Saturday, January 29, 2011

Another Year

Mike Leigh's last film, "Happy-Go-Lucky," may be a bit more consistent than his new work, "Another Year," but the latter is much more heartrending. It sees geologist Tom (Jim Broadbent) and his counselor wife Gerri (Ruth Sheen) through one year of their life (with season-titled sections a la "Rushmore"). People who see this film are bound immediately to think of them as "happy," but if their life is as taxing every year as it is in the year profiled in this film, maybe not entirely.

They are routinely imposed upon by clingy work friend Mary (Lesley Manville), who always gets embarrassingly hammered when she comes over and who wears her emotions on her sleeves. When she comes over for the first time in the film (obviously following many unseen occasions), we are let on that the patience of Tom and Gerri is nearing its end. Also making appearances is old friend Ken (Peter Wight), way overweight and sinking into extreme excess. Ken has a thing for Mary, but Mary makes no pretense in admitting that she wants him to go away. This is similar to her courtship of Joe (Oliver Maltman), the witty only child of Tom and Gerri, who is a bit more tactful in his rejection of her. A horrific scene, though, results when Mary icily receives Joe's lover Katie (Karina Fernandez).

There are also characters that come in on the bookends. In an intriguing non sequiter which is supposed to be a sort of entry point for the audience, we meet a client of Gerri's, Janet (Imelda Staunton), who is having a terrible time trying to sleep. And at the end, Tom's brother Ronnie (David Bradley) and his caustic son Carl (Martin Savage, aptly named for the character) come into the fray when Ronnie's wife dies and there is a funeral.

Leigh's meticulous and traditionally droll script deserves to the win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, the only nomination that the film has garnered. It's impressively controlled and subtle (letting on instead of screaming out), putting it above any other screenplay in its field this year. Not that all of the sections are equally good ("Summer" and "Fall" work much better than "Spring" and the "You, the Living"-esque "Winter" in my opinion), but that would be nearly impossible to do.

The acting is seriously good from everyone. Manville has gotten a lot of attention, and she deserves a good portion of it. She makes some great choices in how she plays scenes, and maybe, if you really want to scrutinize, a misstep or two (the first drunk scene, possibly). I totally agree with those who say that she's unbearable, which is exactly what she needs to be, a combination of needing and spiting. Should she have gotten an Oscar nomination? Yes. Either field, Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress, has at least one less deserving candidate than Manville. I admire Sheen, too, who should have also garnered some attention.

The biggest criticism I've heard of this movie is that it is that it "invites you to revile its characters." I can see that in a couple of instances (especially the final shot, an instance of bravura camera technique but on some level misplayed), but I find that the film mostly transcends this by captivating and distracting you. Unfortunately overlooked in both the 2010 Cannes competition (yet another film better than both the Palme and Gran Prix winners) and the Oscar field that was originally supposed to serve as consolation, "Another Year" is a film that I will want to revisit (like last week's "The Illusionist"). Maybe I'll even do that on an annual basis. B+

No comments: