In a surreal season, Oscars 2021 found relevance. Here’s how

A man in a cowboy hat stands in an expansive field.

Brady Jandreau in a scene from Chloé Zhao’s “The Rider.”

(Sony Pictures Classics)


How the Oscars favorite gets brilliant performances from non-actors

OPEN SKIES TINGED with the intense hues of twilight hang above expansive American landscapes in the films of Chloé Zhao.

On the ground, in vast pastures or endless roads untraveled, her humanistic gaze points to the keepers of simpler lifestyles, people embracing worldviews detached from the preoccupations of the urban mainstream. She is a beholder of the unseen.

Currently up for four Academy Awards for “Nomadland,” the Chinese-born writer, director, editor and producer has perfected an artisanal method to mold emotional truth into plainspoken yet soul-stirring fiction. Her curiosity about others is the not-so-secret golden touch.

There’s no traditional casting process involved, especially not for her first two efforts — 2015’s “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” and 2017’s “The Rider” — whose stories originated from individuals in their inimitable life orbits.

Anchored on empathic understanding, Zhao cultivates relationships. The filmmaker, as she gets to know them, elicits the essence of her subjects, who later become first-time actors, and guides their lived experiences into a dramatic narrative. The outcome is scripted but the raw material is fact. There’s a personal rediscovery for the men and women onscreen as they interpret themselves in Zhao’s fabricated versions of their realities. READ FULL STORY

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