Alexander Payne‘s The Holdovers is going to be excellent…that’s fairly obvious. And this time Paul Giamatti, as a tough-minded but emotionally pained professor at a prep school (Deerfield Academy), may actually get nominated for and perhaps even win a Best Actor Oscar, an award that he should have won 18 years ago for his Miles Raymond performance in Payne’s Sideways (’04).

Don’t forget — the Academy didn’t even nominate Giamatti for that superbly sad-but-hilarious, on-target performance.

The Holdovers is set during the 1970 (and early ’71) Christmas holiday, partly at Deerfield and partly at the rich-guy mansion** of young Angus (Dominic Sessa), who has no family to hang with during Christmas because his wealthy parents are dicks.

Written by David Hemingson, it’s essentially a four-character piece (Giamatti, Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Carrie Preston) in which Giamatti gradually steps into the parental void as he gruffly bonds with Sessa, etc. Randolph plays Deerfield’s head cook, Mary, whose son was recently killed in Vietnam. Meanwhile Angus’s budding relationship with Preston’s Lydia Crane….actually, I’m unsure about this aspect.

It’s not just the trailer’s atmospheric details that convey the early Nixon era (dates on grading papers, longish hair and sideburns, color scheme, Badfinger‘s “No Matter What”) but the somber-toned, square-jawed, semi-stentorian narration at the very beginning.

For reference: Peter Weir‘s Dead Poets Society (’89) is set in 1959 at Welton Academy, a fictional elite boarding school.

** I’m not 100% certain of this setting.