Nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, director Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers” is a return to the sardonic but humanistic storytelling of his early films, including “Election” and “About Schmidt,” with a slightly warmer, more open-hearted tone. Set in the 1970s, it evokes the auteur-driven movies of that time period, with its story of three misfits spending winter break together at a stuffy New England boarding school.
Where to stream “The Holdovers”
“The Holdovers” is streaming on Peacock
Abrasive, demanding classics teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), sullen student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) and melancholy cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) warily bond over the course of their time together, in a funny, feel-good story that never loses its edge. If you enjoyed Payne’s film in theaters or at home and are eager for more, here are five worthwhile movies like “The Holdovers” that encompass some of the same themes and concepts.
‘Dead Poets Society’
Like Paul Hunham, Robin Williams’ John Keating is a boarding school alum who returns to his upper-crust alma mater as a teacher and clashes with the administration. Set in the 1950s, “Dead Poets Society” is much more earnest than “The Holdovers,” and at times it can get a little cheesy. It’s also rousing and affecting, as Mr. Keating encourages his privileged students to think for themselves, rather than follow a preordained path toward Ivy League colleges and careers in law or medicine.
Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke play Mr. Keating’s most sensitive students, members of the Dead Poets Society, an underground poetry-reading group inspired by Mr. Keating’s own school days. Their rebellion against the strictures of 1950s elite society is both stirring and heartbreaking.
‘The Edge of Seventeen’
Sometimes dark cynicism is a better way for a teacher to reach a student than sincere enthusiasm, and that goes for both Paul Hunham and Max Bruner, the high school teacher played by Woody Harrelson in writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s smart, hilarious debut feature. Mr. Bruner is both impressed and exasperated by angsty student Nadine Franklin (Hailee Steinfeld), who comes to him for advice and sympathy.
Mr. Bruner clearly has a lot of affection for Nadine, even telling her that she’s his favorite student, but he also knows how to set boundaries and push back when she takes her nihilism too far. “The Edge of Seventeen” is a brilliant coming-of-age story about a teenager dealing with grief and jealousy, and Nadine’s friendship with Mr. Bruner is a key part of her growth as a person.
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The first collaboration between Payne and Giamatti also features Giamatti as a grumpy misanthropic teacher, whose snobbery manifests mainly in his attitudes about wine. Giamatti’s Miles Raymond is a frustrated writer, much like Paul Hunham, and he has a tendency to take out those frustrations on the people in his life, including his best friend Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) and his tentative love interest, waitress Maya Randall (Virginia Madsen).
As Miles and Jack take a trip through California’s wine country right before Jack’s impending wedding, they work out their issues both with each other and in their own lives, while spending time with Maya and her fellow waitress Stephanie (Sandra Oh). “Sideways” is sexier and more romantic than “The Holdovers,” but it’s still full of honest self-reflection, led by Giamatti’s prickly but endearing performance.
‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’
Staying alone at boarding school over winter break might not always be a life-affirming experience. It could also be a life-ending experience, if you’re in a horror movie like writer-director Oz Perkins’ chilling first film. Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton play a pair of students left behind at a snowbound Catholic academy during the holidays, where they are joined by a handful of nuns and also possibly a demonic entity.
Perkins divides “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” into three sections, all set in frigid upstate New York around the school, slowly revealing the horrific truth about what happened to the two girls. The empty school provides a perfect eerie location, a place where it’s easy to imagine someone who’s isolated and alone going slightly mad and turning to the dark arts for solace.
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‘All Is Bright’
Although it’s been downplayed in the marketing, “The Holdovers” is absolutely a Christmas movie, but it’s not Giamatti’s first time playing a holiday curmudgeon. Here he plays Dennis, an ex-con who teams up with his former partner Rene (Paul Rudd) for a semi-legal gig selling Christmas trees out of a vacant lot in New York City. Dennis resents Rene for avoiding prison time and for hooking up with Dennis’ ex-wife while Dennis was away, and the antagonistic dynamic between Giamatti and Rudd provides both laughs and pathos.
Like “The Holdovers,” “All Is Bright” takes a bittersweet approach to the holidays, as Dennis’ efforts to earn enough money to buy his daughter a piano encounter multiple setbacks. Giamatti is great at playing a disgruntled sad sack, and he brings that energy to this underrated holiday indie film.
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