8 important awards season revelations after Venice, Telluride and Toronto

The race for Oscar is akin to a political campaign, and the first three Fall film festivals have made a significant impact on all the major races. Consider that Venice, Telluride and Toronto take place within three weeks of each other and you have a huge indicator of how the season will progress. With that in mind, here are eight major takeaways that are still buzzing in our heads as the Oscar race begins.

“The Imitation Game” just got a huge head start.
Harvey's had a tough year at the box office. He isn't going to have a tough year with Oscar. “The Imitation Game” was the hit of Telluride and took the People's Choice Award at Toronto (something The Weinstein Company movies seem to have an awful amount of luck with). It's not quite the slam dunk that “The King's Speech” or “The Artist” were because it “appears” to still have significant competition on the horizon. No matter what the case, the film is already in the ear of a ton of Oscar voters and outside of NYFF screenings and October releases for “Birdman” and “Gone Girl,” won't have a major contender to deal with until “Interstellar” on Nov. 1. It may sound silly, but that's a huge head start when you're running a political, er, Best Picture campaign. Huge.

Best Actor may be even more competitive than we thought it was.
It's not a joke anymore. There are legitimately going to be at least four awards-worthy turns that won't even find themselves nominated for Best Actor this January. That's partially because no one fell out of the race following the three major festivals, but also because there are just so many great lead male performances this season. Right now we know “The Theory of Everything's” Eddie Redmayne, “The Imitation Game's” Benedict Cumberbatch, “Birdman's” Michael Keaton and “Foxcatcher's” Steve Carell should be in. That leaves “The Grand Budapest Hotel's” Ralph Fiennes,” “Interstellar's” Matthew McConaughey, “American Sniper's” Bradley Cooper, “Mr. Turner's” Timothy Spall, “Inherent Vice's” Joaquin Phoenix,  “Gone Girl's” Ben Affleck, “St. Vincent's” Bill Murray, “The Gambler's” Mark Wahlberg, “Big Eyes'” Christoph Waltz, “Nightcrawler's” Jake Gyllenhaal, “Unbroken's” Jack O'Connell, “Foxcatcher's” Channing Tatum (cough, supporting, cough) and possibly even “Selma's” David Oyelowo fighting for the fifth slot or to knock one of the presumed nominees out (and there are about four others we could have also thrown into the mix). Ponder.

Surprise: Movies we predicted weren't contenders are not.
Dear “The Judge,” “Men, Women & Children,” “The Good Lie,” “Rosewater” and “The Homesman.” Thank you for participating in our early rounds of Best Picture consideration. We wish you the best in your theatrical releases and as you compete in other categories such as original or adapted screenplay acting categories and more.

One performance just flipped the Best Actress race.
Before Toronto it looked like it would be “Wild's” Reese Witherspoon vs. the field for every Best Actress award across the board. One jaw-dropping premiere later and “Still Alice's” Julianne Moore is clearly the new frontrunner. No one would argue the four-time nominee doesn't deserve to join the club and her work in the film is hands down one of the best performances of her career. A lot can happen over five months, but this is one of the biggest bombs dropped on awards season in years.

“Whiplash” makes something of a comeback.
Wait, you said it never left? Well, that's true, but outside of a quiet screening at Cannes, “Whiplash” has been intentionally under the radar since winning the grand jury and audience prizes at Sundance in January. Moreover, a majority of the global press still hadn't seen it by the time it screened in Toronto. Needless to say, the indie was one of the most talked about flicks for the first few days of TIFF and carries some nice PR momentum into its New York Film Festival bow. Throw in an unexpectedly wide open Best Supporting Actor field, a nicely timed Oct. 10 debut and J.K. Simmons might find himself the frontrunner for Oscar. No one would have predicted “frontrunner” back in Park City. (Also worth noting, “Whiplash” took home the grand jury and audience prizes at Deauville on Saturday).

Premiering “The Boxtrolls” at Venice might not have been such a great idea.
Pixar and Dreamworks Animation have both used the Cannes Film Festival to earn some cinephile respect for their works. Laika is still a young buck compared to those giants, but it's also worthy of the spotlight at a major world festival. That being said, maybe they should have waited until their next movie. “The Boxtrolls” screened out of competition at Venice and outside of HitFix's Catherine Bray there was not a lot of initial love. In fact, both trades gave fairly negative reviews for a film that doesn't open until Sept. 26. The mainstream U.S. reviews should turn that frown upside-down, but it wasn't the best kickoff for a flick battling “How To Train Your Dragon 2” and “Big Hero 6” for the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar.

So much for that October trend.
Do you know what “Argo” and “12 Years a Slave” had in common besides winning Best Picture and debuting at Telluride? They both opened in October. So did last year's nominees “Captain Phillips” and “Gravity.” Well, after learning which contenders are now pretenders there are only three real potential Best Picture nominees (let alone a possible winner) debuting in October: “Gone Girl,” “Birdman” and “St. Vincent” (a very rare non-Nov. or Dec. debut for Mr. Weinstein). November and December? Packed as usual.

“99 Homes” might be the odd player out.
Ramin Bahrani's drama created a tremendous amount of buzz out of Venice and Telluride thanks to impressive turns by Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon. And, truth be told, both could easily be nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively (yes, even with the logjam in lead). Word was Bahrani and his producers had an offer after Venice for acquisition, but wanted to wait until Toronto to generate even more heat to up the terms. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but the exact opposite happened. “99 Homes” got lost in Toronto (or did we lose Garfield thanks to his scraggily beard?) and there has been no further word on an acquisition, let alone one that would guarantee a 2014 release. Part of the problem is many of the usual suspects who would jump on the film have competing players in the Best Actor race. Sony Classics, who released Bahrani's last film, has Tatum, Carell and Spall (among others). Roadside Attractions has “The Homesman's” Tommy Lee Jones. The Weinstein Company has Cumberbatch, Murray and Waltz. A24 has “A Most Violent Year's” Oscar Isaac and enough product for 2014. Searchlight has Keaton. Focus Features has Redmayne and they are getting away from smaller pictures like this one. IFC Films? Magnolia? They have to be interested, but not by the end of the year. You almost wonder whether Bahrani should have waited until Sundance.