As the film year approaches its end, the number of awards season contenders vying for Academy consideration continues to grow. One of the films on the rise in this conversation is the new Alexander Payne film, “The Holdovers,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was the runner-up for the prestigious TIFF People’s Choice Award. Payne’s drama-comedy film deals with the relationship between a grumpy teacher and a troubled student as they’re stuck together during Christmas at the school while everyone else goes home for the holidays. While many award pundits have “Oppenheimer,” “Poor Things” and “Killers Of The Flower Moon” fighting for Best Picture, many are wondering which film could pull a “Green Book,” “Parasite,” or “CODA” and come up the middle to win it all. That film is likely to be Payne’s latest.
Alexander Payne’s track record with the Academy cannot go unnoticed or be disregarded despite how many may feel about him or his films. Even with multiple gaps between projects, every time Payne releases a new film, it seems to garner the kind of critical responses and reactions within the industry to catapult it into the Best Picture race. “Election” received a screenplay nomination in 1999, “About Schmidt” received two acting nominations in 2022, “Sideways” received five Oscar nominations and won Best Adapted Screenplay in 2004, “The Descendants” also received five nominations with Payne winning again for Adapted Screenplay in 2011, and “Nebraska” was nominated for six Academy Awards marking Payne’s third Best Picture and Best Director nominations in a row. His awards success suffered a minor speed-bump with “Downsizing” in 2017, but now, with “The Holdovers,” he has another film that has already established itself as a return to form for the filmmaker and is offering a story, characters, and presentation audiences are responding to; a nostalgic throwback to the 1970s. Along with the acclaim of being a cynical yet feel-good holiday story, it’s being called Payne’s best film since “Sideways.” This will place it in the Academy’s good graces for nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director yet again, Best Original Screenplay for David Hemingson, potentially three acting nominations, and even Best Film Editing. Going the extra mile, a case can be made that “The Holdovers” will be that tiny film this year compared to the double-digit nominated films that could muster up enough goodwill to win Best Picture, especially if the camps for “Oppenheimer,” “Poor Things” and “Killers Of The Flower Moon” are split.
So what is “The Holdovers‘s” winning path toward a Best Picture win? There have been a few changes that have suggested this possibility. Lilly Gladstone’s declaration of campaigning in Best Actress has greatly boosted Da’Vine Joy Randolph in Best Supporting Actress to the point that she’s now considered number 1 or 2, depending on who you ask. Some may view Randolph as a simple placeholder until “The Color Purple” ladies Danielle Brooks and Taraji P. Henson are added to the conversation. Still, Randolph’s supporting role in “The Holdovers,” as the school’s head cook, has been very well received and she has a number of standout moments that steals the spotlight from Giamatti, making her the true heart and soul of the film. Should she stay in the frontrunner position and receive her first Oscar nomination (which she should’ve already been in consideration for with “Dolemite Is My Name” in 2019), then “The Holdovers” would have an acting win.
Another category “The Holdovers” is in serious contention for a win is Best Orginal Screenplay. However, the confused placement of “Barbie” in that category could make things more challenging for Payne’s film to win, given its mammoth success and opportunity to reward both Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach as a pair. “Past Lives” is another small underdog film with hit-or-miss awards chances for nominations outside of Best Orginal Screenplay. “Past Lives” has already been compared to “CODA” and “Parasite” multiple times by pundits as an early released film festival title that has been built up early by positive word of mouth and whose momentum could continue through the precursors with critics’ love. “Past Lives” could also make a play for Best Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor, thus becoming more competitive for an Original Screenplay win, making it the “Women Talking” of this year where the only logical place to acknowledge the director’s work is in the screenplay category. However, if “Past Lives” underperforms, and “Barbie” gets placed in Adapted or its screenplay chances never take off once we get to the televised awards, “The Holdovers” is a conventional but safe pick for voters as a feel-good holiday drama with likable performances.
The plot for “The Holdovers” may not match up to “Barbie’s” clever satire. Still, it has its own charms and intelligent, witty dialogue that can sway voters who voted for the more straightforward, crowd-pleasing films such as “Green Book” or “CODA” in Screenplay. These are movies that resonate with people, and based on the early word from festivals such as Telluride, Toronto, and now London, that’s exactly what “The Holdovers” is doing, and not many people are realizing it because it disrupts the narrative they’ve already told themselves how the Academy should vote this year.
If “Barbie” is in a situation like “Moonlight” was in 2016 and is instead put into the Best Adapted Screenplay category by the Academy, that makes Best Original Screenplay a likely battle between the smaller Best Picture nominated films “The Holdovers” and “Past Lives.” And if “Past Lives” somehow doesn’t get nominated for Best Picture, that will make an Original Screenplay win for “The Holdovers” a walk in the snow-covered park. With possible acting and screenplay wins, “The Holdovers” could use that package to win Best Picture. After all, such a package has seen films such as “12 Years A Slave,” “Moonlight,” “Green Book,” and “CODA” all win Best Picture in recent years., but with a potential package deal of Orginal Screenplay and Supporting Actress. Obviously, this is a lot of “ifs,” and if one thing doesn’t go right, then this path toward a winning package for “The Holdovers” could all come undone.
What do you think, though? Are we underestimating “The Holdovers” to be this year’s underdog with Oscar wins? Have you seen “The Holdovers” yet? If so, what did you think of it? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter Twitter and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.