One of the early Oscar tips for 2020 is Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland starring Frances McDormand. The film is about a transient worker in America, driving from job site to job site in a van in which she also lives. I would describe Zhao’s two previous feature films, Songs My Brother Taught Me and The Rider, as “naturalist visions of the modern American west” and Nomadland looks part and parcel with that. The teaser shows McDormand crossing a dusty, impromptu roadside parking lot full of vans and makeshift campsites, her mood contemplative, perhaps bordering on sadness. Zhao’s previous films are equal parts moving and absolutely gutting, so I look forward to being as enamored with Nomadland as I am crushed by it.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Zhao talks about bonding with Frances McDormand—I feel like anyone who impresses Franny McD MUST be cool—the process of making Nomadland (they drove around the West and filmed among actual transient work sites), and Zhao’s big leap from indies to Marvel with next year’s The Eternals. Zhao is FASCINATING, and I cannot wait to see how her natural, low-key approach to filmmaking—she often uses amateur and non-professional actors—translates to a Marvel movie. Zhao isn’t just making The Eternals to check a career box, in her unassuming way she reveals her nerd bona fides, including a childhood love of manga. According to Zhao, she got to shoot The Eternals her way (Kumail Nanjiani lets it drop that The Eternals will feature a Bollywood dance number which is “full of joy”), with lots of real locations and the same camera rigs she uses for her modern Westerns. Look at this teaser for Nomadland, then imagine that kind of quiet grace applied to a Marvel movie, then tell me Chloe Zhao isn’t one of the most exciting filmmakers working today.