Actor Paul Giamatti's career-best performance came in writer/director Alexander Payne's 2004 film Sideways. Giamatti should have received an Oscar nomination for that work but did not. Here's hoping the Oscars correct that mistake by nominating him for his equally excellent work in Payne's terrific new comedy-drama The Holdovers.
Giamatti plays Mr. Hunham, a very strict ancient civilizations teacher at a ritzy boarding school in 1970 Massachusetts. He is stuck with caring for the few students with nowhere to go during Christmas break. The assignment is a punishment for his refusal to raise the grade of a senator's son.
Shortly after beginning the break, Giamatti is down to one student, Angus (Dominic Sessa), as well as the cook, Mary (Da'vine Joy Randolph). Angus' mom is on honeymoon with his new stepfather. Mary is grieving the recent death of her son, who could not afford college and thus could not get a draft deferment for Vietnam.
All three are outcasts for various reasons. Hunham is too stubborn to be a darling of the administration and he regularly lectures his students on their unearned privilege, as many of the kids he teaches will go on to be legacy admissions at Ivy League schools. Angus also has a big mouth and has been kicked out of multiple schools. Mary is an outcast because of her class and ethnicity. So even though the characters are in conflict early, it does make sense that they would slowly bond and find common ground.
Giamatti deserves an Oscar nomination, but Randolph and newcomer Sessa would also be worthy nominees. The Holdovers is one of the year's best films and it deserves to find an audience in theaters, so go see it if you want a break from superhero and video game movies.