HOLLYWOOD—Two weeks in a row, I have witnessed some fascinating cinema. First, “Saltburn” took me by surprise, and now “The Holdovers,” a flick I had been hearing some buzz about, was an exceptional piece of cinema with some terrific performances. For starters, Paul Giamatti, the guy is a talent on the big screen and the small screen, and delivers in this tale of a cranky, yet lonely teacher who has a simmering buildup that explodes during a climax that is so satisfying and gripping.

I have seen a lot of performances this year, he is indeed at the top of my list because it’s so nuanced and commanding that you don’t realize it until you reflect on the performance after the movie has ended. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, there is a reason she is getting the early awards season buzz as a cook who is grieving with an unimaginable loss. It is not what you would expect, but I loved every moment of her on the screen. She brings the comic relief and heart that the dramedy needs. Then, you have Dominic Sessa, who is superb as a troubled boarding student who has a mouth that can annoy anyone, but deep inside he is struggling with some turmoil, turmoil that ultimately unfolds as the movie reaches its climax.

I had low expectations for this one and just happened to be channel surfing, when I spotted the flick available on my streaming service Peacock, so I gave it a watch and it was two plus hours of pure bliss. I laughed, I cried, I found myself engulfed in this movie about a group of boarding schoolboys who find themselves stuck on campus during the Christmas holiday.

Yes, it is the time of year that everyone at least in our minds, leave school whether boarding or college to spend time with family, but rarely do we ask the age-old question about what happens to those who CANNOT get home? There is a loneliness there that I don’t even want to think about, not to mention, are their actual faculty who stay over to watch those kiddos or young adults who can’t make it home for the holiday. That is where we meet Angus Tully (Sessa) who is desperate to get home for the Christmas holiday in particular Boston.

However, his mother, who is quite cold, is focused on her relationship with her new lover, and that doesn’t please Angus at all. So he is staying on campus, but he will not be alone as a few other students will be joining him, including the annoying Teddy Kountze (Brady Hepner), and three others. At first, I wanted to know more about the other kids, which we get small slices, but as the movie progressed, I realized this was a movie really aimed at the dynamics of three people: Paul Hunham (Giamatti), Tully (Sessa) and Mary Lamb (Randolph).

Hunham is a bit of a loner, a cranky old guy, who tests his students in ways they never imagine. He is like the teacher from hell. Tully is repressing his emotions around his peers and adults; he lashes out as a way to deal with his emotions, and there is Mary, who is grieving her son, who was killed in the Vietnam War. She has put on a brave face, but utilizes laughter and jokes as a way to grieve until she can’t anymore in a scene that is haunting.

The characters collide and intertwine, and director Alexander Payne does these neat tricks with the camera where you feel immersed in the campus. You are not there, but the way the movie is shot it is so intimate and has an old-school feel to it, you feel like you’re at your high school or for me, like I was at my college. I believe that was Payne’s goal all along. To make the spectator feel like they could identify with our three core characters, and you have a piece of them throughout the entire film. The narrative for “The Holdovers” is quite engaging and you become more intertwined with the flick as it progresses, and I found myself surprised by some of the shifting dynamics.

Without a doubt, “The Holdovers” is one of the best flicks I have seen in 2023 that has an emotional punch that not many dramas can deliver in a way that sticks with you far after the movie ends. Get awards season ready because Randolph, Giamatti and Sessa should be the talk of the town with their performances.