The Oscar season is howling to life in the wake of the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals. NYFF is right around the corner and very soon it'll be October, "Gravity" (with "Captain Phillips" and "12 Years a Slave" right behind it) and we'll pretty much be off to the races. It's time, then, for our annual early plunge into this year's contenders, which we'll bring to you on a category-by-category basis over the next few weeks. We begin today with, what else? Best Picture.

This year's slate of hopefuls is widely varied, but one narrative already well chewed on before we even get into the thick of things is the prevalence of African-American films and filmmakers. Beyond that, there are biopics (as usual), there are historical dramas (as usual), there are returning champions and there are first-time players. Sony, Sony Classics, Paramount and The Weinstein Company have lots to juggle and specialty companies and divisions have ample opportunity to register.

It is, in many ways, a wide-open field (though perhaps not as wide open as it seemed this time last year -- the media has, after all, already collectively, recklessly decided on this year's victor). So here in the early moments, hope springs eternal. So dive into the 36 films we're forecasting to be on Oscar's radar this season in the gallery story below and feel free to tell us your expectations and predictions in the comments section.