Why It Could Be A Contender: At present, it's looking like quite a dark, serious field with nothing other than "Moonrise Kingdom" in the quirky-funny indie demographic that served "The Descendants" so well last year. Given her nomination for the screenplay of "Bridesmaids" last year, this film -- about a playwright who fakes her own suicide for attention from her ex-boyfriend, only to be forced to live with her family as a result -- could be something of a vehicle for Kristin Wiig to go for an acting nomination this time around. It's a weaker-than-usual field, at present at least, so there's certainly room for something like this to break out of TIFF, not least with Academy favorite Annette Bening in a supporting role (and an awards-worthy turn from her alone could be enough to see someone pick the film up for an awards run). Not to mention that directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have long been good with actors -- see "American Splendor" or "Cinema Verite" for proof. It's unlikely to be a Best Picture play, but if the film and those performances work, it could figure into other categories -- not least Original Screenplay, which is especially thin this year.
Why It Might Not Be: The film sounds like a dark comedy, with a potentially unlikable protagonist, and it's not like a far more established star like Charlize Theron had much luck with the similarly-toned "Young Adult" last season. Plus it's similar enough in basic premise to "The Silver Linings Playbook" that, if anyone does pick it up out of TIFF, they might want to put more distance between "Imogene" and the David O. Russell film. And all that's only if the film works: "Cinema Verite" was an uptick, but nothing that Berman and Pulcini had done since "American Splendor" remotely found an audience. Probably one of the stronger shots on the list, but if Wiig and/or Bening have the goods, it's not beyond the realms of possibility.
Why It Could Be A Contender: Of all the films here, this is the one that we think has the best chance of breaking into the Best Picture nominations -- so much so that we've included it in our Best Picture chart as of this week. Juan Antonio Bayona's follow-up to his stunning debut, "The Orphanage," is set in the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and follows a British family (parented by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) struggling to find each other in the devestating aftermath. It's the kind of stirring, powerful story that could hit the Academy in the sweet spot, and the filmmaking in the trailers so far have made it look like an impressive, emotional and relatable tale. And while it might be a Spanish production, being produced or financed abroad didn't hurt the last four Best Picture winners, now did it? We'll find out when the film premieres at TIFF if it has the goods, but we definitely feel that this is one to keep an eye on at the moment.
Why It Might Not Be: Well, again, it might not be very good. But given the time Bayona's taken on it (it shot two years ago, the time being used for the impressive visual effects), the quality of his debut and the look of those trailers, we'd be surprised. Though we've been wrong before. It may also be that the film simply fails to gain traction; it could remind people too much of disaster movies, or alternatively, be bleak, rather than uplifting. If it ends like "The Orphanage" did, don't expect it to be sitting in the Dolby Theater. Still, lots of reasons to think this might happen.
Why It Could Be A Contender: Uh, the Coen Brothers? The directing duo weren't always Academy favorites, but made a breakthrough with "Fargo," and really won out with "No Country for Old Men" in 2007, picking up three awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. And since then, they've been Academy regulars; a Best Picture nod for "A Serious Man," arguably the most difficult film they've ever made, in 2009, and ten nominations for "True Grit" the following year (although it failed to win any). So only a fool would count out their latest, starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, and set in the New York folk scene of the 1960s. That period setting might help appeal to an Academy membership who might have been the same ages as the characters in the setting, and the cast they're putting together is very intriguing, if sometimes offbeat (Timberlake? Garret Hedlund?)
Why It Might Not Be: Well, no sign of it has been seen since the film wrapped earlier in the year. The film doesn't yet have a distributor and hasn't yet been announced for TIFF (although it could end up as a special presentation in the coming weeks) or Venice, and the time to find it a home and plan a campaign is running shorter with every passing day. It's also worth noting that the film seems on the surface to be more of a "Barton Fink"/"The Man Who Wasn't There" type than a "True Grit," and doesn't really have established actors for voters to latch on with in the way that 'No Country' and "True Grit" did. You should never count the Coens out, but until it resurfaces, we're going to assume that this is targeting Cannes 2013 instead (note: the IMDb have it down for a December limited release, but there's no evidence to support this, especially as, again, the film has no distributor).
Why It Could Be A Contender: Again, it's a literature-heavy year among the big dogs, but if there's any novel adaptation that could be an underdog, it's "Mr. Pip." Like "Great Expectations," it's indebted to Dickens, but more loosely. It's an adaptation of Lloyd Cole's best-selling, Booker-shortlisted novel about a young girl caught in Civil War on the island of Bougainville (near Papua New Guinea) and her inspirational teacher, Mr. Watts, who teaches Dickens to the children. It's a powerful, moving book, and clearly something of a passion project for Andrew Adamson ("The Chronicles Of Narnia; The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe," "Shrek"), who wrote the script himself. And as Mr. Watts, he's got Hugh Laurie, an actor who, now that "House" is done, is looking to make his mark in features, and has a doozy of a part here. If done right, the material could be something that connects with audiences and voters in the way that something like "The Last Emperor" and "The Killing Fields" did back in the day. Even if the film doesn't work as a whole, Laurie still might be a play for a nomination -- although given the strength of competition in Best Actor, they'd be well-advised to go supporting. It's premiering at TIFF, so we'll see if it works out there.
Why It Might Not Be: 'If it works' is the key here. Adamson might have an Oscar (for directing "Shrek"), but his live-action filmmaking is less strong, and this is certainly very different material for him, and we do wonder if he has the chops for it. It's also not quite a crowd-pleaser, as inspirational as the story is, and unless delicately handled, the tougher moments might put voters off. Again, there's no distributor yet -- although we could easily see someone like Focus or Fox Searchlight picking it up if the film works.