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Boston critics honor ‘Holdovers,’ ‘Zone’; plus five mini-reviews

The Holdovers
Written by Tim Miller

Imagine debating about movies for eight hours straight.

Well, except for a pizza break.

That’s what the Boston Society of Film Critics did on Dec. 10 during its meeting to choose its 2023 award winners.

When it was over, “The Holdovers” and “The Zone of Interest” emerged on top.

The Holdovers

Paul Giamatti appears in “The Holdovers” The Boston Society of Film Critics named “The Holdovers” best film and Giamatti best actor for 2023. (Focus Features)
Paul Giamatti stars as Paul Hunham in director Alexander Payne’s THE HOLDOVERS, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Courtesy of FOCUS FEATURES / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC

“The Holdovers,” directed by Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”) and shot in Massachusetts, took the top prize, best film, and three others: best actor (Paul Giamatti), best supporting actress (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and best original screenplay (David Hemingson). The crowd-pleasing dramedy stars Giamatti as a bitter boarding-school teacher forced to spend the winter holiday break with students.

“The Zone of Interest,” a devastatingly understated Holocaust drama focusing on the everyday family life of Rudolf Hoss (Christian Friedel), commandant of the Auschwitz concentration and death camp, earned three awards: best non-English language film, and best director and best adapted screenplay for Jonathan Glazer (“Under the Skin”).

Of all of the award choices, the one that pleased me the most was Lily Gladstone getting best actress for “Killers of the Flower Moon.” To my mind, Gladstone’s less-is-much-much-more work in the epic Martin Scorsese drama was the cinematic highlight of the year (and I said as much during the BSFC discussion). My second favorite winner: Celine Song, best new filmmaker for “Past Lives.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” also picked up awards for best original score (Robbie Robertson) and best editing (Thelma Schoonmaker). Other winners: Ryan Gosling (“Barbie”), best supporting actor; Jonathan Ricquebourg (“The Taste of Things”), best cinematography; “Geographies of Solitude,” best documentary; “The Boy and the Heron,” best animated film; and “Oppenheimer,” best ensemble cast.

The BSFC has 25 members, including such noted critics as Ty Burr, Joyce Kulhawik, Gerald Peary, Peter Keough, Betsy Sherman and James Verniere. Dana Barbuto and I serve as the group’s co-presidents.

More info on the BSFC: boston film

Who has time to write?

It’s weird: With so many movies to see in such a short amount of time during award season, it doesn’t leave much time for many critics to actually write about them. I know of critics who have taken a vacation week in order to keep up. Sometimes they’ll watch three or four movies – maybe more – in a day. (It’s the same with film festivals, by the way. My record is five in a day – and one of the movies had a running time of over three hours.)

After all, there were more than 1,000 films that qualified for BSFC award consideration this year, and it’s not the first time that’s happened. And it all comes to a head in late November/early December, when in-theater advance screenings, and “For Your Consideration” discs and links, arrive like an avalanche. (By the way, I’m not complaining. I love it.)

So … I have some catching up to do.

Here are quick hits on five current movies:

“The Zone of Interest” (PG-13, 105 minutes, opening in theaters in

Zone of Interest

The Hoss family entertains while Auschwitz concentration and death camp looms in the background. (A24)

January). While Nazi commandant Hoss and his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Huller of “Anatomy of a Fall”), strive to create their idea of the perfect home, complete with beautiful garden, on the other side of the wall, from the camp, screams and shots are heard, and smoke is seen coming from crematorium. Without the horrific context, Hoss would be just another guy driven to seek success at work and the perks that come with it, and Hedwig simply a demanding, materialistic wife. Why worry about what atrocities are happening nearby, as long as you get yours? Glazer’s film, based on a novel by Martin Amis, seems especially appropriate, and important, for this period and its political climate of moral corruption and militant ignorance. **** (out of four)

“Godzilla Minus One” (PG-13, 124 minutes, in theaters). A nice surprise. Not only is the latest “Godzilla” another sci-fi monster movie, it’s a warm tale of survival, guilt and redemption. World War II is winding down, and a Japanese kamikaze pilot, Koichi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), lands on an island, claiming his plane has mechanical issues. (It’s not a good look for a kamikaze to return from a mission alive.) Things get worse. The towering lizard Godzilla attacks. Koichi survives again, and he’ll have a chance to redeem himself in a climactic battle with the gigantic critter. Meanwhile, he navigates life in war-torn Japan and finds love with an orphaned young woman (Minami Hamabe). ***

“Saltburn” (R, 131 minutes, in theaters). Actress Emerald Fennell’s feature-film debut as a writer-director, “Promising Young Woman” (2020), earned her an Oscar nomination for best director and an Oscar win for best original screenplay. One of my favorite films, it’s an angry, moving dramedy-as-social-commentary about a young woman (Carey Mulligan, phenomenal) seeking revenge for the suicide of a friend who had been raped. Fennell’s follow-up, “Saltburn,” takes a similarly bitter satirical approach to class division (and romantic obsession), but without the previous film’s emotional core. It stars Barry Keoghan as a nerdy scholarship student at Oxford University who befriends a popular, charismatic classmate (Jacob Elordi) and is invited to his new friend’s spoiled family’s country manor. This black comedy is smart, but mean – and ultimately hollow. **½

“Napoleon” (R, 158 minutes, in theaters). Director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) sure knows how to shoot breathtaking battle scenes. (Note to self: Careful on that ice!). But was Napoleon Bonaparte really as dull as portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix? Maybe – I didn’t know the guy. But it doesn’t make for a compelling central character of a historical epic. Vanessa Kirby injects some life into things as Nap’s wife, the former courtesan Josephine. **½

“Thanksgiving” (R, 106 minutes, in theaters). The latest gorefest from Eli Roth (“Hostel”) is a typical slasher flick with the gimmick of being set in Plymouth, Mass., over two Thanksgivings, the killer wearing a Gov. John Carver mask. The film loses points for being shot in Hamilton, Ontario, (and Toronto) instead of Plymouth. It’s not a turkey, but it’s also not as clever as Roth wants it to be. **

And there’s more …

For reviews of “The Holdovers,” “The Killer,” “The Stones and Brian Jones,” “The Marvels” and “Priscilla”: Click here

For a review of “Killers of the Flower Moon”: Click here. 

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller, Movie Critic

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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