Helen Mirren in The Queen

Kevin here, bringing you the first of what'll be many forecasts and buzz reports as we head into the thick of the Oscar race. (The show is only 151 days away -- hope you've got your officemates in line for the pool!)

At this point a year ago, I'm proud (pompous?) to report I knew with certainty the Best Actor and Actress trophies would end up in the hands of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Reese Witherspoon, respectively. The year prior, I think even your grandma knew Jamie Foxx was a lock to win top acting honors (even if she did think Lawrence Welk would be a close second). Such is the role of the Toronto Film Festival in today's Oscar marathon: it sets the buzz machines in motion.

This year's festival lacked such spellbinding, surefire unveilings, with two noticeable exceptions -- both involved in films hitting theaters this weekend. One thing the Academy favors almost as much as the handicapped, the transsexual and Meryl Streep? Royalty.

Forest Whitaker is getting props aplenty for his explosive portrayal of Idi Amin in 'The Last King of Scotland,' but a safer bet in my view is the always-delectable Helen Mirren, who delivers another stunning performance in 'The Queen.' (While 'All the King's Men's' lack of actual monarchs -- and, um, quality -- may have hurt its cause, at least Toby Jones, who plays up the queen in Truman Capote in 'Infamous,' still has a fighting chance.)

In Stephen Frears' ambitious and intriguing imagining of what unfolded behind closed doors the week following Princess Di's tragic death, Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth II with remarkable exactness. I've always found Mirren quite attractive for a woman of her, um, stature. But the actress goes incognito behind the ghostly white hue and emotionally distant demeanor of Her Majesty. That two-time Oscar nominee Mirren ('The Madness of King George,', 'Gosford Park') makes her so larger than life, yet increasingly sympathetic as the whole of England turns against her, is a major accomplishment even for someone of Mirren's eminence. She has, after all, played royalty A LOT.

SEE IT: Watch the trailer for 'The Queen'

GET IT: Read reviews of the movie

Tags:Helen Mirren, The Queen, Oscars, Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland, movies

categories Features, Cinematical