The Gotham Awards Honor ‘Nomadland,’ as Best They Can

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Movies|The Gotham Awards Honor ‘Nomadland,’ as Best They Can

The Projectionist

In a virtual ceremony, there were glitches and touching moments alike, including a speech from Chadwick Boseman’s widow.

Frances McDormand in “Normadland.” The film won the top prize at the Gothams on Monday.
Credit...Courtesy Of Searchlight Pictures/Searchlight Pictures, via Associated Press

Kyle Buchanan

Jan. 11, 2021

All sorts of challenges arise when holding an awards show during a pandemic, and one of them, as proven by Monday night’s livestream of the 30th annual Gotham Awards, might be the technical difficulty of cueing up remote acceptance speeches.

“Am I supposed to talk now?” asked a bewildered Radha Blank, upon winning a Gotham Award for her screenplay for “The 40-Year-Old Version.”

The “One Night in Miami” actor Kingsley Ben-Adir looked similarly confused when the Gothams livestream cut to him sitting in a London hotel room, patiently awaiting any sort of direction. “I think I’m supposed to be speaking right now,” Ben-Adir said as he accepted a breakthrough-actor award, “but I hear so many people talking that I can’t really understand what’s going on.”

Welcome to awards shows in the era of Zoom — more glitchy than glitzy, but still capable of celebration and the occasional moving moment. Perhaps the “Time” director Garrett Bradley put it best as she accepted her Gotham Award for best documentary: “If this were a real space, there’d be so many people up here with us,” Bradley said. “But we’re living in two dimensions.”

The biggest winner of the night was “Nomadland,” a Frances McDormand road drama that many expect to be a top contender for the best-picture Oscar. The film, from the director Chloé Zhao, picked up both the best-feature and audience award; Zhao’s previous film, “The Rider,” triumphed at the Gothams two years ago.

Though the Gothams are indie-leaning, their presence on the awards circuit is outsized: As the first significant ceremony of the season, they’ve often been a great barometer of buzz. What films have captured the attention of the East Coast crowd and may earn enough momentum to make it all the way to Oscar? You couldn’t help but overhear all sorts of lobbying whenever you pushed through a sea of formal wear on the way to the bar.

The Gothams tried to recapture some of that magic this year with “virtual tables,” where a handful of curated watchers could gossip using video chat, if they so wished. (My table stayed mute.) But there is only so much you can do virtually to recreate a starry moment like last year’s late arrival of Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez, who swanned to their table well after the show began and brought the proceedings to a near-halt. Or the time when I wished luck to “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” nominee Richard E. Grant and he said, “I read the predictions on IndieWire today. It’s not going to be me.”

Still, even a virtual ceremony can produce something that feels gratifyingly real. The winners in the lead-acting categories, Nicole Beharie for “Miss Juneteenth” and Riz Ahmed for “Sound of Metal,” were both gobsmacked, and as Ahmed tried to get his footing, he summed up the moment poetically: “It feels like a very wobbly time,” he said. “But if we can all wobble together, maybe we might find ourselves dancing.”

Ahmed took the prize over the late Chadwick Boseman, nominated for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” but Boseman was still honored with a special posthumous trophy. Accepting the award on his behalf was the actor’s widow, Simone Ledward Boseman.

Calling the award “an acknowledgment not only of his profound work, but of his impact on this industry and this world,” his widow looked up, and a tear ran down her cheek. “Chad, thank you,” she said. “I love you, I am so proud of you. Keep shining your light on us.”

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