Oscars 2021: 'Nomadland' Wins Big in Historic Night of Firsts

"Nomadland" takes Best Picture, as director Chloe Zhao becomes 2nd woman, and the first woman of color to win Best Director at the 2021 Oscars.

Matt Lissauer

By Matt Lissauer

2021 Oscars

© Searchlight Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

It was a historic night for the Oscars, and that's not just a description of the socially distant red carpet, the main venue being a train station, nor the fact that the Best Picture award wasn't saved for last.

"Nomadland" was the big winner of the night. The film took home the top prize Best Picture, as well as Best Director for Chloe Zhao, and Best Actress for Frances McDormand. Zhao became only the second woman in Oscar history to not only win Best Director but also have her film win Best Picture (Kathryn Bigelow was the first in 2009 for "The Hurt Locker"). Zhao also became the first Asian woman, and the first woman of color, to win the award.

Adding to the night of firsts, Anthony Hopkins claimed the Best Actor prize for his titular role in "The Father," over the favorite, the late Chadwick Boseman. At 83 years of age, Hopkins became the oldest person to ever win an acting Oscar.

© Sony Pictures Classics / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Sony Pictures Classics / Courtesy Everett Collection

Following on from Korea's historic win last year with "Parasite," actress Youn Yuh-jung became the first Korean acting winner. Youn, who won Best Supporting Actress, had been enjoying a year in which she was sweeping up award wins for her performance in "Minari." She took a slight swipe at award presenter Brad Pitt, too, as she accepted the award: "Mr. Brad Pitt, finally! Nice to meet you. Where were you when we were filming, in person?" Pitt, who won Best Supporting Actor last year for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," was a producer on "Minari," but apparently barely showed up for the shoot.

Other big wins at the Oscars included Daniel Kaluuya for Best Supporting Actor in "Judas and the Black Messiah." Disney/Pixar's "Soul" took home two awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste). Erik Messerschmidt won Best Cinematography for "Mank." Emerald Fennell won Best Original Screenplay for "Promising Young Woman." And Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller won Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Father."

© Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

On the studio side, Netflix was the big winner with seven Oscars. In any other year, this might be huge news, as a streaming company dominates the Oscars. But, in a year where the theatrical landscape was completely and unprecedentedly upended, this feels par for the course.

2021 Oscars - Further Thoughts

COVID couldn't keep the stars from shining on the red carpet in their striking and colorful outfits. This is the Oscars, and pandemic or not, the show must go on. Regina King, director of "One Night in Miami," took to the stage to explain how this year's show would function, with it feeling more like being on a movie set (one way they were able to get around wearing masks, though a few still wore them).

This carried through into the production, which, from the pace and voiceover to the jazzy score, felt at many times very cinematic. Truly a magical touch from producer Steven Soderbergh. Yet, for all the strangeness and uniqueness of the broadcast, there was still something to be said about seeing actors and filmmakers like Daniel Kaluuya being humbled by the Oscar statue itself.

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

Equally poignant were the various moments that actually "humanized" the show. Bryan Cranston highlighted the courageous work of the Motion Picture & Television Fund employees, who helped their nursing home members (many Hollywood legends, themselves) get through the challenging times during the pandemic.

As well, in the Oscars pre-show, the Awards provided a shout-out to all those employees who'd been hurting in the exhibition industry, and the efforts of the National Association of Theater Owners, and the Motion Picture Association of America to now host movie fans safely back to the best format to watch all these amazing films - on the big screen. Matthew McConaughey hosted a special PSA for "The Big Screen Is Back," and honestly, we're beyond excited for it.

King, Tyler Perry, and many others took to the stage, too, to speak truth to power and remind everyone of how much work is left to be done to solve this country's (and the world's) other pandemic: the racial injustice that's still plaguing our society. To paraphrase Mia Neal as she became the first Black woman to win the Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," in a historic Oscars filled with firsts, hopefully, at some point these wins will start to feel "normal."

2021 Oscars - Full List of Winners & Nominees
Best Picture
  • “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.)
  • “Mank” (Netflix)
  • “Minari” (A24)
  • “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) < WINNER
  • “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
  • “Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios)
  • “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
Best Director
  • Thomas Vinterberg - “Another Round”
  • David Fincher - “Mank”
  • Lee Isaac Chung - “Minari”
  • Chloé Zhao - “Nomadland” < WINNER
  • Emerald Fennell - “Promising Young Woman”
Best Actor in a Leading Role
  • Riz Ahmed - “Sound of Metal”
  • Chadwick Boseman - “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
  • Anthony Hopkins - “The Father” < WINNER
  • Gary Oldman - “Mank”
  • Steven Yeun - “Minari”
Best Actress in a Leading Role
  • Viola Davis - “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
  • Andra Day - “The United States v. Billie Holiday”
  • Vanessa Kirby - “Pieces of a Woman”
  • Frances McDormand - “Nomadland” < WINNER
  • Carey Mulligan - “Promising Young Woman”
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Sacha Baron Cohen - “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
  • Daniel Kaluuya -“Judas and the Black Messiah” < WINNER
  • Leslie Odom, Jr. - “One Night in Miami”
  • Paul Raci - “Sound of Metal”
  • Lakeith Stanfield - “Judas and the Black Messiah”
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
  • Maria Bakalova - “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
  • Glenn Close - “Hillbilly Elegy”
  • Olivia Colman - “The Father”
  • Amanda Seyfried - “Mank”
  • Youn Yuh-jung - “Minari” < WINNER
Best Animated Feature Film
  • “Onward” (Walt Disney/Pixar)
  • “Over the Moon” (Netflix)
  • “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (Netflix)
  • “Soul” (Walt Disney/Pixar) < WINNER
  • “Wolfwalkers” (Apple/GKIDS)
Best Adapted Screenplay
  • “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” - Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Nina Pedrad
  • “The Father” - Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller < WINNER
  • “Nomadland” - Chloé Zhao
  • “One Night in Miami” - Kemp Powers
  • “The White Tiger” - Ramin Bahrani
Best Original Screenplay
  • “Judas and the Black Messiah” - Screenplay by Will Berson, Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas, Keith Lucas
  • “Minari” - Lee Isaac Chung
  • “Promising Young Woman” - Emerald Fennell < WINNER
  • “Sound of Metal” - Screenplay by Darius Marder, Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance
  • “The Trial of the Chicago 7” - Aaron Sorkin
Best Original Song
  • “Fight for You,” (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) - Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas < WINNER
  • “Hear My Voice,” (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) - Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite
  • “Húsavík (My Home Town),” (“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”) - Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson
  • “Io sì (Seen),” (“The Life Ahead”) - Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini
  • “Speak Now,” (“One Night in Miami”) - Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth
Best Original Score
  • “Da 5 Bloods” - Terence Blanchard
  • “Mank” - Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
  • “Minari” - Emile Mosseri
  • “News of the World” - James Newton Howard
  • “Soul” - Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste < WINNER
Best Sound
  • “Greyhound” - Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders, and David Wyman
  • “Mank” - Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance, and Drew Kunin
  • “News of the World” - Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller, and John Pritchett
  • “Soul” - Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott, and David Parker
  • “Sound of Metal” - Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh < WINNER
Best Costume Design
  • “Emma” - Alexandra Byrne
  • “Mank” - Trish Summerville
  • “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” - Ann Roth < WINNER
  • “Mulan” - Bina Daigeler
  • “Pinocchio” - Massimo Cantini Parrini
Best Animated Short Film
  • “Burrow” (Disney Plus/Pixar)
  • “Genius Loci” (Kazak Productions)
  • “If Anything Happens I Love You” (Netflix) < WINNER
  • “Opera” (Beasts and Natives Alike)
  • “Yes-People” (CAOZ hf. Hólamói)
Best Live-Action Short Film
  • “Feeling Through”
  • “The Letter Room”
  • “The Present”
  • “Two Distant Strangers” < WINNER
  • “White Eye”
Best Cinematography
  • “Judas and the Black Messiah” - Sean Bobbitt
  • “Mank” - Erik Messerschmidt < WINNER
  • “News of the World” - Dariusz Wolski
  • “Nomadland” - Joshua James Richards
  • “The Trial of the Chicago 7” - Phedon Papamichael
Best Documentary Feature
  • “Collective” (Magnolia Pictures and Participant)
  • “Crip Camp” (Netflix)
  • “The Mole Agent” (Gravitas Ventures)
  • “My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix) < WINNER
  • “Time” (Amazon Studios)
Best Documentary Short Subject
  • “Colette” (Time Travel Unlimited) < WINNER
  • “A Concerto Is a Conversation” (Breakwater Studios)
  • “Do Not Split” (Field of Vision)
  • “Hunger Ward” (MTV Documentary Films)
  • “A Love Song for Latasha” (Netflix)
Best Film Editing
  • “The Father” - Yorgos Lamprinos
  • “Nomadland” - Chloé Zhao
  • “Promising Young Woman” - Frédéric Thoraval
  • “Sound of Metal” - Mikkel E.G. Nielsen < WINNER
  • “The Trial of the Chicago 7” - Alan Baumgarten
Best International Feature Film
  • “Another Round” (Denmark) < WINNER
  • “Better Days” (Hong Kong)
  • “Collective” (Romania)
  • “The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia)
  • “Quo Vadis, Aida?” (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • “Emma” - Marese Langan, Laura Allen, Claudia Stolze
  • “Hillbilly Elegy” - Eryn Krueger Mekash, Patricia Dehaney, Matthew Mungle
  • “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” - Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson < WINNER
  • “Mank” - Kimberley Spiteri, Gigi Williams, Colleen LaBaff
  • “Pinocchio” - Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, Francesco Pegoretti
Best Production Design
  • “The Father” - Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone
  • “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” - Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton
  • “Mank” - Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale < WINNER
  • “News of the World” - Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan
  • “Tenet” - Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas
Best Visual Effects
  • “Love and Monsters” - Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt, and Brian Cox
  • “The Midnight Sky” - Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon, and David Watkins
  • “Mulan” - Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury, and Steve Ingram
  • “The One and Only Ivan” - Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones, and Santiago Colomo Martinez
  • “Tenet” - Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher < WINNER

About the Author

Matt Lissauer

Matt Lissauer

Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.

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