EXCLUSIVE: The Emmys aren’t even over yet, but the  race to be the first movie awards DVD screener of 2013 to land in Oscar voters’ mailboxes is over. And the winner is…..Mud. The Roadside Attractions (with Lionsgate)  late April release starring Matthew McConaughey has been sent to all Academy members with some reporting they received it yesterday. The Blu-Ray/DVD came out in early August and at that time Roadside sent it to some bloggers who confused the issue by saying it was then the first Oscar screener to be sent.  Of course Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences rules are very clear in this regard and commercial Blu Ray/DVDs cannot be sent to Academy members as part of a campaign. It must be special, generally very plain, packaging without review quotes etc. That is what Academy members are receiving this weekend.

The Jeff Nichols-directed movie is one of the top independent releases of 2013 earning over $21 million at the box office. In fact until Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine surpassed it recently, it was the number one indie. Roadside picked up the film in August 2012 but held it for a Spring launch rather than rushing it out to compete in last year’s Oscar race. The distributor hopes Oscar voters will remember the film, which played in the 2012 Cannes Official Competition, and by getting the screener out first knows it is already on top of the pile of one for voters who have yet to see it. Being first is a mixed bag as far as ultimate results go. Last year The Weinstein Company sent its French import The Intouchables out as the first screener in Mid-October but it failed to land any nominations. In 2011 Summit won the screener race with an early September mailing of A Better Life  and was rewarded for its efforts with a Best Actor nod for Demian Bichir, considered a long shot at the time (Roadside virtually tied for first out that year too with The Music Never Stopped, but it came up empty).

Although it’s a dark horse to land in the Best Picture race in what is shaping up to be an extremely competitive year, Mud has a realistic shot at nods for Nichols’ Original Screenplay and for McConaughey. However, despite being the title character, the company is campaigning McConaughey in the Supporting Actor race. The logic is the kids, particularly Tye Sheridan, are the real stars of the film in which two young boys come across a stranger hiding out on a deserted island just outside their hometown. The other undeniable fact is McConaughey also has the November release  Dallas Buyers Club which won raves after its debut two weeks ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. Focus Features will be actively pushing McConaughey for Best Actor – he has an excellent shot – and it certainly would not be wise for Roadside to muddy those waters, so to speak.  Also Roadside has its own strong Best Actor candidate in Robert Redford, who stars in their October 18th release All Is Lost. Although there are several examples of an actor landing nominations for both lead and supporting roles in the same year, it’s still somewhat rare but it’s not out of the question that McConaughey might pull off this feat. With a sterling 98% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes it remains one of the best reviewed films of the year. Mud is extremely well-liked and could still be a discovery for voters just getting to it via their Oscar screener.

At least that’s what Roadside is hoping.