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How ‘To Leslie’ is Going Against the Oscar Campaigning Norm

There seems to be a science to how Oscar campaigning is done. The indie film To Leslie and its lead actress intend to change that.

Photo from 'To Leslie' trailer of Andrea Riseborough.
Monumental Pictures

Voting for Oscar nominations began on January 12th. On January 24th, Oscar nominations are set to be announced. Potential Oscar nominees will usually do big long campaigns, involving press, small awards, and many advertisements. This usually starts months before voting opens so that it is constantly on people’s minds.

However, just recently, there has been talk of Andrea Riseborough’s performance in the indie drama To Leslie. Buzz for this performance only began when voting started. This is very strange for Oscar campaigns, and if successful, this could change campaigning as we know it.

What is To Leslie about?

Andrea Riseborough, star of To Leslie, on red carpet(Dennis Makerenko/Shutterstock)
Andrea Riseborough, star of To Leslie, on red carpet(Dennis Makerenko/Shutterstock)

In To Leslie, Andrea Riseborough plays the titular Leslie Rowlands. Leslie is an alcoholic who blew all of her lottery winnings away on booze and drugs. However,  when people try to help her, she will betray them by going back to heavy drinking. She soon gets a job to try to improve her life, but the addiction keeps calling to her. To Leslie is the character study of an addict, and it requires the type of meaty performance that would require a talented actress.

No Previous Word

Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review website, only had a few critic reviews for To Leslie(Piotr Swat/Shutterstock)
Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review website, only had a few critic reviews for To Leslie(Piotr Swat/Shutterstock)

To Leslie released in theaters and on-demand on October 7th, 2022. However, there was silence about this film at the end of 2022. It received great reviews by critics, but the film was not seen by that many critics in the first place. Riseborough was able to pick up some small nominations, including a nomination for Best Lead Performance at the Independent Spirit awards. However, there was nothing that was causing awards experts to put her on their predictions list or any press that would bring attention to the film. That all changed just a week ago.

Sudden Celebrity Praise

Kate Winslet, huge fan of 'To Leslie' on red carpet(Fred Duval/Shutterstock)
Kate Winslet, huge fan of ‘To Leslie’ on red carpet(Fred Duval/Shutterstock)

Around when nomination voting began, it was as if Pandora’s box opened. All of a sudden, there was so much praise given for Riseborough in To Leslie. While these celebrities had previously been silent, they now had so much to say. Oscar winner Kate Winslet called Riseborough’s performance the greatest female performance on screen I have ever seen. Other big-name celebrities like Kim Basinger, Edward Norton, Gwenyth Paltrow, and more have all shown on social media how much they love this film. Because of all of this praise, some big Oscar predictors, like Gold Derby and Entertainment Weekly, have suddenly put Riseborough on their list of possibilities. The sudden burst of To Leslie has really changed the Oscar prediction game.

To Leslie Breaking Campaigning Status Quo

Envelopes with award winners in them(Rkjaer/Shutterstock)
Envelopes with award winners in them(Rkjaer/Shutterstock)

What makes this effort for To Leslie notable is that this is just not how Oscar’s campaigning is done. There would normally be some precursor awards that the film would make it into before this point, from small local awards to bigger ones like the Golden Globes. Oscar pundits start working on their lists in November. The earliest lists usually aren’t the most accurate, but contenders are known. There are usually commercials and ads for months, along with huge positive write-ups by critics. There is almost a science to the Oscar race, and To Leslie is breaking all of the rules. 

Why The Praise?

Social media was how buzz was spread about To Leslie(Robird/Shutterstock)
Social media was how buzz was spread about To Leslie(Robird/Shutterstock)

It seems strange that To Leslie’s campaigning came out of nowhere. It is a risky move for the film to start trying to get attention right when nomination voting starts. However, it seems this is happening because the film was not able to get much attention with its tiny budget. Therefore, they did not have much money for an awards campaign. Anyone who liked this film had to go big or go home with compliments. If the A Listers show love, then that will inspire more voters. This is a grassroots campaign that is being daring by starting attention when the iron is hot.

Current State of Best Actress Race

Cate Blanchett, frontrunner for Best Actress, on red carpet(Matteo Chinelatto/Shutterstock)
Cate Blanchett, frontrunner for Best Actress, on red carpet(Matteo Chinelatto/Shutterstock)

The two locks at the moment are Cate Blanchett for Tar and Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All at Once. The other three spots are not as secure. There is Danielle Deadwyler for Till, whose performance has received a lot of attention. There is Viola Davis for The Woman King, a performance that people also love, but this may not be the film for voters. Then there is Michelle Williams for The Fablemans, and while people definitely loved her, some voters may consider her performance to be supporting. The race is fairly open. Could the team behind To Leslie pull off an unprecedented Cinderella campaign? We will find out on January 24th.

Written By

Rachel Rosenfield is currently a student at Brandeis University. Along with writing for Trill Mag, she is the managing editor for her school paper, The Brandeis Hoot. When she is not writing, Rachel is watching new movies, watching new TV shows, and reading new books. Rachel loves writing for Trill Mag and she is often thinking about what she will write about next.

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