2. Which film is The Weinstein Company's MVP this year?
Though it's directed by a white filmmaker (as most Oscar-nominated films dealing with black characters that have in the past -- see "The Color Purple," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Ray," "Beasts of the Southern Wild"), it should be noted with regard to the previous discussion that Justin Chadwick's Nelson Mandela biopic "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom" is also premiering at TIFF, and could make the presence of stories featuring prominent black characters even more considerable during awards season. And it -- like "Fruitvale Station" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler" -- has Harvey Weinstein and his recent Oscar hot streak in its favor. "Mandela" joins John Wells' extraordinarily star packed (Meryl AND Julia) adaptation of the Pulitizer Prize winning play "August: Osage County" and Stephen Frears' Judi Dench-led "Philomena" on the fall festival circuit as Harvey's potentially mighty trio. But it's highly unlikely that all of them -- especially with "Fruitvale" and "The Butler" already contenders, and "Grace of Monaco" (another Weinstein release) potentially joining them in November -- will end up awards season MVPs. So which film is Harvey's best bet to continue a recent track record that includes two best picture winners in three years and nearly half last year's Oscar nominees? The money's on "August: Osage County," but in a few weeks time we'll have a much better idea as to whether that's actually true.
3. Which actress is "August: Osage County"'s MVP?
Speaking of "August: Osage County," it has an internal battle of its own given its remarkable (and huge) cast that includes Oscar winners Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper, Oscar nominees Juliette Lewis (it's true!) and Abigail Breslin, not to mention Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson and Margo Martindale (in a role that won Rondi Reed a Tony on Broadway). Focusing on the 6 actresses on that list (who generally have the best roles), which ones will end up getting awards season buzz. There were unconfirmed reports that Roberts will be the only one campaigned as lead (even though Streep's role is nearly as large -- not to mention top billed), which would leave Martindale's showy true supporting role to compete against three-time Oscar winner Ms. Meryl. And Breslin, Nicholson and Lewis would be likely be campaigning as well. On September 9th in Toronto, lucky audiences will be much less confused than you probably are reading this, as they will have seen first hand who deserves Harvey's biggest pushes, and in which category.
4. Will "Labor Day" be more of a "Young Adult" or an "Up In The Air"?
Both "Juno" and "Up In The Air" premiered in Toronto (after previewing in Telluride) and ended up getting Jason Reitman Oscar nominations for best picture and best director. In 2011, he changed it up and released "Young Adult" without any festival premieres, and he ended up sans any Oscars nominations for the first time since his directorial debut "Thank You For Smoking." But with "Labor Day," he's going back to the circuit, confirmed to hit Toronto and likely previewing in Telluride beforehand (given that festival happens on Labor Day, it couldn't be more appropriate). Does this mean he has another best picture contender on his hands? A cast including Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and Tobey Maguire certainly bodes well. Based on Joyce Maynard's novel of the same the name, the film follows a divorced, depressed single mom (Winslet) who -- when clothes shopping with her 13-year-old son -- encounters a man who is bleeding badly (Brolin). The source material suggests it will be Reitman's most dramatic film yet, and its also the first truly leading role (save HBO miniseries "Mildred Pierce") for Winslet since she won an Oscar for "The Reader."
5. Is "Gravity" the real deal?
The first film out of the gate on the fall festival circuit, Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" will open the Venice Film Festival Wednesday night. The very ambitious film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as surviving astronauts in a damaged space shuttle. Budgeted at $80 million and being released in 3D, Warner Brothers surely hopes it will be this year's "Life of Pi" or "Hugo" -- both of which seemed like risky propositions before turning into major Oscar contenders. Early word is extremely strong for both the film and Bullock's performance (which could garner her a second Oscar nod after winning on her first time out for "The Blind Side"), which bodes well. But we'll know for sure in a few days if Cuarón's first film since 2006's critically acclaimed "Children of Men" (which got Oscar nods for best adapted screenplay, best cinematography and best editing, but missed the cut for the big prize) is the real Oscar deal.