But did they like it enough to justify its position as a Best Picture frontrunner?
George Clooney” src=”http://www.thewrap.com/sites/default/wp-content/uploads/files/descendants.inside_1.jpg” style=”width: 350px; height: 251px; margin: 15px; float: left;” title=”” />Based on reports from Academy members who were in attendance Saturday night, maybe not.
Certainly, the critically acclaimed Fox Searchlight film drew a good crowd to the 1,000-seat Beverly Hills theater, with one member estimating the audience at about 850 and another guessing around 700. (That's a little smaller than recent crowds for "Moneyball" and "The Ides of March," but bigger than "The Artist" and "Hugo.")
"The audience was with the film entirely," said another member, who added, "Clearly, it is the type of film that will probably stick with you and people will think back on."
And yet, most felt that it was not the film that would land at the top of most members' Best Picture ballots.
Said one, "I wouldn't read it as they think it's the best of the year; more likely positioning it as one of the top contenders."
Added another, "Everyone liked the film a great deal, although I heard no one say it was the best film of the year."
Still, a member cautioned that Saturday's audience was dominated by older Academy members, who might not be the prime constituency for Payne's delicate balancing act, which is hardly a typical Academy movie.
Some voters had already seen the film at its Los Angeles premiere in the same theater a few days earlier, the member pointed out, while others had caught up with it at prior screenings.
On Monday night, another top contender will come to the Academy, not for a members screening but for a high-profile screening, Q&A and campaign stop.
The Weinstein Company is kicking its Best Picture campaign for "The Artist" up a couple of notches with a Goldwyn screening hosted by Charlie Chaplin's granddaughters, Carmen and Dolores Chaplin, and featuring the film's stars arriving in vintage cars and then participating in a post-screening Q&A and reception.
According to members in attendance, "The Artist" played to an underwhelming reaction at its own Goldwyn members screening earlier in the month — but this one ought to prove to be a far more celebratory evening.