The Oscars ceremony is just a couple of weeks away — on March 11. As always the speculation in media and of course social media is intense. The frontrunner is Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. The film has the tension and edginess that characterises Nolan’s film-making style. Cillian Murphy, who plays Oppenheimer, is also the favourite for the Best Actor Oscar.

But another movie that could not be farther away from the big-budget ‘Oppenheimer’ is Alexander Payne’s ‘The Holdovers’. This film set in a New England boarding school for boys in 1970 where the students are preparing to visit home for their Christmas break. But some students -- The Holdovers -- are forced to stay back at school and spend their vacation there. Paul Giamatti who plays the grumpy school teacher assigned to look after these students has turned in a masterful performance worthy of an Oscar. Giamatti as Payne fans will remember missed out several years ago for the film Sideways.

‘The Holdovers’, in terms of content, narrative style and film-making style could not be more different from ‘Oppenheimer’, and therein lies its charm. How three very different people -- a teacher, a student and a cook -- bond during a Christmas break they are forced to spend together is brought out dark humour, tenderness and warmth. Da’Vine Joy Randoph, who has deservedly won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting actor, plays the grief stricken cook -- her grief also brings out the wedges in race and class relations in US society. Dominic Sessa, the lonely and depressed student searching for familial affection, makes an impressive debut. Giamatti, who tries his best to shun people yet craves for their friendship, a man who’s often left to ponder what his life could have been, richly deserves an Oscar. Payne’s movie tells us how humour is at its best when it is dissecting melancholy and loneliness.