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Nomadland wins big at pandemic Oscars as Zhao makes history

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US ROAD movie “Nomadland” emerged as the big winner at the Oscars on Sunday with three major prizes, including a history-making award for director Chloe Zhao, as Hollywood celebrated its most glamorous night with a unique pandemic-era gala.

  Zhao’s drama about marginalized Americans roaming the West in vans was honored for best picture, director and actress for Frances McDormand, who now was in elite company with her third Academy Award for performing.

No-show Anthony Hopkins pulled a surprise upset to win best actor in the final award of the night, besting sentimental favorite Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer last year.

The unorthodox Oscars ceremony was moved from a Hollywood theater to a glammed-up downtown train station to abide by strict Covid-19 protocols, and reunited Tinseltown A-listers for the first time in more than a year.

Zhao, who was the first woman of color ever honored as best director, thanked “all the people we met on the road… for teaching us the power of resilience and hope, and for reminding us what true kindness looks like.”

She was also only the second woman to win best director after Kathryn Bigelow, who broke the glass ceiling in 2010 when she won the prize for “The Hurt Locker.”

“It’s pretty fabulous to be a woman in 2021,” Zhao told journalists as a virtual backstage Q&A, adding: “If this win means more people get to live their dreams, I’m extremely grateful.”

With movie theaters closed all year, and blockbuster content delayed, Beijing-born Zhao’s film captured the pandemic zeitgeist with its stunning portrait of the isolated margins of society.

“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 is represented here tonight,” said McDormand.

Zhao, who has drawn controversy in China after years-old interviews resurfaced in which she appeared to criticize her country of birth, also quoted classic Chinese poetry in her acceptance speech.

Hopkins’ win at 83 for his shattering portrayal of a dementia sufferer in “The Father” makes him the oldest actor to win a competitive Oscar in history.

The film, adapted by French playwright Florian Zeller from his own stage production, also won best adapted screenplay. Zeller accepted his award from Paris.

Best supporting actress went to Youn Yuh-jung for Korean immigrant drama “Minari.”

“How can I win over Glenn Close?” she said, acknowledging her fellow nominee, who has a joint-record eight acting nominations but no wins in her career.

Supporting actor went to Daniel Kaluuya for his portrayal of slain 1960s Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which also won best song for multiple Grammy winner H.E.R.

References to racism and police violence were threaded throughout the show’s speeches, starting with actor-director Regina King’s opening monologue, in which she mentioned the conviction of a former police officer for the murder of African American man George Floyd.

“Promising Young Woman” won best original screenplay, the night’s first award. Emerald Fennell, who was seven months pregnant when she shot the #MeToo revenge thriller, thanked her son who “did not arrive until a couple of weeks after shooting, thank God, because I was crossing my legs.”

“Soul” became Pixar’s latest Oscar winner for best animated feature, and also picked up best score, while South African aquatic wildlife feature “My Octopus Teacher” won best documentary.

This year’s Oscars arrived at their Union Station venue two months late due to the pandemic — organizers have said it would have been “impossible” without the delay.

An honorary award for the Motion Picture and Television Fund, which has supported struggling actors and crew particularly during the pandemic, was awarded at the Oscars’ traditional Hollywood theater base. Black entertainment mogul Tyler Perry was also honored.

But the bulk of the awards were handed out at the 1930s-built Union Station, chosen for its grand scale and outdoor courtyards, where white tents sheltering everything from Covid testing booths to catering were installed.

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