The qualifying heats for the Oscars have begun with Venice and Toronto selections.

Here in London, we all caught Olympics fever over the past month: the hundredths of a second between gold, silver and bronze, the surprise victors who exceeded expectations and even the expected heroes who faltered at the final hurdle.

The 19 days between yesterday (August 29) and September 16 will be something of an Olympics for 2012’s best films. First Venice kicks off, then Telluride will offer its under-wraps programme, and finally the behemoth that is Toronto will present dozens of world premieres. Yes the Oscars are still six months away, but the heats are now underway.

Predictions do begin in Cannes - but The Artist was a one-off in making it all the way to Oscar glory in the main categories. This year’s Cannes awards contenders will include Michael Haneke’s Amour and Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone in the foreign-language race and there may be some acting nods such as Mads Mikkelsen for The Hunt. But overall there isn’t a standout Cannes crowdpleasing hit that will make a huge impact this awards season in the same way The Artist did. Even the US films such as Lawless, On The Road and Killing Them Softly had comparatively soft starts on the Croissette and will have to rebuild momentum. Plus, earlier Sundance buzz for films such as The Sessions will have to be re-awakened in Toronto.

There are now the obvious projects on the watchlists of every critic, programmer, distributor and awards voter - Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder, Ben Affleck’s Argo and David O Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook among others - but I’m even more keen to see which less-expected contenders emerge. For example, Sally Potter’s Ginger And Rosa (which has its world premiere in Toronto) is getting great word of mouth from early viewers.

On the flip side, there will be films that come with expectations that aren’t matched - this time last year we’d all have thought Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar was going to be a major winner. It’s hard to tell just from a film’s pedigree and A-list names how it will actually turn out.

Right now we have many unanswered questions. The Weinstein Company is backing two potentially crowd-pleasing films with elderly leads - will Paul Andrew Williams’ Toronto closer Song For Marion serenade audiences more sweetly than Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet? How successful will Laurent Cantet be with his foray into English-language film, Foxfire? Will a lauded director of smaller films such as Ramin Bahrani succeed with a larger project like At Any Price? Will Michael Shannon wow us all in The Iceman?

We’ll know those answers and more quite soon. Many of these films could find their fortunes decided over the next few weeks. I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the first screening of Slumdog Millionaire in Toronto in 2008 - that film’s road to Oscar glory certainly began with applause from Telluride and Toronto audiences. I ran into the film’s producer Christian Colson afterwards and you could see on his face the realisation that he now had a hit on his hands. With buzz spreading even faster among festival-goers on platforms such as Twitter, a film’s fortunes can change in mere minutes.

Even if they don’t follow every blog or Tweet, most people I know enjoy getting sucked into the fascinating ins and outs of the awards races. It’s nothing to be ashamed of - just a sign of the passion we feel for our favourite films. It’s something like Olympic fever - at the end of the race, we all want our favourite on the podium.

So who will be the Jessica Ennis of Venice, or the Usain Bolt of Toronto?

The surprises over the coming 19 days will make for an exciting six months ahead.