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Best Picture Binge - The Holdovers

Discomfort and joy.

The Holdovers is a 2023 Christmas comedy drama film directed by Alexander Payne, written by David Hemingson, produced by Miramax and Gran Via, and distributed by Focus Features. The film stars Paul Giamatti and Dominic Sessa. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Film Editing.

"I don't think I've ever had a real family Christmas like this before." - Angus Tully


Paul Hunham is a grumpy, curmudgeonly teacher at a prep academy in New England. Over Christmas break, Mr. Hunham is put in charge of the boys who are staying at school during the holidays. As time goes on, Hunham forms a unique and unexpected bond with one of his students as well as a grieving cook who just lost her son to war.

The Sweet

The Holdovers seems to be beloved by the general public.

I can understand why. This movie is a return to a classic dramedy formula. Dramadies are not as present in Hollywood today, and the combination of The Holdovers and American Fiction makes it seem like they are coming back a little bit. The "curmudgeon arc", as I call it, is where a grumpy middle-aged man or woman starts the film off as this unlikable, angry jerk and learns some compassion and eases up by the end. That's what this film is. And I like that it brings that genre back.

I also love the way that this film is made. The Holdovers takes place in the 1970s and feels very much like a 70s film itself. I doubt it was actually shot on film, but it is edited to look like it. The film has the grainy aesthetic of films from that era. The sound design and editing and performances all feel like they were taken directly from the 70s. And that was awesome.

Paul Giamatti is the highlight when it comes to performances. He plays our grumpy old teacher, and he plays it very well. He can be extremely unlikable and nasty at times but can also be very likable and somewhat endearing. That balance is extremely hard to strike, but Giamatti does it flawlessly.

I also feel like we lack heartwarming Christmas films nowadays. Obviously there are Christmas classics like Elf and Home Alone, but in the last fifteen years, there's barely been any good Christmas movies. The Holdovers has that Christmas element to it, and I really, really loved that. I think Christmas movies are great because they are so heartwarming and cheerful, and I am happy that The Holdovers brought that back.

The Sour

The biggest theme that I have noticed with these Best Picture nominees is that they are all really, really slow.

The Holdovers isn't the slowest Best Picture nominee, but it takes it's sweet time to move. I don't usually find movies boring, but there were times during The Holdovers that I was just genuinely bored. It's a character-based story, so there are plenty of scenes devoted to character interactions and development, but those just move at a glacial pace.

I also think that these characters are sometimes incredibly unlikable and it makes the movie less fun to watch. Giamatti being a jerk at the start is the point of the movie, but he is so unlikable. The only character who is consistently likable is Mary, the chef, and she's not in much of the beginning of the film, which is where the characters are the least likable.

This may have been a product of the pace, but I didn't feel the strong emotional connection to The Holdovers that so many others have felt. The movie clearly has an emotional arc and climax, and, while the ending is good and satisfying and wraps up the characters perfectly, it did not have the emotional punch for me that I expected it to. I think it was because the film was so slow at the beginning and because I had trouble connecting to these characters when they were so unlikable.

Does This Movie Deserve It's Best Picture Nomination?

I love it when films replicate previous eras and are able to nail the period piece aspect, and the Academy seems to love that too, because good period pieces tend to receive Best Picture nominations. The Holdovers executes its 70s aesthetic to absolute perfection. That combined with the performances of Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph automatically earned this film a nomination. And I think that that nomination was deserved.

So, yes, The Holdovers deserved a Best Picture nod.

Final Thoughts and Score

While I did not love this film as much as a lot of other people, I still think it's a good replica of 70s films with a sweet story and great performances.

I will go Savory here. Age range is 12+.


Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)

Moldy (Terrible)

"The Holdovers"

Fun Factor: 6/10 Acting: 8.5/10

Story: 8/10

Characters: 8/10

Quality: 9/10

Directed by Alexander Payne

Rated R for language, suggestive material, thematic elements

Released on October 27, 2023

2 hours and 13 minutes

Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham

Dominic Sessa as Angus Tully

Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb

Carrie Preston as Lydia Crane

Brady Hepner as Teddy Kountze

Ian Dolley as Alex Ollerman

Jim Kaplan as Ye-Joon Park

Michael Provost as Jason Smith

Stephen Thorne as Thomas Tully

Andrew Garman as Dr. Hardy Woodrup

Gillian Vigman as Judy Clotfelter

Tate Donovan as Stanley Clotfelter


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