The Holdovers | Paul Giamatti teams up with ‘Sideways’ director Alexander Payne once again - what is it about?

After receiving numerous critical plaudits during its festival run, Alexander Payne’s ‘The Holdoves’ arrives in cinemas this month.

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It's been 19 years since the release of Alexander Payne’s critically acclaimed picture, ‘Sideways’ first screened to audiences, and 19 years later the director once again works with Paul Giamatti in his festival-darling ‘The Holdovers,’ released this week. Having debuted at the 50th Tellrude Festival earlier this year, the film saw its screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival practically sold out.

This isn’t a surprise given the strong reviews and (very) early Oscar buzz surrounding Payne’s latest film, casting the always remarkable Giamatti as the cranky teacher Paul Hunham, charged with looking after four students during the Christmas break. The timing of the release in cinemas in that case feels rather apt.

Reviews for the film have been glowing, with some critics believing it’s a return to form for Payne, who had a few ‘misses’ after his early successes, with Richard Roper of the Chicago Sun-Times providing a glowing commentary on Giamatti’s performance: “Nearly 20 years after Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti teamed up for Sideways, they’re reunited for the wintry character study, with Giamatti once again turning in masterful work as a hard-tippling misanthrope…”

That early Oscar buzz is a serious matter too: Gold Derby, in their rundown of early Academy Award 2024 odds, have ‘The Holdover’ as a 10/1 favourite for the Best Picture award (behind ‘Oppenheimer,’ ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ ‘Poor Things’ and of course ‘Barbie’) and Paul Giamatti the fourth favourite at present to with the Best Actor award, just behind the likes of Cillian Murphy, Leonard DiCaprio and Bradley Cooper in his Leonard Bernstein biopic, ‘Maestro.’

So what is the film all about, is it worth the fuss and what other movies by Alexander Payne, ‘Sideways’ aside, are worth checking out ahead of the release of ‘The Holdovers’ this month?

What is ‘The Holdovers’ about?

“A curmudgeonly instructor at a New England prep school remains on campus during Christmas break to babysit a handful of students with nowhere to go. He soon forms an unlikely bond with a brainy but damaged troublemaker, and with the school's head cook, a woman who just lost a son in the Vietnam War.”

Who stars alongside Paul Giamatti in ‘The Holdovers’

We’re pleased to see a rare outing for the voice of Disney’s ‘Hercules’ and one-time love interest of Jennifer Anniston return to our screens, with Tate Donavan cast in one of the co-starring roles in the film. The main cast list, as per IMDB, is as follows:

  • Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham
  • Dominic Sessa as Angus Tully
  • Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb
  • Carrie Preston as Miss Lydia Crane
  • Gillian Vigman as Judy Clotfelter
  • Tate Donovan as Stanley Clotfelter

Are there any other Alexander Payne movies I should aside from ‘Sideways’?

With a filmography comprising eight directorial efforts, ‘Sideways’ may have the Oscar glory behind it, but it’s certainly not the only critically revered film in his body of work. His sophomore effort, ‘Election,’ has become a cult classic with Reese Witherspoon’s insufferable overachiever Tracy Flick becoming part of popular culture and synonymous with the idea of an overly-entitled student. He followed this up with the Jack Nicholson led ‘About Schmidt’ in 2002, leading him to win the Best Screenplay at the 60th Golden Globe Awards.

He also directed the Oscar-winning George Clooney feature, ‘The Descendents’ in 2011, which led writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash to pick up the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. However, there were rough waters after the release of his 2017 sci-fi dramedy ‘Downsizing’ with Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz; it currently holds a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the most scathing review coming from, David Sims of The Atlantic, writing: "If Payne had landed the mix of genres, Downsizing could have been a masterpiece. Spoiler (small print not required): He does not.

Alexander Payne filmography (as director)

  • 1996: Citizen Ruth
  • 1999: Election
  • 2002: About Schmidt
  • 2004: Sideways
  • 2011: The Descendants
  • 2013: Nebraska
  • 2017: Downsizing
  • 2023: The Holdovers

When is ‘The Holdovers’ released in UK cinemas?

Alexander Payne’s ‘The Holdovers’ screens in UK cinemas from November 10 2023.

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