EXCLUSIVE: Every Oscar season the race is on to see who can put out the first DVD screener sent to Academy members. Well, the race is over for 2012: The Weinstein Company is mailing screeners today of their hit French import The Intouchables to the entire membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association got one over the weekend. The Intouchables, which has grossed more than $360 million worldwide,  is the official French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (screenings of the record 71 films  in that contest begin Friday night at the Academy). It is the second-highest-grossing non-English-language film of all time after The Passion Of The Christ.

Related: OSCARS: 71 Countries Submit For Foreign-Language Film Race

Last year, Summit was first out of the gate in getting Academy members a screener of A Better Life. The strategy paid off, resulting in a surprise Best Actor SAG and Oscar nomination for star Demian Bichir. Putting those screeners in Oscar voters’ hands early certainly didn’t hurt his chances. Millennium mailed a commercial DVD of Bernie to press a couple of weeks ago with Oscar aspirations attached, but this is the first official manufactured screener for Oscar voters (the Academy has strict rules about packaging and does not allow commercial DVDs to be sent to members).

The IntouchablesThe Intouchables has a domestic gross of $12.6 million after 20 weeks and is still in 84 theaters in the U.S. But Harvey Weinstein is passionate about this movie and told me he thinks it will play for over a year and continue to be a highly successful foreign-language release in America. “We passed the Swedish Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and continue to do well week after week”, he said. “I can see expanding this film to 500 or 600 screens when the time is right.” Of course that time means when — and if — the Oscar gods put their blessing on the movie (don’t say the word ‘if’ to Harvey).  Beyond a foreign-language film nomination, Weinstein is hoping for other categories as well including Director, Screenplay, Actor for Omar Sy, Supporting Actor for Francois Cluzet and who knows, maybe even a surprise nod for Best Picture. The back of the screener also suggests several technical categories in which they hope to compete. Weinstein has experience in this area, earning Best Picture nominations for foreign-language titles when he was at Miramax for Life Is Beautiful (1998) and Il Postino (1995). Among the releases in the first half of 2012, Intouchables is one of the few to create a real buzz among Academy voters with whom I have spoken.

Sy just did a press conference for the HFPA and a Weinstein source is confident he will land a Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical Golden Globes nomination for his performance. “35 members showed up for the conference which is a very big turnout, especially at the point in the film’s run,” said the source. Sy won France’s  Best Actor Cesar for Intouchables in February, beating heavily favored (and future Oscar winner) Jean Dujardin of The Artist. The actor now has a UTA agent and is spending a lot of time in Los Angeles, where you can expect to see him on the campaign trail.

The uplifting movie about the unlikely friendship between a wealthy quadraplegic and a man from the other side of the tracks was directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache. It is now the most popular French film ever released worldwide in terms of admissions. The Weinstein Company already has an English-language version in development with Colin Firth attached to star. Weinstein tells me he recently received the first draft of the screenplay by Bridesmaids director Paul Feig.

In getting the screener out first, Weinstein is making a statement  that despite having a full plate with high-profile films like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet, he really is looking at this as the “little movie that could”. He has been relentless in keeping it going in theaters and freshening the ad campaign a few times since its May release in the U.S. It has played unusually long runs in cities ranging from LA and NY to San Diego, Evanston, Ill., and Plano, Texas, to name a few. “Intouchables is a pure word-of-mouth film. Everyone who sees it loves it and tells one more person to see it which in turn has produced a box office gross that is constant week after week,”  Landmark Theatres CEO Ted Mundorff told me.

How far it will be able to go in the Oscar race is anyone’s guess, but if Harvey Weinstein has his way it will be very far indeed. Stay tuned. The screener is in the mail.