There have been a lot of rave reviews at the autumn festivals so far, before we even get to Toronto.

Telluride and Venice have each had especially strong years, without any real duds so far – signaling a very crowded playing field for awards season.

In Telluride, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave was the most triumphant, and Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners also went down a storm. British indie Starred Up also earned raves (it hasn’t confirmed a US distributor yet). Slave now looks like a major contender across all major categories including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

In Venice, Gravity, Philomena, Tracks and Locke were among the standouts.

Gravity should be a lock for a best picture nom, and includes an especially strong performance from Sandra Bullock, as well as likely landing best director recognition for this long-simmering passion project from Alfonso Cuaron. Its crafts categories contention should be very strong.

Philomena will be a shoe-in for a nomination for Judi Dench as Best Actress.  This will be a crowdpleaser along the lines of The King’s Speech, and is better directed than that film so Frears could be in the mix for Best Director. I’d also like to see Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope’s script get a nod.

Tracks also played well in Venice, and was quickly acquired by The Weinstein Company. Even in a competitive year for Best Actress, Mia Wasikowska could make the cut for her first grown-up leading lady role. The cinematography also deserves recognition.  

With Locke, there is no US deal in place yet and it’s a smaller film made for less than $2m, but the standout performance by Tom Hardy could be remembered at the end of the year.

Nicolas Cage could be in the Best Actor mix for his role in David Gordon Green’s solid Joe.

Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin has had a Marmite love it or hate it response, with some critics (mostly in Venice) claiming it’s the best film they’ve seen in years and others (mostly in Telluride) proclaiming it a dud. It’s probably too artsy for Oscars love, although some BAFTA attention at home will be more likely.

Also in Telluride, there were solid, if not rapturous, responses also for Jason Reitman’s Labor Day and Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman. And Telluride also confirmed the status of Cannes hangovers such as the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and JC Chandor’s All Is Lost.

Among the documentaries, Telluride audiences loved a number of them — Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known, Shane Salerno’s Salinger, and Teller’s Tim’s Vermeer.

Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises fared well at both festivals.

What you notice is that there’s not a flop amongst the bunch yet. That spells especially tough competition this year. Distributors will have to be hoping that some of the key Toronto launches will include a turkey or two so that the field clears out a bit.

Wendy Mitchell is Editor of Screen International