The Holdovers

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Holdovers]

This movie is nominated for five, count 'em, five Oscars: Best Picture; Best Actor (Paul Giamatti); Best Actress (Da'Vine Joy Randolph); Best Original Screenplay; and Best Achievement in Film Editing.

I will quibble with that nomination for editing. It's two hours and 13 minutes. A real achievement would have snipped it down to less than two hours. I am with Hugh Grant on this: ""Oompa Loompa doompety dong, most of these films were, frankly, too long,"

But it is, of course, good. (And, after some initial ads, streaming on Peacock.) It is set in 1970-1971. Giamatti plays Paul Hunham, an Ancient Civilization teacher at "Barton Academy", an all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts. (IMDB says it was filmed at a number of actual schools around the state.) Hunham is a cranky, hard-grading tyrant in the classroom, widely disrespected for his lazy eye and pungent odor. It's a time of ferment, and the school's headmaster also despises him for his willingness to flunk the sons of school donors.

And he's roped into taking care of the "holdovers", students who have nowhere to go for the school's Christmas break. Among these hapless students is Angus, a rebellious but intelligent student who's already been kicked out of three prep schools. (Next stop is a no-nonsense military academy, which Angus dreads, but can't seem to avoid his trajectory.)

Also on hand is the school's head cook, Mary (played by Ms. Randolph); she's Aftican-American, obese, and in mourning for her son Curtis, a graduate of Barton, killed in Vietnam. Even though she's invited to her sister's place in Roxbury, she'd rather hole up at Barton over Christmas with her grief.

The chemistry between the characters is believable. Their antics over break are occasionally zany, often poignant and revealing. This includes an impromptu "field trip" to Boston, which the filmmakers diligently reconstruct, down to the storefronts and cars. (For New Englanders: the view of the Boston skyline includes the Prudential Center, but not the John Hancock Tower.) Where's the Oscar nomination for Production Design?