may not have heard much about Gavin Hood’s Rendition, but, by the end of this September’s Toronto Film Festival, it could very well be a frontrunner for Best Picture. It’s not like this is a stretch; Hood’s Tsotsi won the 2005 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Kelly Sane’s screenplay made the 2006 industry Black List (an annual top ten list of scripts compiled by executives, agents and their assistants), and the cast is populated by a few awards season notables (e.g. Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon and Alan Arkin). Rendition is also a hot-button political epic, joining the finger-wagging company of Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah, Mike Nichols’s Charlie Wilson’s War and Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs (which, sadly, I keep hearing is dead in the water). Working in Rendition‘s favor, obviously, is its pedigree; working against it is the subject matter, which only peripherally touches on the implications of the Iraq War (my feeling is that, if it comes down to a horse race between the above titles, the Academy will go for deep emotional pitch of Elah).

The script, about a CIA analyst (Jake Gyllenhaal) who turns whistle blower when he objects to the interrogation of an Egyptian-born terrorist suspect, is pretty damn solid. And way too tidy. That can actually be said of all the screenplays for the major political films this year. But I’m holding out the most hope for Rendition due to Gavin Hood, who brought tremendous (and convincing) moral authority to Tsotsi. Also, Hood’s film is apparently testing remarkably well. My only concern is New Line running the Oscar campaign for a movie that isn’t Lord of the Rings; they’ve had some great movies the last several years (Vera Drake, A History of Violence and Little Children), but haven’t been able to build them into serious contenders.

There were some other big fall titles added to the Toronto slate today: Peter Greenaway’s Nightwatching (weird to see Martin Freeman starring in a Greenaway picture), Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, Terry George’s Reservation Road and Alan Ball’s Nothing is Private. I’m no fan of American Beauty or Six Feet Under, but people are really excited about that last picture.