(Warning - the following contains very mild SPOILERS for multiple movies that may or may not get Oscar nominations this year. If you prefer to know absolutely nothing about a movie before seeing it, tread carefully...)
With the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) having now drawn to a close, it is - as usual - finally possible to get a pretty solid idea of how this year's awards season is going to go. TIFF is, after all, perhaps the finest festival showcase for the sort of major American movie releases that wind up winning Oscars - and as such acts as the best bellwether for the Academy this side of the Golden Globes.
What Can TIFF 2015 Tell Us About This Year's Awards Season, Then?
Well, in terms of absolute certainty? Not a whole lot - the Academy's voters are notoriously unpredictable, after all, especially a this early a stage. That being said, however, there are certainly some key trends and talking points emerging.
Here are five of the most intriguing:
5. This Could Be the Most Open Oscars Race in Years
By this point in the year, there tends to be a handful of movies that look all-but certain to be in the mix come the Oscars. This time around, however, things seem a whole lot more up in air than usual - with the likes of Spotlight, Room, and Sicario all getting more buzz than might have been expected, while much-vaunted candidates like The Danish Girl, I Saw the Light and Carol have struggled to make as much of an impression. With Steve Jobs, Joy, The Revenant, Bridge of Spies and The Hateful Eight all still waiting in the wings, there could be a whole lot of choice come voting season.
That, in turn, could soon turn it into the tightest race we've seen in a long time - with the lack of an obvious front-runner meaning a whole lot of major contenders could potentially head into the Oscars with a legitimate hope of recognition.
4. This Could Be the Year Johnny Depp Finally Gets an Oscar
Black Mass may have met with a relatively mixed critical response, but Depp's performance as James 'Whitey' Bulger has been singled out for a whole lot of praise - and Oscar buzz. It's a broad, almost comically grotesque portrayal - but the Academy tends to love good looking actors playing 'ugly', and biopics have a history of picking up acting awards.
With three past nominations, could this finally be Depp's year?
Alternatively, of course:
3. This Could Be a Year for Ensemble Drama to Shine
With the Oscars tending to reward standout individual performances and directorial flash at the expense of ensemble brilliance - last year's victory for Birdman over the equally excellent but more subdued Boyhood is but one example - there's long been a tendency for subtle, tightly woven pieces like this year's exceptional Spotlight to miss out.
In a year where the more individualistic likes of I Saw the Light and Freeheld have struggled to gain critical support, though, could the hugely entertaining - if harrowing - tale of the Boston Globe's exposure of molestation in the Catholic church find itself in line for a whole lot of recognition? Another chance at a Best Actor win for Michael Keaton, perhaps, and supporting nominations for Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber?
2. This Could Be a Big Year For Smaller Movies
After the subtle, small-scale Brie Larson-starring Room picking up a whole lot of plaudits - and the People's Choice Award at TIFF - it's looking increasingly possible that smaller movies could fill the apparent gap in the mid-budget awards-bait market.
With first-person actioner Hardcore - filmed entirely from the perspective of its protagonist, and with a video game-style plot - attracting big distribution bids (close to $10 million) and the promise of a wide release at TIFF, it's not only indie dramas that stand a chance of some kind of dominance this year, though. That being said, it's probably best not to expect anything more than technical nomination or two for Hardcore...
Speaking of geeky awesomeness:
1. This Could Be the Year Geekdom Gets a Big Win
Now, with both of Marvel Studios' 2015 releases struggling a little with critics - if not at the box office - this doesn't look likely to be superhero cinema's year to come of age at the Oscars, something that might have to wait for a few years yet.
With the Star Wars series having a long history of Oscar nominations, though - the original was unlucky enough to go up against Annie Hall for Best Picture - and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens just before what could well be a critically disappointing awards season, it's not impossible to imagine that (if the film is as well-received as is widely expected) we could see Episode VII get a Best Picture nod, alongside a whole lot of technical awards.
What's more, with Harrison Ford widely expected to have a substantial role, and the acclaimed likes of Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac and Lupita Nyong'o all set to feature substantially, could we even see a surprise acting nomination or two? And, if so, could we even see a geek-tastic win or two?
It'd be a huge shock - but stranger things have certainly happened at the Oscars...