Awards Season: A Review of ‘Belfast’ and ‘The Power of The Dog’

The BAFTA’s were last weekend and the Oscars are coming up on the 28th of March (at 1am if you’re in Britain), award shows that for years have celebrated the power of the cinema and now streaming sites, to quote Kenneth Branagh’s speech ‘long live the big screen’. Movies are now competing in two platforms and between different kinds of audiences. Most great films are just meant to be seen big, loud and with an audience. Belfast is one of those movies, The Power of the Dog on the other hand is out on Netflix. As a Uni student the small screen is particularly small for me as friends and I curled round my laptop trying to figure out what was going on.

Belfast was nominated for six BAFTA’s including Best Film, Ciarán Hinds for Supporting Actor, Caitríona Balfe for supporting actress, and is nominated for 7 Academy Awards including Kenneth Branagh for Best Directing and original screenplay. Belfast tells the story of the troubles in Ireland through the eyes of a young boy, Buddy. It is a story based off of Kenneth Branagh’s own memories growing up in Belfast before he moved to England. It begins with images of modern Belfast in colour then moves over the wall into the past becoming black and white. These ‘travel brochure’ style images at the beginning have been criticised by some, claiming it cheapens a mostly artistic film. I actually quite enjoyed this framing. To me it allowed for a contrast between modern day Belfast to a past one without making it a central plot point. It beings a level of hope but also beings the story out of its historical context into an examination of the present.

The film was endearing and very funny at times despite its horrific backdrop. Similar to films like Room, a traumatic situation is taken through a child’s point of view and so there are moments that are incredibly touching because of the naivety and innocence. The story begins before the troubles begin then Buddy’s world is turned upside down. There is a lot of reference to the confusion between working out who is Protestant and who is Catholic, theres a particular scene between Buddy and a friend trying to categorise peoples names to know who they are thats particularly clever with this.

The casting was fantastic from the actor who plays Buddy to Judi Dench. The surprise I had, as a fan of Merlin, was Colin Morgan as the antagonist of it. He played the part well but there could have been more characterisation to this character to make the plot more compelling as it can lose momentum at times. Overall, Belfast is a touching and intelligent film that humanly examines the troubles in Belfast. It’s a quiet sort of movie, perfect for Sunday afternoons or meaningful cinema experiences.

The Power of The Dog is nominated for 8 BAFTA’S including Best Film, Director, Leading Actor and two Supporting Actor nominees, and 12 Academy Awards. I watched this a dew weeks ago with a friend and wasn’t overly impressed by it. It’s an incredibly symbolic film with very little exposition, so maybe with a second watch it might be better. The film opens with two brothers as they find somewhere for them and their employees at the ranch to eat. It contrasts the femininity of a young boy with the toxic masculinity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character.

Not a lot happens throughout, the boy goes to university to train to be a doctor (we don’t see this), the brother marry’s the boys mother. The brother offers a different kind of masculinity. Work continues at the ranch and a strange tension forms between Cumberbatch’s character and his brothers new bride. It begins to get more interesting when the boy comes back from university to live on the ranch but still a lot of the action lies in symbolism and innuendo that isn’t fully explained. The main issue I take with the film is the lack of tension and pathos – I didn’t find myself particularly caring for any of these characters nor did I feel particularly compelled to keep watching. I probably would have watched something else if it hadn’t been for a curiosity to find out what the hype surrounding this film was for. It was beautifully shot and there were some incredible performances, especially from Kristen Dunst, but the plot lacked, well, plot and depth.

(Others nominated for Best Film BAFTA’s: Don’t Look Up, Dune, Licorice Pizza. Oscar’s Best Picture nominations: Coda, King Richard, Don’t Look Up, Drive my Car, Dune, Liqorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley).

Lady Gaga had also been nominated for leading actress in House of Gucci. Her acting was great but the film itself lacked pace and momentum with most of the action occurring in the last 10 minutes and the interiority of the characters never fully explored.

Published by Accalia Smith

I am a student in the UK studying English Literature at RHUL and an aspiring writer.

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