The Palm Springs International Film Awards named Zhao their Director of the Year.
In another timeline, filmmaker Chloé Zhao would have had one helluva end to 2020: The plan was to release both of her new films back-to-back -- first, her superhero blockbuster, Eternals, followed by her awards contender, Nomadland -- but then the pandemic changed everything.
Her Marvel movie -- which stars Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani and more as the immortal protectors of humankind -- was postponed a full year to Nov. 5, 2021, leaving MCU fans clamoring for a trailer or teaser trailer or even a teaser to a teaser trailer in the meantime. Zhao says Eternals will be worth the wait.
"[You can look forward to] getting to know a group of new heroes, falling in love with them and exploring new mythology. It's a new ride," she told ET's Nischelle Turner. "It's gonna be good. I'm proud of it, and I'm very proud of the cast. I'm excited for everyone to see it."
Nomadland, meanwhile, had its debut on the COVID-adjusted festival circuit, premiering at the Venice Film Festival and TIFF before its (slightly delayed) arrival in theaters and on Hulu on Feb. 19. The movie stars Frances McDormand as a woman getting by while living on the road, a story that only became more relevant as real world events forced us to grapple with the importance of solitude.
"In those silent moments in nature, you get to hear your own voice better and get to know yourself better," Zhao says. But also, Nomadland is about "the importance of community. Find your tribe and find your support so you can enjoy your solitude. Also, just appreciate the little triumphs that you have every day. I did my laundry today. It's something. The Buddhist monks say chop wood and carry water. I think we put so much expectation that we have to have all of that to just be OK. And that is not true, and this pandemic shows that it can all go away."
The one thing that has gone according to plan is that Nomadland is a major player this awards season, nominated at the Critics Choice Awards, SAG Awards and Indie Spirit Awards. At the Golden Globes, Zhao made history alongside Regina King and Emerald Fennell as the first female directors to be nominated in the same year. Her parents are very happy about it, she says, though Zhao's own approach is far more humble. "It's very subjective, isn't it?" she says. "I feel very lucky, but I don't think it means I'm necessarily the best."
Among the many nominations she's already collected and those that are still to come, Zhao has one win already: She was named Director of the Year at the 2021 Palm Springs International Film Awards, becoming the first woman to ever win the award.
"It takes a village. In this case, I feel like we all boarded on a sailboat and just went out there to see what happens," Zhao says. "I'm very grateful for my producing team, my VP, and the whole crew, and the whole cast, Fran, Dave and all the nomads who taught us so much. I share this with them."
The Palm Springs International Film Awards will not take place as an in-person event this year, but ET will be exclusively sitting down with the winners and honoring the honorees on Entertainment Tonight on Feb. 25.