Why It Could Be A Contender: As one of the great American icons, it was inevitable that the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy would be celebrated by someone. And while "Parkland" hasn't registered on many radars as yet, it's set to make a splash on the festival circuit very shortly. Produced by Tom Hanks, and marking the directorial debut of journalist and novelist Peter Landesman, it tells the story of the day in November when JFK was killed, through the eyes of the agents investigating (including Billy Bob Thornton), the doctors trying to save him (including Zac Efron), the family of the perpetrator (James Badge Dale and Jacki Weaver) and witnesses like Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti). It's the kind of ensemble approach that the actors' branch always respond to, and the trailer suggests that it's a handsomely mounted historical drama. Lord knows that the Academy still love Hanks, and with the star looking like a double-threat with "Saving Mr Banks" and "Captain Philips," he'll likely be on the circuit and giving his own baby a push. And though it's an unknown quantity, quality-wise, that it's in competition at Venice bodes reasonably well.
Why It Might Not: Remember "Bobby," Emilio Estevez's ensemble drama about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy? It looks like "Bobby." There's a similar assembly of not-quite A-list talent, and what seems to be a similar kind of structure. And while that film ended up with a few Golden Globe nominations, it failed to make much of an impact with the Academy. This seems to be aspiring to something closer to a Paul Greengrass-type docudrama, but some of the lines in that trailer are fairly clunky, so we'll need to see the thing to have any real confidence in its Oscar chances (we'll have our review for you later in the week). It's also distributor Exclusive Media Group's first time at bat, so it remains to be seen how they'll get on with campaign season, and it's got a tough release date, going head-to-head with "Gravity" and with based-in-fact dramas "Captain Phillips" and "The Fifth Estate" following hot on its heels. Will it be able to stand out from the crowd?
"The Railway Man"
Why It Could Be A Contender: "The Book Thief" isn't the only World War II drama on the way, and one could argue that "The Railway Man" seems like a more solid prospect. The film tells the true story of a Japanese POW camp who searches out the man who tortured him, and stars two previous Oscar-winners, Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, with a classy supporting cast also including Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgard and Hiroyuki Sanada (in a supporting turn we've already heard some buzz about). While Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky ("Burning Man") doesn't have much of an Oscar track record so far, this is the kind of material that couldn't be more up the Academy's street. While it doesn't yet have a U.S. distributor, the film is going to be unveiled at TIFF next month, and early word is that it's both pretty good, and very Academy-friendly. While there are a lot of contenders out there already, many of the indie distributors could well pick it up out of Toronto, even if it's just to push nominations for Firth, Kidman and Sanada.
Why It Might Not Be: Again, right now there's no distributor and no release date in place. And it may be that the filmmakers are actively against the idea of putting it out this year, with Kris Tapley noting on the Oscar Talk podcast that some people involved with the movie are keen to wait for 2014, presumably to avoid it being overshadowed by other films (not least Kidman's other contender, "Grace Of Monaco"). And it's certainly true that most of the companies that would seem like natural fits for a film like this—TWC, Focus, Fox Searchlight—have their slates pretty full already. Assuming the film works, it might be better served with more time to campaign. But if some of the presumed frontrunners fall away, of if "Grace Of Monaco" doesn't deliver, we could see this hustled quickly this fall.
Why It Could Be A Contender: Seven years ago, Peter O'Toole picked up his final Oscar nomination (assuming he sticks with his plan of retirement) for a lovely turn in "Venus." Now, the director and writer of that film, Roger Michell and Hanif Kureshi, have teamed up again, for another tale of life on the other side of sixty. Jim Broadbent and RSC veteran Lindsay Duncan star as a married couple who head to Paris for a second honeymoon on their thirtieth anniversary, only to find themselves re-examining their relationship, in part thanks to the intervention of an old, wildly successful friend (Jeff Goldblum). That's right, it's a sort of "Before Sunrise," with two of Britain's finest actors, and one of America's best, in front of the camera. While Michell can be hit and miss (his last would-be awards-contender, "Hyde Park On Hudson," falling in the latter category), he's done some of his fine work, and this has crowd-pleaser written all over it, and shouldn't be ruled out.
Why It Might Not Be: "Venus" had the advantage of having a performance from one of the most iconic (and unrewarded) stars in cinema history, and didn't pick up much aside from the nod for O'Toole. So there will be little of that similar sympathy here. Meanwhile, distributors Music Box Films are still a bit new to the game, and couldn't pull off nods for buzzed performances Noomi Rapace ("The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo") and Rachel Weisz ("The Deep Blue Sea") in recent years, even with significant critical support, particularly for the latter.
Other Possibilities: There's three movies that would be on this list, but we really can't see them turning up this side of January. We discussed Wes Anderson's "Grand Budapest Hotel" above, but to reiterate, the film's likely to be held for Cannes, or a similar mid-2014 date. Meanwhile, we were expecting both "A Most Wanted Man" and "Serena" to be on the festival circuit somewhere, but both have been absent, so we don't expect them to see the light of day until next year. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "The Young & Prodigious Spivet" is ready—it's premiering at the rather low-key San Sebastian Film Festival—and given that, it seems unlikely to be a player.
As for films that could see the light of day in 2013, there's "Can A Song Save Your Life?," the "Once" follow-up from John Carney, with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, another as-yet distributor-less film that could break out at TIFF. Also at the festival are under-the-radar pictures like the Clive Owen/Juliette Binoche film "Words And Pictures," Andre 3000-starring Jimi Hendrix biopic "All Is By My Side," comedy-drama "You Are Here," the feature debut of "Mad Men" creator Matthew Wiener, Biafra war film "Half Of A Yellow Sun" with Chiwetel Ejiofor, the James Corden-starring "One Chance" (which has the Weinstein Company's backing, but seems more "Unfinished Song" than "Silver Linings Playbook") and, perhaps most importantly, Stephen Frears' "Philomena," which could see Judi Dench being in contention. Lastly, there's some word knocking about that Somalian refugee drama "The Good Lie" starring Reese Witherspoon might pop up at Telluride.