Every awards season, UK-based cinephiles are forced to be patient when it comes to watching some of the year's most acclaimed Hollywood films.


While would-be Oscar contenders are typically released in November and December across the pond, they tend not to arrive on these shores until the following January and February, a practise that can lead to not-insubstantial frustration among film fans desperate to see what all the fuss is about.

Now, generally speaking, I find that these frustrations can be a little overstated. A great film is a great film after all, and – to use one recent example – fans watching Poor Things in January will get just as much enjoyment as those who saw it in November. A delay of a couple of months really isn't that long to wait.

But there is one film in this year's awards crop for which this logic doesn't hold. A film that certainly would have benefited enormously from a release at the tail end of 2023, and for which a mid-January release doesn't seem to make much sense at all. I'm talking, of course, about Alexander Payne's The Holdovers.

The film, which has won great acclaim and seen two of its stars (Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph) emerge as major players in the awards race, is a beautifully written and performed piece of cinema that seems certain to be a real crowd-pleaser.

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And the thing that makes its UK release date so galling is that it is – quite unambiguously – a Christmas film.

This isn't an example of one of those films that is merely Christmas-adjacent, set over the Yuletide period but otherwise relatively divorced from the things we tend to associate with the festive season.

No, this is a film that screams Christmas in nearly every frame, from its setting to its music to its themes. Put it this way: there certainly won't be any debate 20 or so years from now as to whether we can truly count The Holdovers as a festive film.

From an early school choir rendition of O Little Town of Bethlehem onwards, the soundtrack is peppered with a vast array of carols and other popular Christmas tunes; a snow globe containing Santa plays a major role in the film's plot; there is snow, tree decorations and other Yuletide references in just about every scene; and, perhaps most vitally, the film champions the qualities that have come to represent Christmas spirit - redemption, renewal and generosity.

And so, the decision to release it in mid-January, when discarded Christmas trees are lining the streets and turkey dinners are becoming a distant memory, is utterly baffling.

Indeed, it's all the more bizarre when we consider that, in recent years, we've been crying out for great new Christmas movies to add to the canon. Last year marked the 20-year anniversaries of both Elf and Love Actually, and it's been commonly remarked upon that in the two decades since, few films have emerged that could genuinely lay claim to the title of Christmas classic.

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Instead, every December for the last few years we've had to make do with a glut of usually fairly dreadful made-for-streaming films and the odd lacklustre cinema release, few of which have been rewatched with much fervour in subsequent years.

The Holdovers is a brilliant antidote to this: a film that is tender but not twee, sentimental but not schmaltzy. It's hard not to imagine that, if marketed well, it would go down a storm with audiences in the run-up to Christmas Day.

The actual reason for its January release is relatively straightforward, and is primarily to do with Oscar campaigning – with the film hoping to compete on a number of fronts when the Academy Awards ceremony rolls around in March.

But even if this is undoubtedly not the most ideal time for the film's release, don't let that put you off: The Holdovers is well worth a watch at any time of year, and many of its messages will chime just as well whenever you watch it.

Besides, the great thing about true Christmas classics is that they stand the test of time. The Holdovers will still be here next December – perhaps it might even make its way back into cinemas – and so, in the interest of Christmas spirit, perhaps we should look ahead to future festive viewings, rather than dwelling too much on its UK release, as puzzling as it may be.

The Holdovers is released in UK cinemas on Friday 19th January 2024. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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