Coming out the gate with his most personal and career topping achievement as a writer and director, Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” is a touching and moving portrait of childhood and family and the first movie I’ve seen this year that can be a best picture winner.
Introducing the film with co-star Jamie Dornan, Branagh spoke about this film being something that was “fifty years in the making.” He assembles an all-star ensemble and a team of master craftspeople in a package that could be a winning ticket for distributor Focus Features.
“Belfast” tells the story of Buddy (Jude Hill), a young boy and his working-class family as they experience the tumultuous Irish city during the late 1960s.
Front and center is Branagh’s invigorating writing and direction. He’s a respected and gifted artist in cinema who has shown no limits to his range. With a brisk 97-minute runtime, he gives outstanding character development, plenty of laughs and chuckles and a tear-jerking ending that could melt the iciest of hearts. With five Oscar nominations to his credit, he’s one of those celebrated figures that have yet to win an Oscar because, in part, they’ve been spread between acting, directing, writing and short film. He’s also part of a very short list of elite filmmakers such as Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood, who has directed himself to an acting nomination for “Henry V” (1989). His first dance on the Academy stage could be in one or both directing and writing categories this year.
The ensemble is a prime candidate to be gobbled up by the SAG Awards in the acting realm. Individual nominations could come for Irish veteran actor Ciarán Hinds, who’s never been nominated despite outstanding performances in films like “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (2011) and Academy Award winner Judi Dench (“Shakespeare in Love”), who gets the final moment of the film to transform the audience into a puddle of tears. Dench has an impressive seven Oscar nominations and one more isn’t out of the question. Both seem like easy picks for supporting nominations.
When it comes to Dornan and the phenomenal Caitriona Balfe, their Pa and Ma are sensationally accessible for the acting branch to fall in love with. However, category placement will be the key to any successful awards campaign and honestly, the two seem to ride the line between lead and supporting. Each has its own scenes that could make for a good Oscar clip, but if the lead route is chosen, they’ll likely find themselves on the outside of two very competitive acting categories.
Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography will be a strong contender, and in stunning black and white, with pops of color infused throughout, ASC and the branch will check it off swiftly. Production design, costumes, editing and sound are also within reach of making their respective shortlists. Van Morrison provides nine songs for the soundtrack, just one of them new, so there is sure to be further conversation about eligibility in that category.
“Belfast” has arrived, and the Oscar race has just been elevated to new heights. Buckle up.