Over the next three weeks, Venice, Telluride and Toronto will offer the first look at dozens of films that may or may not factor into this year's race. From new work by Terrence Malick, Ben Affleck, David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson, Joe Wright and Noah Baumbach, 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. Earlier this summer, this column surveyed the chances of a number of awards-worthy films that have already screened at festivals or in theaters, from "Beasts of the Southern Wild" to "Moonrise Kingdom"
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: 2013 Oscar Prediction Charts
Of course, festivals can't tell us everything. Among those that aren't on the circuit are Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" and Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables," each by an Oscar-winning filmmaker. There's also a trio of films that are waiting a few weeks to debut at the New York Film Festival instead: Ang Lee's "Life of Pi," David Chase's "Not Fade Away" and Robert Zemeckis's "Flight."
Keeping that in mind, Indiewire will now offer 10 possibilities as to what the next three weeks can indeed tell us in this first official edition of our weekly awards column. This column will continue -- for better or worse -- through all awards season ups and downs, leading up to next February'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.
It's had a few screenings already (and a few mostly ecstatic reviews as a result), but the true test of Paul Thomas Anderson's thinly veiled take on Scientology, "The Master," will be its official debuts in Venice and Toronto.
READ MORE: Review: ‘The Master’ Proves A Brave, Sensual Yet Detached Triumph For Paul Thomas Anderson
The film -- which recently moved up its theatrical release date to September 14th (before Toronto even ends) -- has been viewed by many as the film to beat going into the season, but reactions from critics at these festivals will be crucial in confirming whether or not that's an actual reality. Anderson has been nominated for five Oscars (three for writing "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia" and "There Will Be Blood," and another two for producing and directing the latter), which is a pretty excellent track record considering he's only made five feature films so far. But if all goes well, "The Master" could be his first chance at actually winning, even if that's an outcome that wouldn't exact please Tom Cruise and company.
And if the early reviews calling him "a revelation" are warranted, the film is also the best shot Joaquin Pheonix -- making his first feature film appearance in four years (save "I'm Still Here," of course) -- has ever had at taking home the gold himself.
2. Does Summit Entertainment have a Oscar-worthy duo on its hands?
Before The Weinstein Company's back to back best picture wins these past two years, it was the story of a little distributor that could when Summit Entertainment's "The Hurt Locker" topped the box office juggernaut that was "Avatar." Other than being the distributor of "Twilight," that's been Summit Entertainment's only really other major claim to fame... Until now?
Summit has two of the most buzzed about films heading into the Toronto International Film Festival: Juan Antonio Bayona's narrative depiction of a family's struggle in the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami, "The Impossible," and Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his own 1999 coming-of-age novel, "The Perks of the Being a Wallflower."
Chatter from advanced screenings has been through the roof, and Toronto will make it clear whether its warranted. "Perks" is clearly the longer shot of the two (teen dramas are rarely a big Oscar sell), but "The Impossible" potentially has what it takes to be a major player: A heart-wrenching true-life drama. Naomi Watts seems like the safest bet of the cast (which other than Watts and Ewan McGregor, mostly consists of kids) to get a nom, and with a wide-open best actress field, Toronto might give us a good inkling as to whether that could even be a win.