Last year at the Academy Awards, few could've predicted that Bong Joon-ho's Parasite would take the night's top honor of Best Picture. It's the kind of unexpected twist that makes the 2021 Oscars anyone's game — especially when you add in its rescheduled date due to the pandemic, increased social distancing on the red carpet and during the show, and everything else that's changed since the last time the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles hosted this ceremony.
That said, tonight's show was uniquely its own. And as the third to last award of the night — purposely switched up from its typical spot at the very end, as co-orchestrated by executive producer Steven Soderbergh for a "surprising" effect — Best Picture was awarded to Nomadland, writer-director Chloé Zhao's contemplative portrait of the nomadic Fern, played by Frances McDormand, navigating the long-tail fallout of the 2008 financial crisis in America.
Accepting the award onstage flanked by the film's cast and crew, including McDormand and some of the real-life nomads who portrayed versions of themselves in the film, Zhao was gracious. She opened by thanking just about everyone.
"We thank the academy and we thank our brilliant fellow nominees and we thank all the hearts and hands that come together to make this movie," Zhao said.
The writer-director then turned her praise to the nomads whose stories made the film alongside that of McDormand's fictional character Fern. "We want to show our deepest gratitude to Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells, and [the] nomadic community, all the people we met on the road. Thank you for teaching us the power of resilience and hope and for reminding us what true kindness looks like." She likewise shouted out her star, "the one and only Frances McDormand."
Earlier in the night, Zhao also won Best Director, making her the first woman of color and the second woman ever to nab the award. As she wrapped up onstage, she passed the spotlight to her protagonist: "And now I give you Fern."
Clarifying that "no I'm not, I'm Fran," McDormand opted for a plea: "Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible, and one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theater, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space and watch every film that's represented here tonight."
McDormand closed by letting out a great cry. "We give this one to our wolf," she said. Then she howled a proper ah-woo in tribute to late Nomadland sound mixer Michael Wolf Snyder.
Nomadland beat out fellow nominees The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Minari, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Find all the 2021 Oscar winners right here.