The past five days have probably given us first looks at more potential Oscar contenders than most full months of the year. With Venice and Telluride happening simultaneously (and the latter crammed into a tight 4-day schedule), a sizeable number of the most anticipated films of the year have just made their debuts. So before another sizeable amount takes hold of the conversation when Toronto kicks off on Thursday, let's quickly recap the 5 films that have the best shots at some major love from Oscar and beyond, at least based on their snap critical reactions.
1. "12 Years a Slave"
Technically still a world premiere in Toronto this weekend, Telluride offered a sneak preview of Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" a week in advance, and the reaction was an immediate explosion of remarkable reactions, including our own Eric Kohn: "More than a powerful elegy, '12 Years a Slave' is a mesmerizing triumph of art and polemics: McQueen turns a topic rendered distant by history into an experience that, short of living through the terrible era it depicts, makes you feel as if you've been there." These kinds of declarations helped give "12 Years" the potentially daunting status as Oscar season's first frontrunner, which can often end up working out just fine ("The King's Speech," "The Artist" and "Argo" all arguably were as well). And though, yes, there's four more months of films we haven't seen that could shake things up considerably, "12 Years" seems like a pretty sure thing when it at least comes to nominations for best picture, best director, best actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), best supporting actor (Michael Fassbender), best supporting actress (Lupita Nyong'o) and a slew of technical and artistic achievements. It has also made clear that the major story of this year's awards season will be the unprecedented number of black filmmakers telling stories that reflect various moments in African-American history ("The Butler," "Fruitvale Station" being the other two examples so far). If "12 Years a Slave" does end up winning best picture and/or best director, it would be the first time in both instances where it's for a film directed by a black filmmaker (FYI: While all three films indeed tell the stories of African-Americans, McQueen himself is actually a black British man of Grenadian descent).
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