Kenneth Branagh's Belfast, a Northern Ireland Screen production, has received seven nominations for the upcoming 94th Academy Awards including one for best picture.
Two of the film's stars are up for Oscars. Judi Dench, whose mother was from Dublin, is nominated alongside a competitive field for best supporting actress. Ciarán Hinds, from North Belfast, lands in best supporting actor for his turn as a kindly grandfather in Branagh's monochrome film. Caitriona Balfe, from Monaghan, who plays the mum in Belfast, will be disappointed not to be competing alongside Dench.
Van Morrison receives a nomination in best original song for Down to Joy from Branagh's film. Away from the Belfast juggernaut, Jessie Buckley, from Kerry, is nominated in best supporting actress for her turn as harried young mother in The Lost Daughter. She takes a spot that many had predicted for Ruth Negga, from Limerick, much acclaimed for her turn in Rebecca Hall's Passing.
“It’s a long way from the streets of Belfast to the Academy Awards,” Branagh, who left that city as a child, said. “Today, I think of my mother and father, and my grandparents – how proud they were to be Irish, how much this city meant to them. They would have been overwhelmed by this incredible honour – as am I. Given a story as personal as this one, it’s a hell of a day for my family, and the family of our film. I thank Academy voters for their incredible and generous recognition.”
Buckley said her nomination was “a wild dream come true” and thanked her co-star Olivia Colman and director Maggie Gyllenhaal. “I am in complete shock! The Lost Daughter is so special to me,” she said.
Hinds said he was “astounded, thrilled and deeply grateful” to have received a nomination. “Having worked in this industry for nearly 50 years, I thought there wasn’t much that could surprise me still.”
This constitutes the best showing for Irish talent at the Oscars since 2016 when Lenny Abrahamson’s Room and John Crowley’s Brooklyn were both nominated for best picture.
That annus mirabilis was the last time that two Irish actors were nominated in the same year – with both Saoirse Ronan and Michael Fassbender competing. Branagh's mentions for best original screenplay and best picture (as producer) – he is also again up for best director – secure him the record for nominations in most categories over a career. Scoring in seven races, he passes out previous joint-record holders Walt Disney, George Clooney and Alfonso Cuarón.
Other films registering in best picture include Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune Part One. Belfast, a semi-autobiographical take on the director’s childhood at the start of The Troubles, was anointed favourite in that race after its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in September, but The Power of the Dog, a troubling neo-western starring Benedict Cumberbatch, has gained in strength as it scored with critics groups and at the Golden Globes.
It surprised awards gurus by passing out Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, a film with more flashy technical achievements, to top the Oscar nominations chart with places in 12 categories. The Campion film is thus now clear favourite for best picture, but, in recent years, that category has proved volatile. Five or six of the 10 nominated films feel like credible winners. Campion has been a near-unbackable favourite with bookies for best director since the picture’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
There were many shocks (not least Balfe’s exclusion) and many notable achievements throughout the list. Large parts of social media will be in mourning the news that Lady Gaga – winner with no less high-brow a body than the New York Film Critics Circle – failed to secure a best actress nomination for her lead performance in House of Gucci. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car exceeded expectations by securing nominations not just in best international feature, but also in best film and, perhaps at the expense of a much-fancied Villeneuve, in best director. The Japanese film has been steadily rising in estimation since its successful premiere at the Cannes film festival last July. Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, study of an Afghan refugee in Denmark becomes the first film to register in three “best feature” categories. It competes as documentary, animation and international film.
The Campion film is now probably slight favourite, but, in recent years, the best picture category has proved volatile. Five or six of the 10 nominated films feel like credible winners. Campion has been a near-unbackable favourite with bookies for best director since the picture’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
The nominees for best actor include Benedict Cumberbatch, Denzel Washington for Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth and Andrew Garfield for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tick, Tick… Boom! All have a chance, but the most likely winner remains Will Smith for his performance as Richard Williams, father to Venus and Serena, in the crowd-pleasing biopic King Richard. This would be a first win for the veteran star.
Best actress is particularly hard to predict this year. Nicole Kidman is up for playing Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos. Jessica Chastain is mentioned for her role as Tammy-Faye Bakker, colourful US televangelist, in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Olivia Colman, winner in 2019 for The Favourite, is nominated for The Lost Daughter.
Kirsten Stewart was rapidly pencilled in as favourite for her performance as Princess Diana in Spencer when that film premiered at Venice last September, but she has struggled since – missing nominations with the British Academy and with the Screen Actors Guild – and many thought she would fail to secure a nomination. Landing in the race slightly against the odds gives her a boost.
Buckley arrives in a busy year for best supporting actress. Anyone could win here, but it currently looks like a race between Kirsten Dunst, a disappointed wife in The Power of the Dog, and Ariana DeBose, electric as Anita in West Side Story.
Kodi Smit-McPhee looks to be ahead in best supporting act for his role as Dunst’s deceptively crafty son in The Power of the Dog. Troy Kostur is also nominated for playing deaf father to a plucky daughter in Sian Heder’s CODA.
The Academy Awards will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on March 27th. Following disastrous TV ratings last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be hoping for a post-Covid upturn.