Oscars 2021: ‘I have no words’ – Frances McDormand wins her third best actress Oscar

Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland wins best picture at a singular, sometimes bizarre ceremony

Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland has won best picture at a singular, sometimes bizarre, Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. A strong favourite since it took top prizes at the Venice and Toronto film festivals over six months ago, the poetic drama stars Frances McDormand as a sexagenarian woman travelling the American west in the years after the 2008 crash.

Zhao, a Chinese-American, became the second woman and the first woman of colour to win best director at the Oscars. “I have always found goodness in the people I met everywhere I went in the world,” Zhao said from the podium. “This is for everyone who has the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves and to hold on to the goodness in each other — no matter how difficult it is to do that.”

Linda May and Swankie, two of the contemporary nomads described in Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction source book, who play themselves in the film, accompanied the director up the red carpet.

Breaking with tradition, the lead acting awards were announced after the best picture prize. In a significant surprise, Anthony Hopkins won best actor for playing a man with dementia in Florian Zeller’s The Father.


It was expected that Chadwick Boseman, who died last August, would take the prize posthumously for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Indeed, some suspected the award had been moved to the end of the ceremony to allow an emotional celebration of Boseman’s life.

Hopkins, who was present neither in person nor on camera, becomes, at 83, the oldest actor ever to win an Oscar. His odds were as long as 7/1 with bookmakers a few days before the ceremony.

Best actress had been fiercely fought throughout awards season. McDormand ended up beating out stout competition from the likes of Viola Davis and Carey Mulligan to take the prize for Nomadland. She thus becomes just the second person to win best actress on three occasions. Only Katharine Hepburn, who took four prizes, has won more.

McDormand, who will shortly be seen opposite Denzel Washington in a film of Macbeth, quoted the play in her acceptance speech. “I have no words. My voice is in my sword,” she said. “We know the sword is our work. And I like work. Thanks for knowing that, and thanks for this.”

Taking three Oscars in total, Nomadland topped the chart in an evening that spread the wealth.

Daniel Kaluuya was never likely to lose in best supporting actor for his bravura turn as black radical Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah and, sure enough, the statuette came his way.

The Londoner, always a riot, give one of the liveliest speech of the evening. “Thank you to my mum,” he said. “You gave me your factory settings so I can stand at my fullest height. Thank you to everyone I love from London town to Kampala.” Mum, watching from England, was initially overwhelmed and then visibly agitated as the speech got a tad racy.

The unusually long awards season has been greatly brightened by the presence of veteran Korean actor Yuh Jung Youn. To nobody’s surprise, she won best supporting actress for her turn as an eccentric granny in Minari and, as she had done at Bafta and elsewhere, delivered a delightfully eccentric speech.

“Tonight I maybe had just a little bit of luck. I am luckier than you,” she said to fellow nominees such as Glenn Close. “Also maybe it’s American hospitality for a Korean actor. I’d like to thank my two boys who make me go out and work. This is the result because mommy works so hard.”

Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s Wolfwalkers, produced by Cartoon Saloon in Kilkenny, failed to triumph in the best animated feature category. The Irish studio’s fourth feature had done well with critics’ groups, but couldn’t get past the behemoth that was Pixar’s Soul. Moore, Stewart and his team gathered for a live relay in front of Kilkenny Castle (“Kilkenny, Ireland” as presenter Reese Witherspoon had it), but had to settle for polite clapping rather than an acceptance speech.

This year’s ceremony, like so many other awards bashes in the era of Covid, had to adapt radically, but the producers still managed to stage something like a traditional physical event. To maintain social distancing, the show was split between the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and Union Station in the oldest quarter of Los Angeles.

Those nominees able to make it to Southern California were at the railroad terminus with the presenters. A few other special interludes happened at the theatre on Hollywood and Highland. Meanwhile, overseas nominees gathered in “hubs” such as the British Film Institute’s venue at London’s Southbank. The intimate Union Station setting, where most of the event took place, gave a flavour of vintage LA and of the Oscars as they were in the days before television.

The Academy Awards will, no doubt, return to a larger frame as soon as possible, but this year’s variations, partly devised by director Steven Soderbergh, will surely be adjudged a qualified success. Even if the ending didn’t go as expected.


Best Picture
The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Nomadland (WINNER)
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7?

Best Director
Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round)
David Fincher (Mank)
Lee Isaac Chung (Minari)
Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) WINNER
Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman)

Best Actor
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
Viola Davis (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)
Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday)
Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)
Frances McDormand (Nomadland) WINNER
Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)

Best Supporting Actress
Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)
Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy)
Olivia Colman (The Father)
Amanda Seyfried (Mank)
Youn Yuh-jung (Minari) WINNER

Best Adapted Screenplay
Sacha Baron Cohen and Co-Writers (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)
Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton (The Father) WINNER
Chloe Zhao (Nomadland)
Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami)
Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger)

Best Original Screenplay
Will Berson, Shaka King, Keith Lucas, and Kenny Lucas (Judas and the Black Messiah)
Lee Isaac Chung (Minari)
Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) WINNER
Derek Cianfrance, Abraham Marder, Darius Marder (Sound of Metal)
Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7)

Best Animated Feature
Over the Moon
Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Best International Feature Film
Another Round (WINNER)
Better Days
The Man Who Sold His Skin
Quo Vadis, Aida?

Best Documentary
Crip Camp
The Mole Agent
My Octopus Teacher (WINNER)

Best Cinematography
Sean Bobbitt (Judas and the Black Messiah)
Erik Messerschmidt (Mank) WINNER
Dariusz Wolski (News of the World)
Joshua James Richards (Nomadland)
Phedon Papamichael (The Trial of the Chicago 7)

Best Costume Design
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (WINNER)

Best Film Editing
The Father
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal (WINNER)
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Hillbilly Elegy
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (WINNER)

Best Original Score
Da 5 Bloods
News of the World

Best Original Song
Fight For You from Judas and the Black Messiah (WINNER)
Hear My Voice from The Trial of the Chicago 7
Husavik from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
lo Sì (Seen) from The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)
Speak Now from One Night in Miami

Best Production Design
The Father
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
News of the World

Best Sound
News of the World
Sound of Metal (WINNER)

Best Visual Effects
Love and Monsters
The Midnight Sky
The One and Only Ivan
Tenet (WINNER)

Best Documentary (Short Subject)
Colette (WINNER)
A Concerto Is a Conversation
Do Not Split
Hunger Ward
A Love Song for Latasha

Best Short Film (Animated)
Genius Loci
If Anything Happens I Love You (WINNER)

Best Short Film (Live Action)
Feeling Through
The Letter Room
The Present
Two Distant Strangers (WINNER)
White Eye