Kenneth Branagh could break long-standing Oscar record with ‘Belfast’

Just two years after landing his first credited film role, Kenneth Branagh made his feature directing debut by helming a 1989 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Henry V” in which he also starred. The next year, he became the fifth person to receive acting and directing Oscar nominations for a single film, after Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane,” 1942), Laurence Olivier (“Hamlet,” 1949), Woody Allen (“Annie Hall,” 1978), and Warren Beatty (“Heaven Can Wait,” 1979 and “Reds,” 1982). Since then, his multifaceted talent has allowed him to compete in three additional categories: Best Live Action Short, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor.

Now, a full decade after his most recent outing, Branagh is poised to make Oscars history with “Belfast,” which chronicles the effects of The Troubles on a 1960s Northern Irish family. His work on the semi-autobiographical film is likely to earn him spots in this year’s Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay lineups. If he at least scores bids for producing and writing, the total number of distinct categories in which he has contended will increase from five to seven and he will stand alone in surpassing the long-standing record of six.

The individual who set the current record for garnering notices in the most unique categories was Walt Disney, who also holds the distinctions of having the most nominations (59) and most wins (22). His first date with the Oscars was in 1932, when he received double Best Animated Short bids and won for “Flowers and Trees.” He went on to collect 37 more nominations and 11 more wins in that category between 1934 and 1969. In that time, he was also nominated for Best Two-reel Short eight times (four wins), Best Documentary Short six times (three wins), Best Live Action Short four times (two wins), and once each for Best Documentary Feature (win) and Best Picture.

Only two multi-hyphenates have tied Disney’s unique category record, beginning with George Clooney. His relationship with the academy began in 2006 when he won Best Supporting Actor for “Syriana” and earned Best Director and Best Original Screenplay bids for “Good Night, and Good Luck.” He then received three lead acting nominations for “Michael Clayton” (2008), “Up in the Air” (2010), and “The Descendants” (2012) and a Best Adapted Screenplay one for “The Ides of March” (2012) before winning Best Picture for “Argo” (2013).

Alfonso Cuarón joined this small group in 2019, 16 years after his original screenplay for “Y Tu Mamá También” brought him his first career bid. He was then recognized for his adaptive writing and editing work on “Children of Men” (2007) before winning Best Director and Best Film Editing for “Gravity” (2014). The latter film also earned him a Best Picture nomination, as did “Roma” just three years ago. He also competed in the 2019 races for Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay, winning the former two.

According to our odds, “Belfast,” is expected to receive 10 Oscar nominations. Aside from the three categories in which Branagh would receive credit, we also predict that it will show up in Best Supporting Actress (Caitriona Balfe), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Song, Best Sound, and twice in Best Supporting Actor (Jamie Dornan and Ciarán Hinds). The film is in second place behind only “The Power of the Dog” in the Best Picture race, while Branagh ranks second among the year’s original script writers (after Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza”) and third among the directors (after Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog” and Denis Villeneuve, “Dune”).

Despite his wide range of nominations, Branagh has yet to win an Academy Award. In 1990, he lost his first acting and directing contests to Daniel Day-Lewis (“My Left Foot”) and Oliver Stone (“Born on the Fourth of July”), respectively. He was next recognized in 1993 for the live action short film “Swan Song,” which was ultimately bested by Sam Karmann’s “Omnibus.” His first writing bid came in 1997 for “Hamlet,” his third of five Shakespeare adaptations. Billy Bob Thornton (“Sling Blade”) was chosen as the winner in that case. Finally, his supporting performance in “My Week with Marilyn” (2012) was beaten by that of Christopher Plummer in “Beginners.”

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