Here we are again, with fingers crossed for Irish nominees and hoping we'll all have something to celebrate come Monday morning...

The Academy Awards return to their rightful home of the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday night, where hosts Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes will have their work cut out to turn around the ceremony's calamitous US TV ratings. In 2020, the Oscars hit an all-time low of 23.6 million viewers. Then 2021 came along - and 10.4 million tuned in.

But against that backdrop, it will be a great night for Irish interest, with The Lost Daughter star Jessie Buckley and Belfast's Kenneth Branagh, Ciarán Hinds and Van Morrison among the nominees in a year when the Western The Power of the Dog leads the nominations with 12.

Buckley is nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category, with Hinds shortlisted for Best Supporting Actor.

Clockwise from top: Jessie Buckley, Ciarán Hinds, Van Morrison and Kenneth Branagh

Belfast's writer-director Branagh has received Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay nominations for his semi-autobiographical family drama. Singer-songwriter Morrison is nominated for Best Song for Belfast's Down to Joy.

In total, Belfast has received seven nominations. Branagh's nominations mean he has set a new Oscars record, receiving seven nominations in seven different categories over the course of his career.

If the much-fancied CODA beats The Power of the Dog and Belfast to Best Picture, well, there'll be a bit of home in that win too - the star of Sing Street, Wicklow actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, is among the cast of another gem about that certain age. He should get some sleep before Sunday, as he could have a very busy week ahead...

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Emilia Jones in CODA - tipped to win Best Picture

Without further ado, here are the names that we know, or think, will be in the envelopes in eight key categories on the night. Good luck to all and, if you're not staying up, catch the show from 9:35pm on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player on Monday.

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:

Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter
Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Judi Dench, Belfast
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard

Guaranteed Winner: Ariana DeBose

History repeats itself. Back in 1962, Rita Moreno won Best Supporting Actress for her role as the firebrand Anita in West Side Story. Sixty years on, Ariana DeBose will do the same. In a nice twist of fate, Moreno is her co-star in Steven Spielberg's remake.

Ariana DeBose as Anita in West Side Story

The maestro himself has described DeBose as "one of hundreds of Anita possibilities who came in to meet with me" - and how right he got it yet again. Put simply, she is the standout in the musical epic - its sole Oscar acting nominee - and with singing and dancing to go with all the drama.

DeBose also gives the biggest performance in this particular category. Everyone else, including Irish hope Jessie Buckley, is trailing the runaway favourite, who already has the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), BAFTA, Critics' Choice and Golden Globe awards on the shelf. The SAG Awards and the Oscars have mirrored each other 19 times since 1995. To borrow from the lyrics to West Side Story's Tonight, Anita's going to have her day again.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees:

CODA, Sian Heder
Drive My Car, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
Dune, Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth
The Lost Daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal
The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion

Predicted Winner: CODA

This has been billed as a showdown between the darkness of The Power of the Dog and the light of CODA, with both films the top contenders for Best Picture too.

CODA, from writer-director Sian Heder, is a remake of the French film La Famille Bélier. It won at the recent Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards to strengthen its Oscar chances here. The Power of the Dog, writer-director Jane Campion's adaptation of the 1967 Thomas Savage novel of the same name, wasn't in contention at the WGA Awards, as it was deemed ineligible under the guild's guidelines. The winner of Best Adapted Screenplay will strengthen their chances of taking the Best Picture Oscar, just as a win for Belfast would in the Best Original Screenplay category.

The momentum for CODA has been building in recent weeks - it also won at the Producers Guild and Screen Actors Guild Awards - and this would be the opportunity for Oscar voters to honour Heder if The Power of the Dog beats CODA to Best Film. Heder is not nominated for Best Director, the category in which The Power of the Dog's Campion is the runaway favourite.

Best Supporting Actor

Ciarán Hinds, Belfast
Troy Kotsur, CODA
Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog
J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos
Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

Guaranteed Winner: Troy Kotsur

Another category where there is no mystery. Of the three Oscar nominations for coming-of-age charmer CODA - the others being Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay - Troy Kotsur's win is the one that's guaranteed. In receiving the honour, he will become the first Deaf male actor to win an Oscar. His Deaf co-star Marlee Matlin also blazed a trail when she won Best Actress for Children of a Lesser God in 1987 at the age of 21.

Troy Kotsur as Frank in CODA

A veteran of Deaf theatre and supporting TV roles, Kotsur's unforgettable performance as the gold-hearted dad in CODA (the acronym for Child of Deaf Adults) is thought-provoking and tender but also manages to be wickedly funny and devil-may-care - often in the same scene.

It's a film all about unbreakable bonds and pursuing a dream, and Kotsur's own story is as important and inspirational as anything on the screen. He has already made history by picking up the BAFTA, Critics' Choice and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, with the SAG winner going on to win the Oscar on 18 occasions since 1995. Sunday night will round off a life-changing chapter for Kotsur. His speech will be just like the film - a must-watch.

Best Actor

The Nominees:

Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick … Boom!
Will Smith, King Richard
Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Guaranteed Winner: Will Smith

It's also game, set and match for Will Smith after his career-best performance as Venus and Serena Williams' father in King Richard - one of six nominations for the sporting biopic-meets-family movie.

Will Smith as Richard Williams, Demi Singleton (L) as Serena Williams and Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams in King Richard

Since 1995, there have been 21 years where the Best Actor winner at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards also went on to win the Academy Award. That will shortly be 22 as Smith completes his victory lap - he also won at the BAFTAs, Critics' Choice Awards and Golden Globes on his way to the big one. Interestingly, Smith's other Oscar nominations also came for his portrayals of real-life people: in Ali in 2002 and The Pursuit of Happyness in 2007.

So 27 March has been a long time coming for longtime Hollywood royalty - and this coronation will be complete on Sunday night. In the meantime, if you want to set yourself up for that heart-warming acceptance speech, find the time for King Richard. Like CODA, you'll be in the best of feelgood cinema company, just when it's needed most.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Kristen Stewart, Spencer

Predicted Winner: Jessica Chastain

The toughest acting category to call, but we're going for Jessica Chastain. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards and the Oscars have mirrored each other for Best Actress 19 times since 1995, with Chastain winning the SAG honour last month. Actors are the biggest voting bloc at the Oscars.

Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

There are more reasons than those, however, for marking Chastain out for the win here. Oscar voters love the trifecta of an actor portraying a real-life person, undergoing a physical transformation and delivering a big performance. As the late evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, Chastain ticks all those boxes.

Further proof? Chastain has been nominated twice in the past - Best Actress for Zero Dark Thirty and Best Supporting Actress for The Help - but has yet to win while fellow nominees Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz and Nicole Kidman all have Oscars to their names. Granted, Kidman, who won her Best Actress Oscar for portraying the author Virginia Woolf in The Hours, is again shortlisted this year for playing another iconic figure, comedy legend Lucille Ball, but it just doesn't feel like this is the year she will win again. The fifth nominee, Kristen Stewart, is receiving her first-time nomination for another real-life role, as Diana, Princess of Wales in Spencer. However, Stewart's initial awards buzz fizzled out with neither BAFTA nor SAG nominations in the run-up to the Oscars. Her time will surely come; Chastain's feels like it is now.

Best Director

The Nominees:

Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza
Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

Guaranteed Winner: Jane Campion

Here's a real anorak of a statistic: the winner of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) award has been honoured with the Best Director Oscar on all but eight occasions since the 1940s. Jane Campion won the DGA gong earlier this month for The Power of the Dog.

Jane Campion and Benedict Cumberbatch on the set of The Power of the Dog

Now, here's an incredible statistic: winning on Sunday night will see the New Zealander become only the third female filmmaker after Nomadland's Chloé Zhao and The Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow to be named Best Director. Campion's slow-burning Western leads this year's Oscars shortlist with 12 nominations, including in all four acting categories.

Indeed, Campion - already a Best Original Screenplay winner for her film The Piano in 1994 - is in with a shout of pulling off quite the hat-trick at the weekend, because she's also up for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture as one of The Power of the Dog's producers. Of those three nominations, it would be a seismic shock if Campion didn't win here. CODA, and its director Sian Heder, may well have the last word in the other two categories...

Best Original Screenplay

The Nominees:

Belfast, Kenneth Branagh
Don't Look Up, Adam McKay, David Sirota
King Richard, Zach Baylin
Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson
The Worst Person in the World, Eskil Vogt, Joachim Troer

Predicted Winner: Kenneth Branagh

Of Belfast's seven nominations - it's also up for Best Picture, Best Director for Kenneth Branagh, Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench, Best Supporting Actor for Ciarán Hinds, Best Song for Van Morrison and Best Sound - this category is considered its best chance, despite the Best Picture talk picking up again in recent days. Granted, Branagh's love letter to his hometown didn't win at the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards - the gong went to Licorice Pizza - because it was deemed ineligible under the WGA's rules, but the case for a Branagh win on Sunday night is still strong.

Kenneth Branagh on the set of Belfast

With Belfast, Branagh is a writer-director telling his most personal story to date. That story of a family seeking peace elsewhere has become all the more important and powerful in recent weeks - coinciding with the final round of Oscar voting from 17-22 March. Branagh is also an actor, and the biggest voting block in the Academy is actors. Plus, there's the fact that a win for Branagh is long overdue. He made history this year by becoming the first person to be nominated in seven different Oscar categories across his career. His history with the awards goes all the way back to 1990 - without a win.

All that points to the wait ending on Sunday night - and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that those reasons could also play into Belfast winning the biggest prize of the lot, Best Picture, at the end of the show. Now, that really would be saving the best until last.

Best Picture

The Nominees:

Don't Look Up
Drive My Car
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story

The Predicted Winner: CODA

Fittingly, the biggest award is the biggest cliffhanger this year. Although wins for Drive My Car (Best International Feature), Summer of Soul (Best Documentary Feature) and Encanto (Best Animated Feature) are all done and dusted in the sister categories, Best Picture is going right down to the wire. CODA and The Power of the Dog are battling it out as the frontrunners, with Belfast again coming into the shake-up again in recent days.

(From left) Jane Campion during the filming of The Power of the Dog, Kenneth Branagh on the set of Belfast, Sian Heder (pointing) on the set of CODA

For the past two years, the Academy has reverted to tradition, honouring Nomadland and Parasite with both Best Picture and Director in 2021 and 2020, respectively. The question is, will they make it three in a row? The Power of the Dog's Jane Campion is a shoo-in for Best Director, but CODA recently won the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Award for Best Picture, and the Oscar winner has mirrored it 22 times since 1990. Strengthening CODA's case are its wins at the Writers and Screen Actors Guild Awards. But recent PGA winners to miss out on the Best Picture Oscar include 1917, La La Land and The Big Short. What's more, Roma's Alfonso Cuarón, La La Land's Damien Chazelle and The Revenant's Alejandro González Iñárritu all won Best Director at the Oscars, only to see Green Book, Moonlight and Spotlight take home Best Picture in their respective years. So no guarantees.

And Belfast? Well, here's the thing: this is the only Oscars category with a preferential ballot - and that could get its name in the envelope. For Best Picture, voters rank their choices from one to ten. This means that a film with the most second preferences on the ballot could end up winning if the number one vote is split. There's a theory that Belfast peaked too early, but there's been many a September winner of the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival that's gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars too. And could it be the international voters - now a quarter of the 9,400-odd Academy membership - who get Belfast over the line? An island holds its breath...

The 94th Academy Awards air live on Sky Cinema on Sunday, 27 March from 11:00pm. If you're not staying up, you can catch the ceremony at 9:35pm on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player on Monday.

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