Even though “The Power of the Dog” has the most Oscar nominations, it could lose Best Picture to a less sprawling film like “Belfast.”

The reason? Director Kenneth Branagh’s cinematic memoir is such a love letter to the people who shaped him.

Set in the war-torn city of the 1960s, “Belfast” follows 9-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill) as he deals with the troubles that lie right outside his door. Sure, he can escape into the world of “Star Trek” (and the occasional movie), but broken glass and marching thugs are part of his daily life.

More pressing is the immediate effect on his family. Pa (Jamie Dornan) frequently travels to England for work; Ma (Caitriona Balfe) has to deal with discipline when the kids get out of control. For some degree of normality, there are the grandparents (lovingly played by Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds), who deal with these essential questions about life.

In another world, it would be Branagh’s “ET” – a slice of childhood colored by the events surrounding it. Buddy is curious, direct and often theatrical. It’s easy to see how the child could grow up to be an actor and a director – and an accomplished observer.

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Branagh, however, doesn’t skimp on the violence, showing just how commonplace Molotov cocktails are.

Through it all, Buddy still has time to yearn for the girl at school, to chart his place in the world, and to worry about his father’s fate. Hill is so natural that you can’t help but be swept up in its story.

Showing the religious battle from a different perspective helps us understand the political tug we face in the United States today. Shooting in black and white, Branagh adds drama to situations that shouldn’t seem so dramatic.

When he takes on colors (for a family foray into the theater for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, for example), it’s a surprise – and a delight.

Hill’s journey, however, wouldn’t be as eventful without the loving touch that her parents and grandparents add. Dornan – in his best performance to date – and Balfe are effective; Dench and Hinds, both Oscar nominees, are stunning.

When young Buddy visits his grandfather in the hospital, he gets answers to the questions we all wish we had asked. Hinds plays a small but central role.

For the family, “Belfast” is a struggle between tradition and security. Do they stay in a place where trouble lurks around every corner? Or do they move on and renounce much of what founds them?

The decision weighs as much on Buddy as on his parents.

Branagh, however, isn’t about to take sides in this war of the heart. It makes the city hard to leave and yet impossible to embrace. The love letter to Belfast is solid.

This could weigh heavily on the minds of Oscar voters. And hearts.