While fewer Oscar-pedigree films are making their debuts at the Toronto Film Festival this year, a couple of smaller movies are shaping up as sleepers, such as the offbeat "Slumdog Millionaire," about a poor kid who becomes a sensation by winning big on a TV game show, and the Mickey Rourke drama "The Wrestler," which was just snatched up in Toronto by Fox Searchlight on Monday after winning the top prize in Venice last week.
"Everybody is trying to see what the next breakout independent best-picture success will be," says Kristopher Tapley of InContention.com.
The more high-profile pictures at the festival (including "Rachel Getting Married" and "The Duchess") are thought to be contenders for mostly acting Oscars. So cinephiles are looking ahead to offerings that might ultimately rank among the top films of the year.
At this stage, it's all about pedigree. And pedigree is plentiful. There's Oliver Stone with "W," his biopic on President Bush; Clint Eastwood with two dramas ("The Changeling," with Angelina Jolie, and "Gran Torino," starring Eastwood himself); and Ron Howard with "Frost/Nixon."
Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge") brings back Nicole Kidman in "Australia," and Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") brings Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet back together in "Revolutionary Road."
But keep in mind: For some, not even a frame of film has been seen.
"It's just about to be the first inning, where the movies get tossed out, and they work or they don't," says Sasha Stone, who runs the Oscar season blog AwardsDaily.com. "You never know."
Longtime awards-season publicist Tony Angellotti agrees that early attention, in the end, might not mean that much. "The academy has learned over the past 10 to 15 years to ignore this hubbub until later, until its voters have a chance to assess the films themselves," says Angellotti, who's working with Universal and Disney/Pixar.
But sometimes, the victor is hidden in plain sight. "If some of these (unseen) films fall on their faces," the door's wide open for a film like "The Dark Knight," says Tapley.