In an 11.12 Variety essay Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman conveys general of Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers. But he also discretely pisses on its pants leg or, you know, its desert boot.

“I like The Holdovers fine; I just don’t love it,” Gleiberman states. “Like Sideways, it’s a journey of redemption. Yet Paul Giamatti‘s ancient history teacher, in his mournfully witty and gnarled misanthropic way, is such a controlled, hemmed-in character that it’s hard to feel the force, however buried, of anything wild in him.”

Gleiberman laments that Giamatti’s Paul Hunham, like SidewaysMiles Raymond, doesn’t have more volcanic turbulence inside him. But Hunham is roughly 15 years older than Raymond, and isn’t even a struggling would-be novelist. His arc, obviously, is about somehow putting aside the knee-jerk disdain and behaving more like a human being.

“But in terms of how it stacks up in this year’s awards sweepstakes, I think The Holdovers now occupies a very ironic place,” Gleiberman goes on. “It’s competing with films, like Oppenheimer and Poor Things and Maestro and Barbie and Killers of the Flower Moon, that feel far more of their own time (even though several of them are rooted in history).

“Will The Holdovers have traction, at the box office and in the awards race? If so, it could be the contender that occupies what you might call the Green Book niche — a kind of retro comfort-food zone destined to appeal to more traditional Academy voters.

“For The Holdovers is at heart an odyssey of nostalgia that’s being sold as a holiday feel-good movie. The grand and rather nagging paradox at the heart of the film is that it’s a planned-out version of a ‘free form’ movie. The ’70s film it most recalls is The Last Detail, the Hal Ashby classic about three sailors, led by Jack Nicholson, wandering from city to city on a quiet odyssey of remorseful discovery.

“Watching The Last Detail, you always feel like you’re glimpsing lives that extend beyond the frame of the movie itself. The Holdovers, by contrast, is a movie where you can feel the calculation that went into every last detail.”

That’s not fair. Are you going to tell me, Owen, that Last Detail screenwriter Robert Towne didn’t carefully rewrite and hone and chisel every last line so it would deliver just so? Of course he did, and then Ashby and Nicholson probably chiselled and refined and maybe improvised a bit more on a page-by-page basis.