6. Is Ben Stiller capable of directing a best picture contender?
Could one of this year's best picture nominees be directed by... Ben Stiller? His previous directorial efforts -- "Reality Bites," "The Cable Guy," "Zoolander" and "Tropic Thunder" -- weren't exactly Oscar fare (though the latter did get Robert Downey Jr. an acting nod), but his fifth time out could be a much different ballgame. World premiering at the New York Film Festival (which is generally curated quite carefully -- a good sign), "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" finds Stiller directing himself as an office worker who sets off a global journey to try and save the jobs of both himself and a romantic interest (Kristen Wiig). Based on James Thurber's 1939 short story of the same name (adapted once before in a 1947 film starring Danny Kaye), the film looks like the kind of crowd-pleasing fare that Oscar eats right up. If it's even half-decent (and then goes on to make some money when its released on Christmas Day), watch out.
7. Will Bill Condon be able to return to award seasons' good graces after directing two "Twilight" films?
Bill Condon won an Oscar back in 1999 for writing "Gods and Monsters," and followed that up with 2004's "Kinsey" and 2006's "Dreamgirls," both of which managed major Oscar nods. But then he went all "Twilight" on us, directing the series' final two films to huge box office but poor critical reception. Now he's returning to potentially more respectable circles, directing the anticipated WikiLeaks biopic "The Fifth Estate," which will open the Toronto International Film Festival next week. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange and Daniel Brühl as WikiLeaks' former spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the film is based in-part on Domscheit-Berg's book "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website," as well as "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy," by journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding. Its a timely topic that if pulled off well could definitely make its way into Oscar's mix. We'll have a much better idea come TIFF opening night.
8. Is Matthew McConaughey finally gonna get that Oscar nomination?
Snubbed last year despite some of the best reviews of his career for "Magic Mike," "Bernie" and "Killer Joe," Matthew McConaughey has a very good shot at making up for it come this Oscar season. He's already got the indie box office hit "Mud" as one of the year's earlier contenders (where he's campaigning for supporting), while a reportedly scene-stealing small role in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" is still en route. But come TIFF we'll get a look at his best shot at a lead actor nom with "Dallas Buyers Club," where McConaughey depicts the true story of a man dying of AIDS who begins smuggling unapproved, life-saving drugs from Mexico. He lost 38 pounds for the role, a tactic that Oscar voters have, uh, eaten up in the past. But the film still needs to be good, and Toronto will let us know that on its first Saturday night.
9. How's the foreign language film race stacking up?
Last year all 5 of the foreign language film contenders had their North American premieres at TIFF, which suggests this year's lineup could have quite a few contenders in it as well. Canada's own "Tom at the Farm" (Xavier Dolan), Czech Republic's "Burning Bush" (Agnieszka Holland), Chile's "Gloria" (Sebastián Lelio), Bosnia and Herzegovina's "For Those Who Can Tell No Tales" (Jasmila Žbanić), Italy's "The Great Beauty" (Paolo Sorrentino), Venezuela's "The Liberator" (Alberto Arvelo), Japan's "Like Father, Like Son" (Hirokazu Kore-eda), Iranian filmmaker (but France/Italy-produced) "The Past" (Asghar Farhadi), France/Morocco's "Rock The Casbah" (Laïla Marrakchi), Japan's "Unforgiven" (Lee Sang-il), Sweden's "You Are The Best" (Lukas Moodysson) and France's "Young and Beautiful" (François Ozon) are among the dozens of potential foreign language films making their first North American appearances at TIFF,
10. Is any film without distribution about to enter the Oscar race?
There's loads of films that could get picked up out of Venice or Toronto for awards season contention, perhaps most notably Jonathan Teplitzky's World War II-themed "The Railway Man," starring Oscar winners Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. The film tells the potentially epic true story of Eric Lomax (Firth), a British Army officer who is tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labour camp during World War II. Decades later, Lomax discovers that the Japanese interpreter he holds responsible for much of his treatment is still alive and sets out to confront him. Sounds right up Oscar's alley if it gets picked up and released by year's end.
Some other examples: Joel Hopkins's "The Love Punch" (starring Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan), Daniel Schechter's "Life of Crime" (with John Hawkes, Tim Robbins and Jennifer Aniston), Fred Schepisi's "Words and Pictures" (with Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen), John Ridley's Jimi Hendrix biopic "All Is By My Side" (with André Benjamin as Hendrix), Kevin Macdonald's "How I Live Now" (starring Saoirse Ronan), "Once" director John Carney's "Can a Song Save Your Life?" (with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo), Liza Johnson's Kristen Wiig-starrer "Hateship, Loveship," Atom Egoyan's "Devil's Knot" (also starring Colin Firth, this time alongside another Oscar winning actress in Reese Witherspoon), and Ned Benson's epic two part "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her," starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Viola Davis, Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt.
One of these could be the next "The Wrestler," "Rabbit Hole" or "A Single Man." Though one of them could just as easily be the next "Trust." (Remember that film? I didn't think so.)
Check out Indiewire's latest chart of Oscar predictions here.
Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Writer and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.