“Nomadland,” a drama about van life, the gig economy, and the modern American underclass, was named the best film of 2020 by the Boston Society of Film Critics on Sunday. The film, which stars Frances McDormand and opens nationwide in February after having swept the fall film festival circuit, also won for the direction by Chloe Zhao (“The Rider”) and for Joshua James Richards’s widescreen cinematography.
Even in a year marked by shuttered movie theaters and the convulsions of the streaming revolution, the voting members of the BSFC cast a wide net in honoring movies and moviemakers for the group’s 41st annual awards. Anthony Hopkins won best actor for his portrayal of a man navigating the shoals of senile dementia in “The Father” — the first award from the society for the 82-year-old actor since “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991. By contrast, best actress winner Sidney Flanigan, 21, had never appeared in a movie before “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” in which she plays a rural Pennsylvania teenager traveling to New York for an abortion.
Paul Raci won best supporting actor as the deaf 12-step counselor in “Sound of Metal,” which has brought the longtime actor, musician, and American Sign Language activist to a new audience. The same could be said for Youn Yuh-jung, at 73 a legend of South Korean cinema whose turn as a tart-tongued grandmother in the tender immigrant saga “Minari” won her a best supporting actress from the Boston critics.
The award for best ensemble cast went to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” whose cast includes Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, and — in his final appearance on film — Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer in August. It starts streaming on Netflix on Dec. 18.
Charlie Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” won two awards, for screenplay — Kaufman adapted a 2016 novel by Iain Reid — and for Robert Frazen’s editing, the latter award given in honor of the late film editor Karen Schmeer. The best non-English language film, awarded in memory of Boston Globe film critic Jay Carr, went to the Guatemalan political horror movie “La Llorona.” Florian Zeller, a French novelist and playwright, won the David Brudnoy award for best new filmmaker for “The Father.” As with “Nomadland” and “Minari,” “The Father” will see a February 2021 commercial release.
Romania’s devastating “Collective,” about a nightclub fire that revealed a corrupt national health care system, was named best documentary of 2020. “The Wolf House,” a striking stop-motion drama from Chile, won the prize for best animated film of 2020.
In addition, the Boston critics gave special commendations to the Coolidge Corner Theater’s Education Seminar program, expanded during the pandemic into the virtual space, to the Cambridge-based DocYard, and to filmmaker Frederick Wiseman and his distribution company, Zipporah Films.
That some of the films honored by the society played theaters early in the year, others debuted only on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, and still others won’t see wide release until early 2021, is a mark of the chaos roiling the movie landscape in a year of global sickness, state shutdowns, and the increasing dominance of video on demand. That movies and performances of such high quality continue to find their way to audiences remains a mark of the medium’s continued vitality.
The society, which currently has 26 active members, dedicated the 2020 awards meeting “in solidarity with and support of local cinemas, cinema workers and all those persevering to uphold the film exhibition industry during these difficult times.”