For a while now, the Toronto International Film Festival has served as a star-studded kickoff to awards season – four out of the five most recent best-picture winners debuted here, as well as dozens of other trophy-netting performances and directorial turns. Okay, so it's a little early to hand in your picks for the office Oscar pool, but in pursuit of future bragging rights, we mined this year's TIFF selection to predict the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Class of 2012.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The goods In Coriolanus, Chastain plays the wide-eyed wife to Shakespeare's vengeance-obsessed warrior in this contemporary update, starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes.
Oscar precedent Fresh off critically acclaimed turns in The Help and Tree of Life, in this role this previously unknown actress occupies two awards-season sweet spots: Shakespeare and buzzy young redheads (see: Amy Adams).
Off-camera scuttlebutt The recent career streak could end up working against her in terms of vote-splitting.
Alternate ending Vanessa Redgrave also gave an award-worthy performance as Coriolanus's mother, so this vote could depend on whether Academy voters feel like encouraging an ingénue or affirming a living legend.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The goods Brooks plays a ruthless, leather-faced gangster to Ryan Gosling's morally conflicted getaway driver in Drive, a stylish action flick with loads of blockbuster potential.
Oscar precedent Supporting categories tend to celebrate scene-stealing and larger-than-life performances, and are also the best place for commercial flicks to triumph over artsier offerings. (See Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight or Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire.)
Off-camera scuttlebutt After decades of playing thinly veiled versions of his hilariously neurotic self, Brooks finally plays against type. Old dog + new trick = Oscar.
Alternate ending Philip Seymour Hoffman has supporting roles in The Ides of March and Moneyball – both getting the gala premiere treatment at TIFF. The guy is the male Meryl Streep and shouldn't be counted out of any acting contest.
The goods Close plays the titular role in Albert Nobbs, a movie about a woman who poses as a man to get work in 19th-century Ireland.
Oscar precedent Close has snagged the Oscar bait trifecta in a role that is gender-bending (see Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry), unflattering (see Nicole Kidman in The Hours) and period (see Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love).
Off-camera scuttlebutt After five Oscar noms and zero wins, Close is fast becoming the Susan Lucci (21 Daytime Emmy noms, one win) of the Oscar circuit. Time to give the woman her due before someone's pet bunny pays the price.
Alternate ending Tilda Swinton as the despondent murderer's mom in We Need to Talk About Kevin is another one of TIFF's serious contenders. A character that openly admits not loving her baby will be considered "brave" by Hollywood's yummiest mummies.
The goods In Moneyball, Pitt plays a rule-bucking baseball coach in a Field of Dreams-meets- Friday Night Lights crowd-pleaser.
Oscar precedent Occasionally Academy voters like to remind us that they're not just a bunch of elitist snobs by rewarding a charm-soaked performance in a piece of semi-fluffy feel-goodery. In 2009, Sandra Bullock won for her role as a sporty, suburban mom in The Blind Side, beating out upper-crust competition like Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren.
Off-camera scuttlebutt: Brad's back, baby! After years of Oscar-worthy daddy duty, Pitt has re-entered the serious-actor ranks with a well-reviewed turn in The Tree of Life. The stink of the Angelina affair scandal is almost undetectable, and given his immense popularity among his Hollywood peers, if anyone's going to get the "We Think You're Fantastic" Oscar (see: Denzel Washington in Training Day), it'll be Brad.
Alternate ending: Critics are hailing Michael Fassbender's portrayal of Carl Jung in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method. Unless you count his status as one of the men rumoured to be January Jones's baby daddy, Fassbender is a relative unknown on this side of the pond. Every Oscar class needs one of those.
The goods Clooney's film The Ides of March is an A-list-star-packed political drama about the underbelly of a presidential election campaign.
Oscar precedent Gorgeous George would join Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner – all leading men who have won the Oscar for their behind-the-camera work.
Off-camera scuttlebutt When Clooney asked his fellow Academy members to show up for his Haiti fundraiser, they came in Prius-driving droves. The man got Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston under the same roof. There is nothing Hollywood won't do for its most beloved son, including give him a second Oscar.
Alternate ending Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz could be the quirky Juno-style indie darling of the 2012 awards season. Given that many of her fellow former child stars can barely be counted on to leave the house in underwear, Polley certainly deserves props for her directing chops.
THE IDES OF MARCH
The goods See Clooney's other Oscar potential.
Oscar precedent The Best Picture and Best Director Oscar tend to come as a salt-and-pepper set, so if Clooney scores for Best Director, this ought to be a lock. That said, political thrillers haven't fared too well with voters over the years (see Rocky's triumph over All The President's Men, 1976).
Off-camera scuttlebutt America is going into an election year, which means the chances this movie will tap into the collective zeitgeist are better than usual. If Hollywood can't elect George Clooney president, the least it can do is give his movie top honours on Oscar night.
Alternate ending Anticipation is high for David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his pupil Jung. Oscar loves true stories, so it could be that Toronto's dark-prince director will finally get his due.
Special to The Globe and Mail