How did a £22,000 movie get an Oscar nomination?

Watch: Trailer of Andrea Riseborough’s TV series To Leslie

In March 2022, the South by Southwest Festival hosted the premiere of To Leslie, a new movie starring the beloved British film actor Andrea Riseborough. The series received strong reviews, and Riseborough was particularly praised for her performance as an alcoholic Texan woman trying to repair relationships with her family after wasting her lottery winnings on drugs and booze.

The film received a limited theatrical release in the US in October, followed by a UK release in November. It’s a small movie and nobody noticed it. It earned just over $27,000 (£22,000) worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. Avatar: The Way of Water earned nearly 5,000 times that figure in the US alone on its opening weekend.

Read more: Explaining the awards season campaign trail

But people are now noticing To Leslie. It looks like Riseborough was shortlisted for Best Actress at the Oscars. Awe-inspiring, hit performances like Danielle Deadwyler in Till, Margot Robbie in Babylon, and Viola Davis in The Woman King didn’t do well, but Riseborough won.

So how did this happen and can Riseborough really win its first Oscar for the movie?

an underdog story

Andrea Riseborough earned a surprise Oscar nomination for her performance in the gritty drama To Leslie.  (eOne)

Andrea Riseborough earned a surprise Oscar nomination for her performance in the gritty drama To Leslie. (eOne)

It’s not fair to say that To Leslie appeared out of nowhere. It was one of the most respected indie releases of 2022 and has a 98% approval rate among Rotten Tomatoes critics. That’s a better critical hit rate than any of the 10 nominations for Best Picture, albeit from a much lower number of reviews.

Riseborough has also received some accolades from award organizations. She was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Leading Performance in November and named the National Board of Review To Leslie one of the top 10 independent publications of the year. The film and Riseborough also won a handful of festival awards, including the UK Shores at the Raindance Film Festival, where To Leslie was named Best Actress and Film of the Festival.

Read more: Hollywood flashbacks that led to award glory

But this one is pretty quiet in terms of prize buzz. Riseborough got nothing when nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA, or Screen Actors Guild Awards. Even among the numerous critics’ associations and smaller premier award organizations, it was only the Chicago Film Critics Association that nominated Riseborough for Best Actress.

So for this to turn into Oscars, something had to happen somewhere.

An unusual campaign

Andrea Riseborough plays an alcoholic mother in To Leslie.  (eOne)

Andrea Riseborough plays an alcoholic mother in To Leslie. (eOne)

The Oscar campaign is often perceived as a work of dark arts. Before he was jailed for a horrific string of sexual crimes, Harvey Weinstein was considered the master of this potbelly world of awards season. He could have taken a hit but unloved movie—Shakespeare in Love, for example—and turned it into a Best Picture winner by aggressively campaigning and, if necessary, smearing the competition.

But there doesn’t seem to be a Weinstein-like figure behind To Leslie. Money was a problem when director Michael Morris told The Hollywood Reporter that the film wouldn’t even be able to afford a campaign ad. “We live or die based on how people react to the movie. We’ve been so secluded and our only strategy was to get people to watch the movie.”

Read more: Tuppence Middleton in unconventional Andrea Riseborough sex scene

That doesn’t sound enough until you see the list of names of people who not only watched the movie but chose to defend it publicly. To name a few: Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, Cate Blanchett, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Aniston, Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Zooey Deschanel, Howard Stern, Alan Cumming, Amy Adams, Kate Winslet and Minnie Driver.

Paltrow, a friend of director Morris, was among those who enthusiastically shared their enjoyment of the film and wrote on Instagram that “Andrea must win all the awards that exist and have not yet been invented”.

It seems that Riseborough’s reward strategy ultimately used the simplest tool in the book for a business like Hollywood – “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.

friends in high places

He’s a beloved figure and feature-length debutant who never really made the awards season splash he arguably deserved, but Morris, a TV veteran like Better Call Saul and 13 Reasons Why, has his fair share of celebrity friends. Many seem happy to take a few moments to share a movie they enjoy, starring a colleague they highly respect.

Read more: Everything that happened at the 2022 Oscars

But it’s not as healthy as it looks. An eagle-eyed Reddit user at /r/OscarRace noted earlier this month that many of the celebrity tweets praising the movie used very similar text, including the now-viral phrase “a little movie with a giant heart.”

We’re familiar with this technique from the onslaught of nearly identical tweets every time Conservative lawmakers responded to a government scandal, possibly some sample texts were sent from somewhere in a WhatsApp group.

In summary, the To Leslie nomination probably came about as a combination of many things – the cunning use of Hollywood relationships, the WhatsApp group campaign, and the genuine desire to support a powerless star for her daring work.

Playwright Jeremy O. Harris tweeted Riseborough’s manager, Jason Weinberg, deserves much of the credit: “This guy put up a group chat Oscar campaign for a client who gave a daring performance in a small picture and saw him work his ass for years with little or no recognition, and this should be studied.”

Read more: Halle Berry explains why her Oscar win didn’t open the door to POC

In front of Black actors like the aforementioned Deadwyler and Davis, some voiced their concerns about the optics of a white actor using a predominantly white line of friends to secure a nomination. While this may sound like a harsh criticism – Riseborough hasn’t “held room” any more than Michelle Williams or Ana De Armas, for example, did – it’s certainly valid to question whether people of color in the industry can call out the same ground wave. goodwill to trigger a last minute vote boost.

Regardless, Riseborough is now a true Oscar contender—although it’s very third-party for the main race between Cate Blanchett’s bold work on Tár and Michelle Yeoh’s gonzo action spin on Everything Everywhere All at Once—and To Leslie There’s a lot more eyes to it than there is to it. it was before.

The film can be viewed through various digital platforms in the UK.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DEC 07: Andrea Riseborough poses for the New York Special of Netflix movie

Andrea Riseborough poses at the New York Special Screening of Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical. (Bruce Glikas/WireImage)

Even those who criticize the dynamics that led to Riseborough’s candidacy have little negative to say about the star who has worked extraordinarily hard throughout his career.

In the past year alone, she has appeared in five incredibly diverse films, including Amsterdam and Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, as well as the much more serious To Leslie.

Sometimes, Hollywood tries to get behind something like this – a little movie with a giant heart.

Watch: Andrea Riseborough responds to her Oscar nomination

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