How nominated directors drew on personal experiences for their survival stories – the Hollywood reporter

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We are all trying to get through it. After more than a year of global calamity, political turmoil and upheaval in daily life, there are probably few people who do not feel crushed in oblivion most of the time. The world of cinema is often used as a loophole, but this year the Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences bestowed its highest accolades on the films and filmmakers who captured the hardscrabble vibe of the moment. In particular, the 2021 directing contenders have each looked inward to delve into survival stories.

For some of these directors, their nominated films represent the culmination of their works. Nomadic country‘s Chloe Zhao, who grew up in mainland China, has dedicated her career to exhibiting the beauty and gloom of the American heart. His first drama of 2015, Songs that my brothers taught me, and mastodon 2017 indie Western The horseman both depict the real-life struggles of young Lakota Sioux living in the Badlands of South Dakota. She continues this documentary-style fictional storytelling in Searchlight’s Nomadic country, which focuses on Fern (Frances McDormand), an elderly employee who travels around the American West in a custom van while looking for seasonal concerts. Zhao adapted his screenplay from a non-fiction book about this realistic post-recession subculture of retired Americans who don’t have the luxury of leaving the workforce. Nomadic country is a lyrical neo-western that explores themes of scarcity and independence, but most importantly, it details what it takes to endure such a demanding lifestyle.

Likewise, themes from Emerald Fennell’s career on the feminism of life and death persist in his daring first feature film, Promising young woman. The British multihyphenate has starred in a number of period female dramas such as The crown and Call the midwife, but her most daring work has been the dark and violent stories she wrote herself. In 2018, she took over from Phoebe Waller-Bridge as showrunner for the second season of the BBC hit thriller. Kill Eve, on the erotic and bloodthirsty dynamic between an assassin and the female MI5 agent who hunts her. That same year, his short film Pay attention to the way you go premiered at Sundance, telling the story of three women who indulge their inherent cruelty through random malicious acts. In Focus’s hyperrealistic black comedy Promising young woman, Fennell digs deeper into the chaos and carnage by dissecting the #MeToo movement. Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, a medical school dropout who spends years taking revenge on all those who are complicit in the rape and eventual suicide of her best friend. Nomadic country‘s Fern and Promising young womanCassie’s struggles to navigate their difficult worlds after suffering a shattering trauma.

While Zhao and Fennell crafted complex survival stories informed by their activism and socio-political interests, the other directing contenders Thomas Vinterberg (Another round), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) and David Fincher (man) each draws on their personal lives to tell intimate stories of men on the verge of losing their families and careers.

In the Danish comedy drama Another round, Mads Mikkelsen plays a demoralized high school teacher who first improves – but then almost destroys – his relationships when he and his friends constantly get drunk to boost their self-confidence. Vinterberg had initially envisioned a more overtly comedic tone for the film, including more intergenerational conflict in the school setting. At the start of filming, however, her teenage daughter, Ida, died in a car accident. After a period of mourning, he finally returned to the film to honor Ida, and the completed version of the film is a delicate, fiery, and heartbreaking examination of modern masculinity. Another roundThe final scene of s is the most memorable: At a celebration by the water’s edge, Mikkelsen’s drunken Martin suddenly explodes into a liberated dance as a crowd of students cheer him on. It’s both exuberant and painful, evoking Vinterberg’s persistence in the face of tragedy.

Mads Mikkelsen and Vinterberg on the set of Another Round, which is also nominated for an international film.

Notions of memory and fatherhood also tie Chung and Fincher to their own survival-themed films of 2020. In his semi-autobiographical drama A24, Minari, Chung takes a look at her childhood in rural Arkansas in the 1980s to tell the story of a young Korean immigrant family who moved to the woods of the southern United States to start a produce farm. Jacob (Steven Yeun), a character inspired by Chung’s father, is so determined to find his place in this desolate and unfamiliar environment that he ends up alienating his homesick wife.

Steven Yeun and Will Patton with director Minari Chung.

man is equally personal for Fincher, who directed the Netflix film based on a decades-long project originally designed by his father, Jack. The black and white tribute to 1930s Hollywood stars Gary Oldman as outrageous screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, an alcoholic storyteller who systematically destroys his relationships to create the infamous gossip Citizen Kane scenario. Fincher spent years working on manThe story of s with her now deceased father, starting in the 1980s, until they reduced the historical elements to a great portrait of a truth teller who was ultimately ousted from his profession. Both Minari and man ask yourself what it takes to persevere for the sake of a dream – and if his legacy is worth all the suffering.

This story first appeared in the April 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.


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