EXCLUSIVE: Just as Toronto, the third leg of the fall festival trifecta, is about to wrap up, we have another tell-tale sign that the six-month-long Oscar season has begun in earnest. Academy campaigners often compete to be the first to send their For Your Consideration screener out, and this year the winner is: Logan.

20th Century Fox, which never has been first in this particular screener derby, already is showing how aggressive they can be as the nascent season ramps up. The DVD screener landed in Academy voters’ mailboxes today. The March release directed and co-written (with Scott Frank and Michael Green) by James Mangold and starring Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart marked the end of an X-Men era, at least for Wolverine and Professor X in this acclaimed drama that acted not only as an elegy to those characters but to the Old West, with echoes of classics like Shane in its own way. It is unlike anything that has come before in the series, which is why there isn’t even an in the title.

20th Century Fox

Both stars are deserving of awards recognition, and the only question is whether Jackman will push this performance over his upcoming Christmas release, The Greatest Showman, in which he plays P.T. Barnum, which is also from 20th Century Fox. With 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Logan remains one of the year’s best reviewed movies and easily the best in the entire series of nine films spawned by Marvel’s X-Men comic book franchise. This, however, is no comic book movie — it’s something completely different, and that could make it a contender, particularly if some of the fall films don’t measure up and voters look to earlier in 2017 for cinematic inspiration. Fox certainly never attempted to launch a serious Oscar campaign for any of the other X-Men or Wolverine movies, and being first out with a screener makes a statement. With a March 3 release date, it would be one of those rare titles that managed a Best Picture nomination opening so early in the year. Only Erin Brockovich in 2000 and The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014, also both March releases, managed that feat this millennium.

Blumhouse

Fox already has proved that they’ll be going for the gold with their strongest awards slate in years. In addition to the two Jackman 2017 bookend movies, they have Steven Spielberg’s The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks; The Mountain Between Us, which just premiered in Toronto; and Kenneth Branagh’s all-star Murder on the Orient Express remake; along with the July release War for the Planet of the Apes, which I recently reported would also be getting a major campaign. Voters can expect that screener to follow shortly. Incidentally, though Logan is the first Oscar screener out this year sent directly to Academy members, Universal jumped the gun earlier this week with the commercially released Blu-ray of their smash Get Outwhich opened February 24. They sent it to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association, neither group requiring special packaging like the Academy does. Unlike most films that open so early in the year, both Logan and Get Out are considered possibilities for nominations. Miles Ahead and Maggie’s Plan were first out last year. Neither received a single nomination, but it’s always good to be on top of the viewing pile, especially when you’re the only one.

And so it all begins, again.