The Venice Film Festival kicks off tomorrow and that's as good as a starting gun: Awards season is here.
Over the next six weeks, Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York (which has supplanted itself as the full-on fourth member of the fall festival Oscar influencers) will offer the first look at dozens of films that may or may not factor into this year's race. From new work by Alfonso Cuarón, Paul Greengrass, Ron Howard, Jason Reitman, Paul Haggis and Spike Jonze to films that could rocket out of nowhere, these festivals are the first opportunity for awards prognostication to move beyond intelligent (or not) guessing.
Granted, this year has already offered some clues. Last week, this column kicked off by surveying the chances of a number of awards-worthy films that have already screened at festivals or in theaters, from "Blue Jasmine" to "Fruitvale Station" to "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
But at this point, buzz surrounding any of those titles could get drowned out by shiny new contenders. Distributors with light awards season slates (and there are a few) may be madly searching through Toronto's nearly 300-film catalog in search of the next "Juno" or "The Wrestler." And even those newbies could find themselves in, and then out.
READ MORE: 2014 Oscar Prediction Charts
Of course, festivals can't tell us everything. Among those that aren't on the circuit are David O. Russell's "American Hustle," Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" and George Clooney's "Monument's Men," each by a very Oscar-friendly filmmaker.
Keeping that in mind, Indiewire will now offer 10 possibilities as to what the next six weeks can indeed tell us as this column continues -- for better or worse -- through all awards season ups and downs, leading up to next March's Oscars.
In addition, each week we will update our charts of Oscar predictions, the current edition of which clearly should be taken with a serious grain of salt as very few of the major contenders have been on screens, festival or otherwise.
1. Will "12 Years A Slave" continue what has already been a banner year for black filmmakers?
Only once in Oscar's 85 year history has a film directed by a black filmmaker been nominated for best picture ("Precious") and only twice has an African-American been a best director nominee (with Lee Daniels for "Precious" as well as John Singleton for "Boyz N The Hood"). 2013 is already shaping up to be a banner year when it comes to black filmmakers with Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale Station" and Daniels again with the officially titled late summer hit "Lee Daniels' The Butler." And it seems like a third contender could very well join them in British filmmaker Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave." McQueen's follow-up to "Shame," "12 Years" is on paper McQueen's most Oscar-friendly film yet. Based on the autobiography by Solomon Northup, it follows a free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Premiering in Toronto, it also stars Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o, who could be a formidable contender in the best supporting actress race. And if it ends up being as good as distributor Fox Searchlight surely hopes it will be, then this year stands the best chance ever for two (or three!) black filmmakers to make Oscar's big race.