As Tuesday afternoons go, it was up there with the best of them. Fourteen Irish nominations at the Oscars? We’re already counting down the days until Sunday, March 12, when Hollywood’s finest descends upon the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the 95th Academy Awards.
he stats are almost impossible to wrap our heads around. A quarter of this year’s acting nominees are Irish. We are represented across nine categories, from Best International Feature to Best Live Action Short.
Kildare’s Paul Mescal, a sensation in Charlotte Wells’s devastating father-daughter-drama, Aftersun, is nominated for Best Actor. The Banshees of Inisherin, Martin McDonagh’s searing tale of soured brotherhood in Civil War-era Ireland, is up for Best Picture. Get the bunting out.
Exciting times, then, but with every Irish Oscar nomination comes the inevitable follow-up questions. Will we win, and who is our biggest competition?
We’ve had our fair share of triumphs in the past. Who can forget the great Brenda Fricker, graciously accepting her Best Supporting Actress trophy in 1990, for My Left Foot? We are reminded, too, of Neil Jordan, collecting the prize for Best Original Screenplay in 1993 for The Crying Game, and of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová winning Best Original Song for ‘Falling Slowly’ (from Once) in 2008. Everyone knows about Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscars (he has three of them).
Some of our very best have gone all the way – but most have had to settle for the runners-up badge. For a start, the folks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) have yet to award Ireland’s greatest living actress. The indomitable Saoirse Ronan has four Oscar nominations – one for Best Supporting Actress (for Atonement), three for Best Actress (Brooklyn, Lady Bird, Little Women) – and zero wins.
Likewise, the great Jim Sheridan has always come away empty-handed, though nominated for six Oscars for his work on My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and In America. Kilkenny based animation giants Cartoon Saloon boast an impressive five Oscar nominations – and I was sorry to see them miss out on a sixth this year for the brilliant My Father’s Dragon. We could go on.
Michael Fassbender and Bono each have two Oscar nominations. Ruth Negga, Jessie Buckley, Stephen Rea, Ciarán Hinds and Liam Neeson each have one. Always the nominee, never the winner? Hardly – but sometimes, that’s exactly how it feels.
It seems odd to discuss and rank our favourite storytellers as though they are athletes or reality TV show contestants. They’re artists. But we didn’t start this conversation. For maybe four months of the year, our favourite medium is reduced to that of a daft yet undeniably addictive sporting event, where the ‘winners’ get to make speeches and the ‘losers’ are required to sit and applaud for their peers. It’s fun, but completely bananas.
Anyway, the only thing more interesting than talking about Irish Oscar noms is trying to predict how many will take home the gold. Of the 20 performers nominated for acting awards this year, five are Irish, and two categories feature a local legend pitted against a relative newcomer.
For Best Supporting Actor, the mighty Brendan Gleeson has been recognised for his fine, soulful turn as a depressed fiddle player in Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin. His young co-star, Barry Keoghan, who delivers a career-best performance as a lonely village eejit, is also nominated.
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Both nominations are thoroughly deserved, but will either of them win? Unlikely. All signs point towards former Indiana Jones star, Ke Huy Quan. The beloved Vietnamese-American actor is currently enjoying a career comeback with his acclaimed turn in Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s winning sci-fi comedy, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and it’s difficult to see anyone beating him to that Oscar.
Meanwhile, Colin Farrell – also nominated for Banshees – will have his work cut out for him in the Best Actor branch. Castleknock’s finest is magnificent in McDonagh’s film. His fellow Irish nominee, the incomparable Paul Mescal, delivers a breathtaking performance in Aftersun. But Mescal will have to wait his turn.
I’m not entirely convinced that Brendan Fraser (the only good thing about Darren Aronofsky’s overpraised melodrama, The Whale, which arrives in Irish cinemas next week) is the frontrunner in this category. For my money, it’s between Farrell and Austin Butler. The handsome Californian’s stirring portrayal as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is too lively a performance to ignore. The heart says Farrell – the brain thinks Butler.
Over in the Best Supporting Actress category, Tipperary’s Kerry Condon (the beguiling, beating heart of Banshees) might have to accept the inevitable: Angela Bassett’s electrifying stint as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. If Bassett wins – and I think she might – it will make her the first performer to bag an Oscar for a Marvel film (she is already the first to be nominated for one).
How, then, might writer and director Martin McDonagh fare? For Best Picture, I’d think it’s between Banshees, Everything Everywhere All at Once and The Fabelmans (reviewed on page 16). For Best Director, the Academy will probably award Spielberg for what is his finest work in years. But McDonagh would do well to prepare a speech for Best Original Screenplay.
We are almost certainly guaranteed an Irish win in the Best Visual Effects category, where Dublin animator and former Ballyfermot College student Richard Baneham is nominated for his work on Avatar: The Way of Water, alongside Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett.
Hopes are high, too, for Tom Berkeley and Ross White’s tender presentation, An Irish Goodbye, nominated for Best Live Action Short. An astonishing line-up there – all of which brings us to Colm Bairéad’s masterful Irish-language drama.
It says a lot about the warmth and goodwill propelling this singular Irish film that, in a week when treasured icons and homegrown superstars clean up on the world stage, the title on everyone’s lips is An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl). But will it win Best International Feature Film? If it wasn’t up against Edward Berger’s extraordinary German epic, All Quiet on the Western Front, it would probably be a shoo-in.
As it stands, Berger’s film might just squeeze past Bairéad’s – but that is no reflection on the quality of this remarkable domestic offering. Its success is unprecedented, and the buzz around it unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Indeed, An Cailín Ciúin continues to astound, and the real triumph is in knowing that this magnificent piece of work has found its audience. That said, a win for Bairéad and Co would be lovely – and can you imagine the response if they call out their names on the night? Jaypers, the place will be hopping.
Best of luck, everyone.