viggo mortensen, michael fassbender, a dangerous method
The Toronto International Film Festival has become the premiere launching pad for a little awards ceremony you might have heard of -- the Oscars. 'The King's Speech,' which eventually took home the 2010 Best Picture statuette, made its debut at last year's TIFF. When audiences first witnessed Colin Firth's mesmerizing turn as King George VI on Toronto screens, tongues started wagging about potential Oscar nominations and victories. All the speculation ended up coming true.

In past years, audiences have chosen 'Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire,' 'Eastern Promises' and 'Slumdog Millionaire' as their favorite films of the fest, and we all know how they fared at the Oscars. Think of the Toronto Film Festival as an Oscars litmus test: chances are, if the general critical response is overwhelmingly positive, we're going to be seeing that actor/movie at the Academy Awards.

Based on TIFF's lineup so far, we've got some preliminary picks for Oscar contenders. Hey, it's never too early to start, is it?

Best Actor
George Clooney is returning to Toronto this year with two films, 'The Ides of March' (which he's also directing) and 'The Descendants,' so we'd say he has double the chance of winning the Oscar this year. We're not so brazen to predict he'll take the Best Director crown, but we think his turn as a man dealing with his wife's infidelity in 'The Descendants' might just tug the heartstrings to victory.

Brad Pitt (another TIFF darling) is appearing in the much-anticipated 'Moneyball,' where he stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland As, who has an epiphany about baseball's conventional wisdom and overhauls the entire team. Points for being an underdog, points for being a feel-good movie, but points against because it's about baseball, and you know how people like to rag on baseball for being boring. Still, once upon a time there was 'Field of Dreams.'

Viggo Mortensen is taking on the role of his life as famous Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg's 'A Dangerous Method.' Judging by early trailers and some movie stills, he not only looks the part, but he's frighteningly convincing as the sexuality-obsessed doctor. Potential Oscar nods also loom for his co-star Michael Fassbender, who plays fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung. "Real-life" roles are Academy catnip.

Ryan Gosling playing a troubled stunt driver in 'Drive'? Sounds like something the Academy might like. When Gosling played the drug-addicted teacher in 'Half Nelson,' he received accolades across the board and was nominated for the Oscar. This film has the same breadth and reach, plus Carey Mulligan as his co-star.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a man in his late 20s diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in the acclaimed '50/50,' which simultaneously makes light of the topic while taking a raw, insider look at coping with the disease. Gordon-Levitt delivers a masterful performance without succumbing to the traditional 'person with cancer' depiction. Expect to see this fellow's name under the Best Actor nominees this year.

Best Actress
(We know Meryl Streep has this wrapped up for 'The Iron Lady,' but play along, OK?)

Keira Knightley plays the disturbed and beautiful Sabina Spielrein in 'A Dangerous Method.' She is the catalyst for drama and sexual temptation, and comes between Fassbender and Mortensen's characters. It's nice to see Knightley out of period dress and using those acting chops, which were overlooked in last year's 'Never Let Me Go.' 'A Dangerous Method' looks like it might be an Oscar sandwich.

albert nobbs, glenn closeGlenn Close, who's been dominating the small screen in 'Damages' for four seasons now, leads the Irish-set period drama 'Albert Nobbs.' She plays titular character Albert, a woman who pretends to be a man in order to survive. Beset with casting, scheduling and budget problems, 'Albert Nobbs' has been in the works for a while, and Close co-wrote the screenplay. She is the absolute crux of the film, and everything will revolve around her -- so expect a little nomination for a gold statue once Oscar season rolls around.

Jennifer Garner for an Oscar? The chance is there with 'Butter,' a movie about -- bear with us here -- the highly competitive world of butter carving. Garner plays Laura Pickler, the self-anointed First Lady of Butter Carving. This could go either way: her depiction could be interpreted as campy, light and fun, or she could come across as very vested and immersed in the role, leading to Oscar glory. It remains to be seen.

Best Movie
As we've already discussed (ad nauseum), 'A Dangerous Method' looks like it might be the frontrunner with its powerhouse cast and interesting premise. The combination of Freud, sex, intrigue and a lascivious Knightley seems too good to be true.

In this politically-charged era we live in, George Clooney's 'The Ides of March' might take the prize. The movie just so happens to take place around an American election, and everybody loves Clooney, so hey, you never know.

Sarah Polley returns with her second directorial effort 'Take This Waltz,' which stars Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen as a couple trying to maintain their long-term relationship. While this film promises to be light, colorful and airy, Polley never strays from the meat of the issue, and the comedy may just be a cloak for more serious mechanics underneath.

A lot of people have been talking about 'Anonymous,' the Roland Emmerich-directed movie about Shakespeare. Who was he? Did he really pen his works? If not, who did? This long-running debate culminates in the film, which promises to be an orchestra of beautiful cinematography and sweeping soliloquies. The brief trailer we've seen gave us goosebumps and elicited gasps from the audience -- it's either a positive sign or a very well-crafted trailer.

Lars Von Trier returns to the fold with his oft-mentioned 'Melancholia,' which combines two rather disparate elements: a marriage celebration party and a planet hurtling towards Earth. Of course, the wedding is a fiasco and the newlywed couple (Kirsten Dunst and Alexander Skarsgard) has to deal with mending frayed familial relationships while coping with pending doom. The whole "I'm a Nazi sympathizer" scandal at Cannes may hurt Von Trier's chances, but the Academy might court this sort of behavior if it wants to up its ratings in 2012.