The Toronto Film Festival has grown into one of the most important events in the movie calendar. Following the prestigious and glamorous Cannes and Venice festivals, it’s the sheer scale of Toronto’s slate that gives it its Oscars precursor status. As we wrote in our – admittedly early – Academy preview, this year’s competition is stronger than ever.

Benedict CumberbatchBenedict Cumberbatch's in The Fifth Estate

Of course, Toronto is famous for exposing a number of talents via their independent cinema; it doesn’t just cater for the mainstream. But when a film stuns at the Canadian fest, Oscars buzz is hot on its heels.

The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the enigmatic front man to Wikileaks, Julian Assange, receives its U.S debut at Toronto this year. This picture got more publicity than it could have budgeted for when Assange himself denounced it. And, given the context – Bradley Manning’s recent escapades and subsequent sentencing, not to mention Edward Snowden leaking documents about spying at the U.S. National Security Agency with the support of WikiLeaks. – The Fifth Estate will be watched with an intense gaze.

Having stolen the show at Venice and Telluride, Gravity will no doubt impress at Toronto. The early Oscar contender stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and comes from highly acclaimed director Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men). Argo, The Artist and The Kings Speech – the last three Best Film winners – have all enjoyed a bit of T&T (Telluride + Toronto domination). Will Gravity make it a fourth?

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in GravityGeorge Clooney and Sandra Bullock have impressed in Gravity

Coming back down to earth with a slap in the face and a quietly deafening thud is 12 Years a Slave. This is partly because the film is centred on the harrowingly true story of Solomon Northrup – the man who penned the book on which the film is based – and partly because lead star Chiwetel Ejiofor’s name is hard to pronounce. Steve McQueen is back, and with a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Quvenzhané Wallis, Michael K. Williams and Paul Giamatti, buzz is inevitable.

Without the help of Toronto, August: Osage County is already heading a strong campaign to grab the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories and hide them away. With the help of Toronto, at which the film makes its bow, you can guarantee a fresh batch of Academy hormones surrounding the Meryl Streep/Julia Roberts drama.

Chiwetel EjioforChiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave

Recently, we told you about Under The Skin’s incredibly polarized reviews. It still has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes – not counting a few decidedly negative reviews – but it’s certainly enamoured some of those paid to think about movies. Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien sent down to Earth by a rich corporation looking to harvest human flesh. Johansson has been described as “iconic”. Outside Oscars chance for sure.

Idris ElbaNaomie Harris
Elba and Harris star in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Receiving its world premiere is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, which sees Idris Elba take the leading role, with Naomie Harris in a supporting slot as Winnie Mandela. The Justin Chadwick-directed film tells the story of Mandela's whole life, from growing up in a small rural village in South Africa to his 1994 election as the country’s first black president following 27 years behind bars after fighting for equal rights.

Last but not least in our Toronto-Oscars preview is " target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Parkland. With the evocative subject matter of the death of an American president, attention automatically switches to the Peter Landesman-directed film. It stars Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder – the amateur photographer who inadvertently caught the day’s tragic events on film – and Zac Efron as Dr. Charles James – the doctor who saw the president of the United States enter his theatre. Mixed reviews from Venice might spoil the party, though.

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson in Under The Skin.

It’s intangible, unexplainable yet unassailable that Toronto is the catalyst for an increase in Oscars talk. It just is. When a film shines bright in Canada, the Academy seems to take notice. As we enter an autumn filled with gossip and rumours fuelled by a summer of trailers and dodgy blockbusters, the winter has never looked so appetising.

Paul GiamattiPaul Giamatti in Parkland