"Nomadland" wrecked me.
By the time its final minutes had happened, I was a basket case. It's a terrific film and I couldn't be rooting for it more strongly on April 25 when the Oscars put a final exclamation point to the longest award season in the virulent history of American promotional self-love.
America at large will be able to discover for itself just how good Chloe Zhao's "Nomadland" is when it finally opens in those theaters which allow it and on Hulu on Feb. 19.
And then, on Feb. 28, America will get a chance to see the film tested against the streaming phalanx from Netflix which, more successfully than any other American dream factory, has kept storytelling and the life of visual imagination alive during a worldwide medical calamity.
That's when the Golden Globes will give us their traditionally international take on the run-up to the Oscars at the end of April.
I know, I know.
I don't blame anyone for indifference. Not for a second. I'm just advising the substitution of curiosity.
Among the catastrophes – financial, social and personal – that Covid-19 inflicted on an unprepared world was utter devastation in the world of commercial movies which may, even after vaccines free us from cultural paralysis, continue far more than anyone wants, even after the resumption of civilization.
Locally, moviegoing was close to wiped out by governmental decree and the moment when our biggest multiplex chain – Regal Cinemas – went dark. The company's British headquarters responded to an absence of both audience and gaudy, eye-grabbing product by doing what logic said to do: turn out the lights. (How international is the world we live in? Frowns at bottom lines by the Thames can close theaters in Cheektowaga and Orchard Park.)
And now an encouraging word from that wonderful entity, the truth – the whole truth and nothing but.
What happened to the culture and business of movies in the Western world was a disastrous darkness in 2020 to be sure.
But so help me, some decent movies persisted, against the odds.
In fact, I'd argue that the TV award shows of 2021, beginning with the Golden Globes on Feb. 28, are more significant than they've ever been before in my long lifetime.
Because the absence of theatrical film exhibition has inflicted the world with rampant ignorance about the worthy films that were actually able to escape the cinematic deep freeze.
Which is to say that, so help me, decent films – and even better ones – were released and shown. Yes, many had shrunk in size to the size of TV screens – big ones, laptops, iPhones.
But bless television's hegemony over the Western mind, warm relief from a frozen world could be found.
No, I wouldn't claim that the content onslaught of Netflix completely replaced the role of the old movie studios, no matter how strong, and clever and busy Netflix was in its massive talent pool.
But so what?
Netflix and its internet-streaming brethren gave us awfully good stuff in 2020, even if none of it is on the imaginative level of, say, "Chinatown," or "Network," or "Goodfellas" or "Schindler's List" or, for that matter, "The Avengers" or "The Dark Knight."
But the Netflix films in Oscar contention for 2020 seem to me on the qualitative level of very good premium television, i.e., HBO or Showtime movies or limited series.
Contender "Mank," to me, is a worthy confirmation of what a great and legendarily feisty movie critic – Pauline Kael – proclaimed in a long essay called "Raising Kane." And that was that "Citizen Kane," a truly epochal movie, was the significant creation of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz right along with its star and director, Orson Welles.
Kael threw Mankiewicz's name into the mix in the hope that it would stay there. What "Mank" added to American movie mythology proved that it just may.
A great film, it isn't. But I'm glad I saw it and so many others did too. I hope even more do. A nomination may encourage that very thing.
Same with Aaron Sorkin's "The Trial of the Chicago 7" among the seasonal award-bait. Granted it manufactures enough history by Sorkin to run for elective office, but it's a skillful piece of historicizing entertainment in the Aaron Sorkin style. It's yet more mythologizing of truth but under the first-time film direction of the fabled TV writer, it sure is watchable.
"The Trial of the Chicago 7" gives us decent Sorkinite mythology about the American left. It seems to me something like what might have happened 65 years ago, if you injected wit and smug snark into an old Stanley Kramer movie.
It's an exemplary contender, in other words, for a 2021 Oscar.
Whatever this year's Oscar films are, or aren't, there's no question that the shortness of their supply exploded the award show population of women and minorities.
No less than three women are almost universally bandied about as plausible candidates for a field of five Best Directing Oscar nominations – Zhao for "Nomadland," Regina King for "One Night in Miami" and Emerald Fennell for "Promising Young Woman."
On top of that, the Oscars will be packed with contenders of color.
Spike Lee may have been snubbed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for "Da Five Bloods" but I think the Oscars will – at least in nomination – remember the film's always superb Delroy Lindo.
Even better, I think, is the chance that one of Lee's terrific ensemble actors – the late Chadwick Boseman – has a very plausible Oscar chance for an even better final 2020 performance in George Wolfe's film adaptation of August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." I can't tell you how much I'm rooting for large Hollywood award recognition for Boseman, who was stunning in all manner of biographical movies (as James Brown, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall) and contributed all that energy to the ensemble of "Ma Rainey." If he wins posthumous recognition, I'll be a happy man.
Television screens large and small saved our humanizing appetites for nightly stories about our species and if Hollywood's financial narcissism decrees that we're going to be soaked in it for two and a half months, I'll be happy to live with it.
As Arthur Miller so memorably said, attention must be paid.
Good stuff happened on screens. Lots of it.
Some of it even bravely bypassed small screens for long periods – Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass' estimable modern Western "News of the World" (a perfect film for our era where information itself is virtue).
And yet so financially suppressed was most of it that a megaton of self-referential chest-thumping now is, I think, deserved to put matters to right.
I think the world needs what award shows offer: snark comedy and a ton of self-love and ego to remind the world "We didn't go away. We're still there on whatever size screen you want to watch us on. And what we may have lost in mass attention over the past 25 years, we've picked up in admiration the minute we're ignored."
No, your current award system in 2021 can't hold a candle to those in the great movie eras.
But it's heartening evidence of survival in a world bludgeoned by far too much disappearance.
If you're dubious about the cinematic and TV imagination in our time, the season-opening Golden Globes may, for a change, just act as a kind of vaccine.