How a streaming-only Hulu movie became an Oscar contender

After Searchlight appealed to the Academy, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” might propel Emma Thompson to second best actress after all.

Call it the Covid exception.

Back at the 2022 virtual Sundance Film Festival, the world was in the midst of an Omicron push when Oscar perennial Searchlight and streaming partner Hulu acquired Sophie Hyde’s “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.” The film drew praise for Oscar-winning Best Actress Emma Thompson (“Howard’s End”), who plays a widow who hires a sex worker (Daryl McCormack of “Peaky Blinders”) to teach her about sexual pleasure. Aimed at smart adults, this film matches the box of the Searchlight Oscar movie.

When asked before its release, the distributor suggested to IndieWire that the film would likely chase the Emmys. Behind the scenes — and long before 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 qualifying the film in theaters.

That’s because even a four-wall week-long Oscar-qualifying outing would require the film to debut streaming on HBO, not Hulu, thanks to an old release deal from Twentieth Century Fox (which ends December 31).

On May 18, the Academy announced its return to pre-pandemic rules that require week-long theatrical releases in one of six U.S. cities. Searchlight told the Academy that he made his exit plans based on the rules of the pandemic, not knowing how the theatrical world was going to shake up.

Would a similar plea work for other streaming-only features? The Academy does not change its official position. In this case, “Leo Grande” is riding high with excellent reviews (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) and easily qualifies for the BAFTAs because Lionsgate released it theatrically in the UK. He has also qualified for the PGA, SAG and Critics Choice Awards. With the comfort of the numbers, the Academy also qualified him. Searchlight can now proceed with booking Fall Festival tributes and mounting a true Thompson Rewards campaign.

Going forward, the Academy’s new CEO, Bill Kramer, has every intention of focusing on motion pictures when it comes to the Oscars. But when it comes to this year’s ricochet rules, it’s clear anything goes.

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