Is Belfast Really the Best Picture Frontrunner?

It’s been a question nagging at me for a few days now. Is Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast truly the Best Picture frontrunner? I’ve had it ranked #1 for weeks and weeks. Yet I find myself moving away from it in other top of the line races. And that casts a shadow of doubt and a legitimate one.

Why? Let’s start with Best Director. I’ve never had Branagh listed in first place. That spot has mostly been held by Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. I also believe Denis Villeneuve could be honored for Dune. And West Side Story holds the ability to make a real impact and that could sweep its maker (his name is Steven Spielberg) in. Even if Branagh doesn’t take the gold for his behind the camera work, that doesn’t eliminate Belfast for Pic contention. Those races often split (8 out of 21 times this century).

So let’s move onto its Original Screenplay. Up until the last few days, I had Belfast placed first there. However, I’ve replaced it with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza. Once again, not winning screenplay doesn’t necessarily forecast losing Best Picture. That’s occurred six times in the 21 21st century ceremonies (including with last year’s Nomadland).

Here’s where it gets trickier. What’s the latest Best Picture winner to land the gold statue without a Director or Screenplay victory? That would be 19 years ago with Chicago. It happened two years prior to that with Gladiator. 

What do both of those films have in common? They both picked up another major award. For Gladiator, it was Russell Crowe in Best Actor. With Chicago – Catherine Zeta-Jones’s Supporting Actress win.

So if history is any guide, Belfast at least needs an acting win. That’s absolutely possible in either supporting race. I’ve had Caitriona Balfe at #1 for some time (while having her costar Judi Dench on the outside looking in). I’m not sure if she stays there when I do my update this week. Her biggest threat to lose could come from Ariana DeBose in West Side Story. I also wouldn’t count out Aunjanue Ellis for King Richard or Kirsten Dunst in The Power of the Dog.

Supporting Actor is wide open. Both Ciaran Hinds and Jamie Dornan’s performances in Belfast could make the cut. I don’t have either in first place. That slot belongs to Kodi Smit-McPhee for The Power of the Dog at the moment. Anything could happen in Supporting Actor and hopefully the picture becomes more clear as precursors bestow their best of’s. We could see contenders like Troy Kotsur (CODA), Mike Faist (West Side Story), Jared Leto (House of Gucci), or Bradley Cooper (Licorice Pizza) rise.

My point is this. The idea that Belfast doesn’t win Director, any acting race, or screenplay is quite feasible. If that occurs, how can it be considered the favorite for the biggest competition of the bunch?

Of course this post could be premature. Belfast could win Director, Original Screenplay, and podium trips for Balfe and probably Hinds over Dornan (or some combo of that). Or there’s the other scenario. If Licorice Pizza takes screenplay and the supporting prizes go elsewhere and a different filmmaker takes their race, Oscar night is more likely to end in a West Side story or with a Dog flexing power or with a Pizza delivery.

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