Why 1970s comedy drama The Holdovers has Hollywood in a spin as awards season kicks off

Up against industry heavyweights at the Golden Globes Awards this week, two stars of an unlikely, feel-good film, The Holdovers, walked away with the top acting prizes.

Veteran Sideways actor and star of Billions Paul Giamatti overcame Oscar winners Nicolas Cage, Matt Damon and Joaquin Phoenix to win best actor for playing a snarly school teacher forced to spend the 1970 Christmas break looking after students with nowhere to go at a New England boarding school.

Starring alongside Giamatti is Yale drama school alumni, 37-year-old Da’Vine Joy Randolph – who a week earlier at the 35th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards won the award for her breakthrough performance as the cafeteria lady, also with nowhere to go after her son was killed in the Vietnam War.

She pushed aside equally worthy winners including Jodie Foster, Julianne Moore, Emily Blunt and Rosamund Pike to claim the golden statuette.

Plucked out of nowhere, drama student Dominic Sessa plays the last remaining teenager left on his own.

What is going on? And why is this movie the hottest holiday hit in the US right now [premiering in Australia on Thursday]?

“It is a small, intimate ensemble, a character study, that you don’t see a ton of,” Giamatti, 56, tells IndieWire, as word-of-mouth support for the film gathers momentum.

“But it’s done in an appealing, accessible way. People are connecting to this simple story of a found family, and a simple demonstration of empathy and the compassion people have for each other.

“And people love that British prep school thing, Harry Potter is that stuff. It is a Christmas movie. But it’s the simple, compassionate thing between these three very disparate people.”

Paul Giamatti, the history teacher, in a scene from The Holdovers. Photo: AAP

Giamatti’s Globes acceptance speech at the Beverly Hilton goes some way to show his broad appeal, as he attempted to bring some light and humour to a ceremony that got off to a bad start with a sexist monologue by US stand-up comedian Jo Koy.

This is his third Globes win, after bagging the top prize for John Adams (2008) and Barney’s Version (2010),

Packed with film and television’s biggest actors, directors and artists, the audience gave him a standing ovation as he walked to the stage.

“My knees, so many stairs, getting up and sitting down all night … I’m never going to be in John Wick 5 at this rate,” he joked.

He also dedicated the award to teachers everywhere.

“It’s a movie about a teacher. I play a teacher and I come from a whole family of teachers going back generations, and teachers are good people and you gotta respect them. This is for teachers as well,” he said.

Keeping it real after his win fuelled further adoration, Giamatti left the official Universal studio party and was spotted at fast food joint In-N-Out, celebrating with a burger and fries.

“This is the most Paul Giamatti thing I’ve ever seen,” LA-based entertainment writer, Zoe Rose Bryant wrote.

Oscar buzz

The Holdovers‘ US film director Alexander Payne has twice won the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for co-writing Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011).

He was also nominated for a best director Oscar for these two films and for the 2013 road film, Nebraska.

Payne’s film was nominated in the best film (musical or comedy) at this year’s Globes alongside Barbie, Air, May December and American Fiction, but lost out to Poor Things starring Emma Stone as a reimagined female Frankenstein.

Interestingly, it has grossed just $US21 million in box office receipts to date, compared to Barbie‘s $US1.44 billion worldwide.

Giamatti last collaborated with Payne on Sideways, and says Payne knows how to pick the right actors to set the tone.

“We have a good shared sensibility and a strong sense that we’re making the same movie together,” the filmmaker told IndieWire.

“I felt that 20 years ago with Sideways and I felt it again now. For me as a director, and with these screenplays, he’s somehow the perfect vessel of tone.

“He can do comic things dramatically, and dramatic things with great comic panache.”

So much so awards watchers reckon Academy voters have a chance to show their love for Giamatti and Payne, and deliver it a swag of Oscar nominations before closing date in February.

The Holdovers premieres in cinemas nationally on Thursday, January 11

Topics: Hollywood
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