Martin McDonagh is currently enjoying the best reviews of his career with his dark comedy-drama The Banshees of Inisherin, which, after premiering on the fall festival circuit at the Venice International Film Festival (where it won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for Colin Farrell and the Golden Osella for Best Screenplay for McDonagh), finally had its limited theatrical release this past weekend and earned an outstanding $181,000 – with a per screen average of $45,250, which only ranks behind Everything Everywhere All at Once as the highest indie opening weekend per-theater gross this year. It’s been clear for quite some time that McDonagh (and the film’s distributor, the awards savvy Searchlight Pictures) had a hit on their hands, but the continuing critical raves and additional boffo box office have solidified Banshees as a contender to win a slew of trophies this season. However, will the competition be too tough to topple, in spite of all its individual strengths? Let’s take a closer look.
The easiest bets for Oscar nominations for Banshees are, predictably, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Not only have Colin Farrell and Martin McDonagh already picked up prizes for their work here – as mentioned above – but they’ve also remained the most praised parts of the film by far throughout almost every review (and even if you’re not as high on the movie as others, chances are that you can still admire Farrell’s deeply felt work in the lead role here and/or McDonagh’s snappy screenplay). Farrell will go head-to-head with The Whale‘s Brendan Fraser, who has been the de facto Best Actor frontrunner since The Whale had its Venice International Film Festival premiere (and since Fraser proceeded to receive a euphoric standing ovation at essentially every film festival on the face of the planet), but while Fraser has the narrative, the transformation, and the performance to pull this off, The Whale is a bit of a divisive title, playing better with average audiences than with the critical community.
This disconnect may prove to be to Fraser’s benefit in the end (let’s remember that the critics who hate The Whale don’t vote for the Oscars), but should Colin Farrell become the critics’ Best Actor frontrunner by a wide margin, that could make him an even stronger challenger for the win – though that didn’t help The Power of the Dog‘s Benedict Cumberbatch last year, who won 25 critics’ prizes to King Richard‘s Will Smith’s four. The other path for Farrell to usurp Fraser depends on which of their films get into the Best Picture line-up. To many pundits, Banshees has already secured its spot – it’s one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year, its the aforementioned awards savvy Searchlight Pictures’ major player this year, and voters have an affinity for Martin McDonagh – but The Whale‘s nomination remains in doubt.
If Fraser is that strong of a frontrunner, it really should get in (especially in a field of ten), but could the division keep it out? It’s also admittedly a small-scale and structurally “constrained” play adaptation, and those are hit-and-miss with The Academy (The Father made it in two years ago, while Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and One Night in Miami…, despite all their precursor nods, did not). If The Whale can’t get in, that will be a red flag for Fraser – the last 12 Best Actor winners hailed from films that also had Best Picture nominations, and if you think Fraser’s “narrative” can be strong enough to overcome that young stat, remember when we said the same thing about Chadwick Boseman and Anthony Hopkins in 2021? Stats never tell the whole story, but if Banshees get a Best Picture nod and The Whale doesn’t, watch out.
As for McDonagh, while he’s (almost) a sure thing for a Best Original Screenplay nod at this point (he’s beloved by the writers’ branch, previously scoring nods for In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and even coming close to the win for Three Billboards after prevailing at the Golden Globes and BAFTA that year) and should pick up a healthy amount of critics’ awards, the path to a win remains unclear for now. This is clearly a celebrated film with significant passion, but what’s the narrative for a win? That’s always the missing puzzle piece we have to consider when it comes to these races, and without an “unrewarded artist” to champion or a clear message that moves voters so much that they simply can’t cast their ballot for another contender, this is what could keep Banshees from the gold.
McDonagh will be going up against the likes of Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg (for Spielberg’s enormously emotionally affecting autobiography-of-sorts, The Fabelmans, which certainly feels a lot like last year’s winner, Belfast, which was also an enormously emotionally affecting autobiography-of-sorts from a favored filmmaker) and Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (for their glorious genre-bending Everything Everywhere All at Once, which has become the indie success story of the year by charming crowds and critics alike and could be yet another genre flick with some supplemental social commentary that succeeds in this category, a la Get Out, Parasite, and Promising Young Woman). Let’s also not forget that McDonagh is already an Oscar winner (for Best Live Action Short Film for Six Shooter in 2004) and while some may wish for him to be specifically recognized for his screenwriting, he has still had “his due.”
Some might wonder why I haven’t mentioned Brendan Gleeson yet – Banshees‘ biggest Best Supporting Actor bet – especially since he’s widely seen as the frontrunner in the category for the time being. While I do think Gleeson is a shoo-in for a nomination (and like Farrell and McDonagh, he should be showered in critics’ citations), I disagree that he’s ahead in Best Supporting Actor at the moment. His Colm could be seen as a bit of a “cold” character in Banshees (Farrell’s Pádraic is by far and away the more sympathetic and emotionally “open” person in this pairing), and Gleeson’s performance is subtle as opposed to “showy” – and we all know that the latter kind are favored in the acting races. He’ll also face stiff competition from Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s Ke Huy Quan, who is the undeniable heart of his film (with most of the instantly iconic lines as well) and has an irresistible “comeback” narrative (this was the role that brought him back to Hollywood after thirty years away).
Barry Keoghan is another Best Supporting Actor contender for Banshees, but Keoghan would only be aiming for a nomination, and in a year where multiple films are pushing two potential nominees here (The Fabelmans‘ Paul Dano and Judd Hirsch, Armageddon Time‘s Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Strong, etc.), I would hold off on predicting both right now. Instead, I think the film’s next likeliest acting nomination would be for Kerry Condon in Best Supporting Actress. She’s a “fresh face” (perhaps best known for playing Stacey in Better Call Saul), but her Siobhán, the sister of Farrell’s Pádraic, is a stupendous scene stealer here, constantly winning audiences over as she has to take matters into her own hands when the men keep complicating things, and she has several standout scenes that could serve as the cornerstone of an Oscar campaign. Best Supporting Actress is an absolute bloodbath this year – she’ll be facing Women Talking‘s Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy, Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu, The Whale‘s Hong Chau, and She Said‘s Carey Mulligan, among others – but look to critics to give her a boost too.
Banshees will also be contending for nominations in several craft categories, such as Best Cinematography (this may be Ben Davis’ best work to date) and Best Original Score, but a nomination is about all that’s in reach there, as “showier” (there’s that word again) work is already in win-contention and dominating the conversation in those races. Overall, as explored above, Banshees is best positioned as an acting/writing awards play, but I also don’t think a Best Director nomination for McDonagh is out of the question, either. He came incredibly close five years ago with Three Billboards (earning nods at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and the DGA Awards), and with many declaring Banshees to be his “best film yet,” there could be a groundswell of support for him in the directors’ branch – even if it isn’t the “biggest” direction in contention this year (like Steven Spielberg, Damien Chazelle, Daniels, and Todd Field can say) – especially if Banshees becomes a top five contender in Best Picture.
There’s a lot left to write about The Banshees of Inisherin‘s “Oscar story,” but Searchlight, Martin McDonagh, and co. couldn’t have asked to a better start to the season, and should this support only continue to grow in the months ahead, the sky’s the limit for this tonally dynamic dark comedy and its cast and crew (and let’s make sure that the marvelous Kerry Condon stays at the forefront of the conversation as well, okay?).