We’re officially in Oscars season, with the nominations finally announced and everyone talking about Oppenheimer, Barbie, Killers of the Flower Moon, Maestro and more. A less discussed dark horse has emerged in recent weeks though: The Holdovers, a drama-comedy about a curmudgeonly teacher tasked with looking after a group of pupils who are unable to go home over the Christmas holidays.

Starring Paul Giamatti, it was recently released in the UK after receiving acclaim in the US and isn’t a big historical epic or a biopic about a great artist. But it is getting buzz to potentially score some wins at the Oscars, and potentially usurp Cillian Murphy’s position as shoo-in for Best Actor.

What is The Holdovers about?

The Holdovers is the latest from Alexander Payne, director of films like Sideways and The Descendants, and features Giamatti as Paul Hunham, a classics teacher at Barton boarding school in New England. It’s December 1970 and Hunham is lumped with the unenviable job of looking after a cohort of kids who can’t come back home for Christmas. A solitary figure who constantly makes references to Ancient Rome and Greece, Hunham doesn’t much care for allowing his pupils to slack off, especially when most of them hate both him and his classes. With most of them scoring low grades, he insists on them studying over Christmas despite their grumblings.

The Holdovers

One of the kids he comes into friction with most is Angus, played by Dominic Sessa (in his film debut), who is told suddenly by his mother that he won’t be able to return home at Christmas and will have to become one of the dreaded holdovers. Despite constantly bickering with his teacher, Angus is also revealingly smart and more able to hold mature conversations than he lets on. Still, several weeks with Hunham constantly keeping him on his toes, as well as head cook Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) is, in his words, pretty much prison, and escape is always on his mind. Essentially snowed in and with very different ideas of fun, Hunham and Angus’ dislike for each other becomes our main story.

Why is The Holdovers being tipped for Oscars?

The film’s performances alone make the film worth a watch- Giamatti has already scooped a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy, and beat Cillian Murphy’s turn as J. Robert Oppenheimer to bag a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Actor, something he could repeat at the Oscars.

Despite being presented as authoritarian and being repeatedly reminded by Angus that he’s disliked by a lot of people, it’s hard to not warm to Hunham and Giamatti’s performance. Sessa meanwhile has been touted as a breakout for his role, deservedly, and the film’s writing means everyone shines. The other (likelier) Oscar source is Randolph, who also landed a Golden Globe, for her less showy but still magnetic performance as Mary, who is still coming to terms with losing her son, once a student at the school, in the still raging Vietnam War. The centre of the flim might be Hunham and Angus, but with Mary staying with them, they form an unlikely trio. It’s both heartfelt and funny.

‌In the US, The Holdovers has been called a Christmas movie, so it’s a little odd watching it in January, but if you are looking for an Oscar-y film you point to that isn’t Oppenheimer or Barbie, make sure to see it (and you should anyway). Though surprisingly Payne didn’t get a Best Director nomination, be on the lookout for Giamatti and Randolph on Oscars night, as well as a potential win for Best Original Screenplay.

The Holdovers is out now in UK cinemas.

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