NEW YORK — Streaming from an empty banquet hall and with acceptance speeches made from living rooms, the 30th Gotham Awards gave a very strange Oscar season a virtual start Monday in a largely digital ceremony that crowned Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland” the best film of 2020.
As the first prominent award show to go forward during the pandemic, the Gotham Awards took a trial-and-error approach to mounting a show that couldn’t include the usual trappings of the annual independent film awards: a flashy red carpet, free-flowing cocktails, standing ovations. The Gothams nevertheless went ahead with a ceremony from its usual home of Wall Street Cipriani’s in downtown Manhattan, albeit without an in-person audience.
The show was livestreamed on Facebook, with invitees placed digitally at tables via a poker program that Gotham organizers retooled to simulate being seated at the gala.
The results weren’t always smooth, but they were typical of a pandemic that has made any large gatherings — let alone glitzy ones like the Gothams — impossible. Winners, appearing by videoconference, were sometimes befuddled.
But the Gothams, which had been postponed by about two months to coincide with the delayed Academy Awards calendar, fell into a kind of rhythm and a predictable winner. Zhao’s “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand as an itinerant widow living in her van, was the sensation of a similarly pandemic-marred film festival season, winning top honors at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, along with best picture from the National Society of Film Critics.
“Nomadland” won both best feature and the Gothams’ audience award on Monday.
Other awards were more surprising. Orangeburg native Nicole Beharie won best actress for “Miss Juneteenth.” “Oh, my God,” she mouthed while still on mute. Turning her audio on, she said it again: “Oh, my God.”
Beharie is the daughter of Colleen Kilgore of Orangeburg.
Beharie starred with another South Carolina native, Chadwick Boseman, in the biopic "42," with Beharie starring as as Rachel Robinson to Boseman's Jackie Robinson.
The Gotham Awards best actor category included a posthumous nomination for Boseman’s performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” but the award went to Riz Ahmed, for “Sound of Metal.”
Boseman was still honored with a tribute award, as was his “Ma Rainey” co-star Viola Davis. The Gothams, which can steer momentum in the Oscar race, gave out a litany of tribute awards in taped presentations, including for Steve McQueen (“Small Axe”), the ensemble of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Ryan Murphy (“The Prom”) and Jeffrey Wright.
Simone Ledward Boseman, Chadwick’s widow, accepted his award in an emotional taped message.