It’s time once again for the Toronto International Film Festival, the official kick-off of award season. TIFF feels really huge this year. It’s one of the world’s premiere film festivals in general, but this year it seems like the line-up is extra special loaded, like they might have caught the “we have to wrangle all the potential Oscar movies” bug from the folks over at Cannes, like TIFF wants to make a move against Cannes and be THE film festival. Cage match! TIFF vs. Cannes!

Anyway, I’ve gone through and selected a handful of titles and divvied them up by potential Oscar category and then I ranked their chances based on not much, but I’m feeling like swinging for the fences this year, so let’s make some bold, early predictions. This isn’t just about what looks interesting, but what’s going to have some relevancy to the Oscar talk which will come out of the next ten days in Toronto. Let’s fight over the selections and see which ones I’m completely wrong about.

The Actors

Based on early buzz coming out of Venice and Telluride, Michael Shannon is an early tip for his second Oscar nomination for The Iceman, in which he plays a hit man credited with over 200 kills. If ever there was a man meant to play serial killers, it’s Michael Shannon.

Similarly John Hawkes and Helen Hunt got a lot of notice at Sundance for The Sessions, a sex surrogacy tale, and I wonder if Ryan Gosling getting shut out for Blue Valentine might help him with his second collaboration with Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines, especially since Pines involves a bit of physical transformation as The Gos goes a little more rough and tumble than we’re used to seeing from him of late. Elle Fanning just made a lot of people sit up and notice her at Telluride with Ginger and Rosa, and Summit is already putting together the campaigns for Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland in Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible.

I wouldn’t call any of the following locks (the only lock right now is Daniel Day Lewis’s inevitable nomination for Lincoln), but I would lay heavy odds on Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson—he plays, improbably, FDR), and Julianne Moore (What Maisie Knew). I also wouldn’t rule out Jude Law (Anna Karenina), Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), or Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone).The acting races are going to be SUPER competitive this year and however you want to mix it up, I think we’ll be seeing two-thirds of the eventual nominees at TIFF.

The Writers

Of course the most intriguing possibility to me is Joss Whedon who will be premiering his micro-budgeted, shot-on-a-lark Much Ado About Nothing. After wrapping The Avengers Whedon took a couple weeks off and instead of like, hibernating, he called up his friends and shot a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. It’s the kind of story the acting and writing branches of the Academy like—let’s create just to create!—but it also gives them a chance to acknowledge Whedon’s writing prowess without having to go the superhero route. Whedon has gained a lot of power this summer and it will be interesting to see how much of it translates to political clout.

Other bets worth making in the adaptation category are Jose Rivera (On the Road), Tom Stoppard (Anna Karenina—I didn’t like the script but I know I will be in the minority on that. I also didn’t like Atonement, so), Chris Terrio (Argo), and Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). The only original screenplays I’m prepared to single out at this point are Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths and Anderson’s The Master. This year, so far, is adaptation-heavy which means the Original Screenplay race is going to be wide open. It’s open enough that I wonder if Rian Johnson can pull down some bona fides for his science-fiction thriller Looper (genre is always dicey with the Academy, unless it’s Lord of the Rings). This is the one category I’m looking to pencil in throughout TIFF.

The Directors

Ben Affleck, Academy Award Nominated Director is inevitable. And given the enthusiastic reception for Argo at Telluride last weekend, I wonder if this isn’t the year that that happens. Anderson is a shoo-in, of course, and Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is another Academy favorite. Walter Salles is like Terrence Malick—he makes a movie and people care—and though On the Road got mixed reviews at Cannes, he’s tightened it up for TIFF. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays the second time around. Speaking of Malick, he’ll be screening To the Wonder. His movies usually garner a lot of respect, but sometimes people aren’t sure what to do with them. If it’s the least little bit good, I always look for Malick films in the major categories (picture, writer, director), but I never count on him to actually win. And if Cloud Atlas isn’t a total mess, the directing cabal of the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer could be looking at a joint nomination. But mostly I’m stuck on the idea of Ben Affleck getting a directing nod. WHO KNEW?

TIFF is the most competitive it’s been in years, in advance of what looks to be a knock-down, drag-out Oscar race across the board. By category, we’re looking at about half the future nominees coming to Toronto over the next ten days. And so begins the long and winding road to the Dolby Theater.