Paul Giamatti Should Win Best Actor for ‘The Holdovers’—and Should Have Won For Something, For Anything, By Now

As much as Giamatti deserves an Oscar for The Holdovers, the movie that should have won him his first one is American Splendor. Anyone who’d say the same about Sideways is not wrong, but Sideways arguably doesn’t exist without American Splendor. American Splendor was nominated for a best adapted screenplay Oscar and won movie of the year at the AFI awards in 2004. Sideways was nominated for Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Thomas Hayden Church), Supporting Actress (Virginia Madsen), and won Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars, and also won movie of the year at the AFI Awards in 2005.

Ask yourself: what do you remember most about both movies? Paul fucking Giamatti. He’s the big, beating heart of both of them.

American Splendor is the perfect movie for Giamatti to have won an Oscar for, because it’s precisely about the Paul Giamatti Oscar problem. Giamatti plays Harvey Pekar, a file clerk at the VA Hospital in Cleveland. In an early scene, a young Harvey refuses to dress up as a superhero to go trick or treating. He simply can’t see himself that way, even as a child. This foreshadows Harvey’s later epiphany; that he, the ultimate “regular guy” leading a life of quiet desperation, should be the “hero” of his friend Robert Crumb’s comic books.

Later in the movie, Harvey’s nerd friend Toby (played by Judah Friedlander, giving a career-best performance of his own) is all hyped up about Revenge of the Nerds. To coin a phrase that had yet to really enter the lexicon in 2005, the film makes Toby “feel seen.” When Harvey finally sees the movie Toby has been raving about all this time, he’s disappointed, and explains as much to Toby in a brilliant scene:

“It’s an entertaining flick an’ I can see why you like it Toby, but those people on the screen ain’t even supposed to be you! They’re college students whose parents live in big houses in the suburbs. They’re gonna get degrees, get good jobs and… stop being nerds! Look Toby, the guys in that movie are not 28-year-old file clerks who live with their grandmothers in an ethnic ghetto. They didn’t get their computers like you did — by trading in a bunch of box tops for $49.50 at the supermarket. …Go to the movies and daydream, but “Revenge of the Nerds” ain’t reality. It’s just Hollywood bullshit.”

American Splendor, still the ultimate anti-biopic biopic, came out in 2003, and not nearly enough people saw it. And even if they had, and Giamatti had gotten nominated, he would’ve been up against a veritable murderer’s row: Jamie Foxx in Ray (who won), Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland (kind of a joke now, but he was genuinely great in that), Leo DiCaprio in The Aviator, and Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby. Which is to say: all handsome leading men in handsome, leading-man hero roles, strong jawlines and steely resolve all around. Giamatti never stood a chance.

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