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Oscars 2021: Chloe Zhao poised for big night with ‘Nomadland’ Academy Award nominations

LOS ANGELES — You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody with more Oscars buzz this year than Chloe Zhao.

With four nominations, Zhao is the most-nominated woman in a single year in Oscar history. Notably, Zhao and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) are two of only a handful of women to ever be nominated for best director, which has only been won by a woman once, Kathryn Bigelow.

Zhao is also nominated this year for writing and editing and as a “Nomadland” producer in the best picture category.

INTERACTIVE: How women are represented in Oscar nominations

The film, which is based on a 2017 book by Jessica Bruder, tells the story of a Fern (Frances McDormand), a laid-off widow on a journey to survive and search for her purpose. Fern meets up with a community of drifters as she makes her way across the American West, working odd jobs while living out of her van.

McDormand, who optioned Bruder’s book with Peter Spears in 2017 and is also credited as a producer on the film, approached Zhao after seeing her 2017 film “The Rider.” They worked together to build out and personalize the Ford Econoline van that serves as Fern’s home in the film.

“I was actually in the process of building a van because of the amount of time I slept in my Subaru making my first two films, but I wasn’t really aware of the extent to which people gathered together and followed this life,” Zhao explained in production notes from Searchlight Pictures.

Many of those whom Zhao cast as nomads in the film are real-life nomads, with only a handful of professional actors in featured roles.

“Chloé immerses herself in her subjects’ life narratives and looks for ‘the hook’ that gives her the dramatic arc for a film,” McDormand said of working with Zhao. “Our process on ‘Nomadland’ was a challenge for both of us because we were imposing the hybrid of non-professionals from the nomad community and David Strathairn and I as professionals acting our roles.”

“Nomadland” is up for a total of six Oscars this year. It’s widely viewed as a leading contender for best picture as well as best director.

“Nomadland” won four prizes, including best picture, at the British Academy Film Awards, earlier this month, as well as the top award at the 32nd annual Producers Guild of America Awards. Zhao took top honors at the 73rd annual Directors Guild Association Awards. It also won best drama film at the Golden Globes.

Click here to see a full list of 2021 Oscar nominees

Mark your calendars: April 25 is Oscar Sunday. Live coverage begins Sunday morning and continues all day with special “On The Red Carpet” coverage leading up to the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony. After the last award is handed out, stay with “On The Red Carpet” for continuing coverage. Be sure to follow @OnTheRedCarpet on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok for all your Oscar news and information.

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