to living in a small van converted into a camper, she roams the West, taking any jobs she can find. At Christmas, she packs boxes at a huge Amazon warehouse. At other times she flips burgers, harvests beets, or cleans restrooms. Soon she joins a loose group of fellow RV campersmostly other people who are down and out, but also folks who prefer the lifestyle. Chinese director Chloé Zhao adapted this quiet screenplay from Jessica Bruder's nonfiction book of the same name. Although veteran actor David Strathairn plays another roamer, most characters are real people playing some version of themselves. Together with McDormand's minimalist acting style and Joshua Richards' straightforward camera work, this powerful story resembles a documentary. It's nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Actress, and Cinematography.
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Minari is the second South Korean film to score a hit in the USAan impressive achievement during a pandemic year that closed theaters. (The first Korean hit was Parasite, which won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best International Film in 2019.) Minari is a fictional drama based on the childhood memories of its director, Lee Isaac Chung. Frustrated by his dead-end job in California, a Korean immigrant buys 50 acres in Arkansas and moves there with his wife, daughter, and son. He wants to grow Korean vegetables to serve fellow immigrants in the region, but his family is skeptical and abhors their remote mobile home. This excellent film shows the challenges of first-generation immigration, cultural assimilation, family farming, and the heavy responsibility of a husband and father to become a good provider. All the performances are superb. It has been nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor (Steven Yeun), Actress (Yuh-Jung Youn), Original Screenplay (Chung), and Original Score (Emile Mosseri). (Mostly Korean with English subtitles.)
Feels Good Man is a dynamite documentary that explains how Internet meme spreaders, conservative commentators, and alt-right weirdos stole and altered a cartoon character for their own purposes. California artist Matt Furie created Pepe the Frog in 2005 for his "Boy's Club" satirical comics, which received little attention. Then other people began copying the character. The initial adaptations were innocuous, so Furie didn't object. But when conservatives began using Pepe to promote anti-Semitism, racism, and other malicious propaganda, Furie engaged copyright attorneys in a belated attempt to reclaim his rights. This film shows how something as innocent as a cartoon frog can be drafted to fight in today's culture wars.
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