How a streaming-only Hulu movie became an Oscar contender

After Searchlight reached out to the Academy, Emma Thompson could still snag the No. 2 Best Actress win with “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.”

Call it the Covid exception.

At the virtual Sundance Film Festival in 2022, the world was in the midst of an Omicron surge when Oscar-winning film Searchlight and its streaming partner Hulu acquired Sophie Hyde’s Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. The film wowed Best Actress Oscar winner Emma Thompson (“Howard’s End”), who plays a widow who hires a sex worker (Daryl McCormack from “Peaky Blinders”) to teach her sexual pleasure. Intended for smart adults, this film fits in the Searchlight Oscar film box.

When questioned ahead of release, distributor IndieWire suggested the film would likely chase Emmys. Behind the scenes — and well ahead of its scheduled June 17 release on Hulu — Searchlight appealed to the Academy to grant the film Oscar-eligibility, even though the distributor had no intention of the film being eligible for theatrical release.

That’s because even a four-wall, week-long release that qualifies for an Oscar would force the film to make its streaming debut on HBO rather than Hulu, thanks to an old issuance deal from Twentieth Century Fox (one that ends on December 31st).

On May 18, the academy announced its return to pre-pandemic rules, which require week-long theatrical performances in one of six American cities. Searchlight told the academy that they made their release plans based on pandemic rules, not knowing how the theater world would be shaken up.

Would a similar plea work for other streaming-only features? The Academy does not change its official stance. In this case, “Leo Grande” has faced a headwind from stellar reviews (94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and easily qualified for BAFTAs because Lionsgate got it into UK cinemas. It also qualified for the PGA, SAG and the Critics Choice Awards. With the comfort of the numbers, the academy qualified it too. Now Searchlight can proceed to book Fall Festival tributes and launch a proper Thompson Awards campaign.

Going forward, new Academy CEO Bill Kramer wants to focus on movies at the Oscars. But as far as this year’s ricochet rules go, clearly anything goes.

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Lindsay Lowe

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