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Another Year

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Searched, and didn't find a thread for this.

So: Victor Morton gives it a "9", joining the chorus of raves that have hailed this as one of Leigh's very best. Which is exciting news indeed.

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'Tis indeed one of Leigh's best.

Re: one of vjmorton's comments:

In ANOTHER YEAR, the second consecutive British film I saw that takes place over one year and is segmented into four seasonal sequences, social mobility has happened. This is the first movie you’ll see in which sympathetic Mike Leigh characters are playing golf.

Ah, but Leigh shoots the game from very low angles that accentuate the transmission tower looming in the background; this is not a particularly high-end golf course. So the social mobility has only gone so far, or so it seems to me. (Not that the characters are complaining, mind.)

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So, Leigh is Jewish, right? Interesting. I am dying to hear what Christians think of this film. I don't see any published reviews that address what appear to be clearly Christian themes in this film -- and yes, I realize some behaviors and attributes are considered basic decencies, common across different faiths (and lack-of-faiths). But there's a lot to chew on here from a Christian perspective. Simple kindnesses and things like hospitality. FWIW, I was thinking of my visits to L'abri while watching this film.

Indeed, this may be the most Christian film I've seen this year. The fact that no one espouses Christian faith in the film (did I miss something obvious?) makes no difference. (There's a Christian funeral scene in the film, FWIW.) The married couple around whom the story revolves are wonderful people, imperfect but kind-hearted and generous. People come to them with their worries and fears, with good news and bad. And the couple reaches out to others who are hurting, who are newly widowed. They take care of their family, and their friends.

It all seems so simple and obvious, but it's amazing.

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Did anyone else receive a screener of this film? I ask because I was talking up the film to a couple of friends in my local critics group, and they both looked puzzled before telling me that they hadn't received the screener. I then told one of my PR contacts, who works with the studios on getting us screeners, about the situation, and she replied that Sony Classics hadn't sent screeners to anyone in my critics group as far as she knew.

So who the heck arranged for me to get the screener?

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I don't think I've ever received any screeners from Sony Pictures Classics, so I have no idea what's up there.

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I'll go with the stream and call this one of the year's best. Easily. One of the things that impresses me most about Leigh's last few films is his absolute economy as a director. Nothing has been permitted that isn't essential to the story. There isn't a single wasted shot or overlarge gesture. The riskiest artistic decision--having the closing shot of each scene linger a little longer than usual, followed by a slow fade to black--pays off marvelously, except in the very last instance, which quarantines one of the characters from the rest of the group, isolating her in her misery. We wait for what feels like a full minute for some kind of change to occur, a glimmer of humor, a deep breath, a smile. But nothing comes. It's a sad curtain, and unlike most of Leigh's endings, it doesn't leave you with a vague sense of optimism.

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Karina Longworth:

Unfolding in four episodes pegged to the seasons, Another Year’s arc covers the widening gulf between Tom and Gerri’s entitled contentment, and the increasingly bleak desperation of their family and friends. Ken and Mary, envious of Tom and Gerri’s bond to one another, seem to regard the couple’s home as a safe space in which to unload—apparently oblivious to the knowing looks that Tom and Gerri exchange right in front of them. The further the characters are etched, the harder it becomes to figure out with whom Leigh intends us to identify: Tom and Gerri’s horrible house guests, who you can’t help but pity for their clueless concern for only themselves? Or self-appointed “Saint Gerri” and her even more self-righteous partner, whose care for friends and family is never anything less than condescending?

In fact, the most interesting aspect of Another Year is its slow, subtle shift in perspective. We start out watching Mary behave awfully through the eyes of Gerri and Tom, whose smugness is equally awful (they’re such a unit that to get passive-aggressive, they both have to chip in—Gerri’s judgment is passive, Tom’s aggressive). But by the film’s final scene, as an unchanged Tom and Gerri finish one another’s sentences when telling an insufferable story about the time they traveled all over the world “and didn’t even have to do it cheaply,” we’re seeing the scene from the point of view of Mary, who—though humbled by a year’s worth of disappointment and defeat to the point of being physically depleted—is still totally awful, a needy drunk whose self-pity sends out stink waves. I haven’t seen a film this year that so openly invited me to revile each and every one of its characters—and I reviewed The Human Centipede.

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Nick Schager:

Leigh’s attention to character detail and interpersonal dynamics is as astute as ever, and his social critique is harshly even-handed, censuring both the judgmental middle-class Tom and Gerri as well as their pathetic working-class mates. . . . In the sight of Tom and Gerri tending to their farming allotment, Leigh conveys the amount of care and attention necessary to maintain a marriage, friendships and family, though Another Year’s primary concern is capturing a bone-deep sense of Mary, Ken, and Tom’s widowed brother Ronnie’s (David Bradley) desolation, all of them lonely and lost souls whose unhappiness is magnified by the juxtaposing presence of Tom and Gerri’s stable union.

Glenn Kenny:

Tom and Jerri are cheery, comfortable old lefties who've understood that they're not in a position to change the world anymore, and have gotten to be fine with that -- there's a correlation between this picture and Leigh's 1988 "High Hopes," in which a younger (obviously), punkier, leather-jacketed Sheen played one half of far a more agitated couple in Thatcherite Britain. As for Mary, her life is one (largely invented) turmoil after another, and the couple's dealings with her frantic plaints eventually get the viewer to wondering whether these nice, settled folks are really all that nice. Mary is very clearly an alcoholic. But the A-word is never once dropped in the film. And Jerri, who's a therapist herself, never even suggests counseling, or a support group, to Mary until an almost cruel hammer-dropping scene near the film's end. Tom and Jerri are so very polite, so very indulgent, so very correct in all their dealings, all the while dispensing conventional left-liberal wisdom spiked with conventional complacent cynicism whenever contemplating a crisis, be it global or local. But it's clear that all the while, they're stifling their own strong feelings of put-upon-ness and resentment. As much as you like them -- and maybe you won't like them, (that's one of the things about Leigh's films and their characters, they're so unusually and thoroughly textured that they never seem designed to elicit a simple response) -- you have to wonder if they're so besotted by their own comfort and contentment that they can't help but act as passive-aggressive near-monsters to the people they're supposedly close to.

These responses (combined with Karina's, above) are all rather interesting to me, as I don't remember having any particularly negative thoughts about Tom and Jerri; indeed, I have seen some other critics casually assert that Tom and Jerri are "good" people, and that's more or less how I responded to them, too. But, as always, I expect a second viewing would be most illuminating.

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These responses (combined with Karina's, above) are all rather interesting to me, as I don't remember having any particularly negative thoughts about Tom and Jerri; indeed, I have seen some other critics casually assert that Tom and Jerri are "good" people, and that's more or less how I responded to them, too. But, as always, I expect a second viewing would be most illuminating.

AMEN to all of that! To say these excerpted experiences of the film are foreign to my own would be a huge understatement, but seeing it expressed by people who, I presume, come from different places in terms of their views of "human goodness" makes me think a second viewing is in order.

However, that ain't gonna happen before I put together my Top 10 list. And guess which film will be sitting at number one? :)

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Indeed, this may be the most Christian film I've seen this year. The fact that no one espouses Christian faith in the film (did I miss something obvious?) makes no difference. (There's a Christian funeral scene in the film, FWIW.)

I don't usually assess if a film is Christian, so I can't say it is the most Christian film of the year, but I suspect my review will reference Gal. 5:22-23a. One of those reviews above is a bit insidious as it works into my brain. I don't see them as passive-aggressive cliches, but the question my wife had was why do they have such broken friends? Mary especially - who could stand 20 years of her? Is there something about being around such broken people that feeds them?

But no. I don't think I'm willing to go there.

Instead I'll look to their garden - and their jobs. They always seem to me working in the muck - the muck of compost, or of core samples (doesn't Tom seem to love looking at that dirt), or someone's emotional problem.

Maybe I did just go there.

Edit: Btw, does anyone else want to see the movie that is Imelda Staunton's story here?

Edited by Darrel Manson

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Edit: Btw, does anyone else want to see the movie that is Imelda Staunton's story here?

I kept waiting for her character to reappear. And waiting.

I don't use the term "Christian film" with any regularity. What I meant was that it espouses behaviors in line with a Christian way of life - Gal 5:22 seems apt to me, although, as I cautioned earlier, I don't think these characters are self-consciously religious.

The one scene I keep thinking about is toward the end of the film, when the husband and wife arrive home to find Mary in their home again, and the husband sees her, pauses -- and there's a flash of annoyance in his face. Maybe more than a flash. There she is again. It's clear that these people, as kind as they've been for as long as they've been, have their limits, and if those limits weren't demonstrated earlier (maybe they were, but I can't remember), we see them in that moment. I wonder if it's moments like that one that have other critics seeing the couple as cruel, etc., when I see it as humanizing and a bit of a relief: "Good people" aren't angels; they're just people, and their patience has a limit.

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I think they begin to cool toward Mary in Autumn.

Even though Tom and Gerri are central, this really is Mary's movie.

Yes, that scene you talk about is a sort of replay of Joe being there waiting for them. What a difference in the surprise response. I always wonder, given Leigh's method, to what extent all the actors knew what is going on in the scene.

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Even though Tom and Gerri are central, this really is Mary's movie.

Ah! Forget about the morality of boxing, and the other "good week at A&F" discussions you referenced elsewhere that don't particularly float my boat. Now HERE'S an argument I can engage! :)

The Washington area critics went through this during awards voting, and some of us think the movie failed to land a Manville nomination because of the confusion on this point. I believe BAFTA nominated Manville -- correctly, in case you're wondering what side of the fence I'm on -- as Best Supporting Actress, while Sony in the U.S. is pushing her as Best Actress. Its president or CEO or someone who can speak to the strategy has been quoted as saying it's Manville's story, even though he admits that she has less screen time than Ruth Sheen, who would be the other potential Best Actress nominee. I think it's the married couple's story. The characters revolve around them, not the other way around. I really need to see the film again, but my inclination is to think that the Brits have it right, and the Manville-is-the-lead strategy is a U.S. concoction that actually hurts Manville's awards chances and which is simply incorrect.

Edited by Christian

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I would also put her in the supporting category with most of your reasoning. It will be a shame if she ends up getting overlooked because of Sony's strategy. In fact, I think Mary is an example of how a strong supporting role can be the most important in the film - but that doesn't make it a "leading" role. Most of the other roles involve much more subtlety. (Gerri's line when Mary tries to assert that they work with old people too trying to maintain some sort of equality with Joe's girlfriend is a perfect example of such subtlety. The autumnal frost is very much in those few words.) Ken and Mary are not about subtlety, but especially Mary. She couldn't be subtle if her life depended on it. And we almost think it might. Her desperation grows from season to season.

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Christian wrote:

: To say these excerpted experiences of the film are foreign to my own would be a huge understatement, but seeing it expressed by people who, I presume, come from different places in terms of their views of "human goodness" makes me think a second viewing is in order.

Heh. Well, Kenny in particular has been very critical of Longworth in general, and both he and his commenters zeroed in on her review of this film at his blog, so yeah, they're definitely "coming from different places" on SOME level!

: I kept waiting for her character to reappear. And waiting.

It seems to me that many of Leigh's films feature one scene that kind of comes from out of nowhere, in which we come across one character who is even more out-of-step with the world around them than everyone else. Secrets & Lies has the scene with the original owner of the photography shop, Happy-Go-Lucky has the scene with the homeless guy, etc. But these scenes usually appear in the middle of the film somewhere. In Another Year, on the other hand, we get the Imelda Staunton scene at the very beginning. And while she is clearly a miserable person, the way she is thrust upon us without any context whatsoever makes her scene less "there but for the grace of God" (a line that is actually spoken aloud in Secrets & Lies) and more, well, funny, to judge by the reaction of the audience with whom I saw the film, at least. It sets an unusual or unexpected tone for the film as a whole.

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These responses (combined with Karina's, above) are all rather interesting to me, as I don't remember having any particularly negative thoughts about Tom and Jerri; indeed, I have seen some other critics casually assert that Tom and Jerri are "good" people, and that's more or less how I responded to them, too. But, as always, I expect a second viewing would be most illuminating.

And now, possibly continuing in that same vein, Steven Boone @ The House Next Door:

Another Year: Folks (like Karina Longworth) naively assume Mike Leigh is parading a bunch of grotesques for our amusement and/or consternation, but that says more about their cynicism than it does about Leigh's vision. The understanding he shows this film's most "pathetic" characters is towering. The only way you'll miss it is if you greet their explanations of why they're so needy and lost with the kind of condescension his two leads shower upon them. Everybody plays the fool, sometimes.

I really need to see this film again. Not only because it's a good film, but because I don't remember the lead characters being all that "condescending", per se. An occasional insensitive remark or two, perhaps -- they're not perfect, obviously -- but the remarks in question never seemed all that unearned, to me. At least not that I can recall.

And in fact, the more I think about this film, the less I think of the two leads and the more I think of their son, who is put in a very, very awkward situation by Mary. The fact that his parents choose to hang around with certain friends might indeed say something about THEM (about the parents, I mean), but you can hardly blame the son for that.

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Brett McCracken, in a post headlined "Portrayals of the Good", extols the Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen characters as "models of goodness & virtue", as "figures of hope", as people who "open their home and serve up grace to a parade of sad, lonely alcoholics" and whose house is "a haven, a place to escape–where good food, happy company, wise counsel and unconditional love are guaranteed. A rarity. But oh so needed."

He even says that Broadbent and Sheen "stand fi[r]m in their principles without condescending to those struggling around them" (emphasis added; see the above posts for why this particular statement is somewhat significant).

He also characterizes Mike Leigh's previous film, Happy-Go-Lucky, as a story about "a character of genuine optimism and grace".

It's interesting that Brett describes characters like these as people who "help the struggling get better". Is that, in fact, what we see in Another Year? Given how the film begins AND ends, can we truly say that the struggles faced by the Imelda Staunton or Lesley Manville characters have "gotten better"?

Just as a side note: Yes, I am one of those people who gets skeptical when evangelicals start throwing the word "grace" around a little too easily; if it isn't being used as a passive-aggressive weapon (a la "You need to be more grace-full... kind of like me"), it often gets invoked to smooth things over, to make tough, complicated situations look and feel a little prettier. In that vein, I am reminded of how Steven Spielberg once declared at the Oscars that Stanley Kubrick's films reflected "a vision of hope and wonder, of grace and of mystery." To put it mildly, that seems... inadequate.

But, at the same time, I don't want to assume that the Broadbent and Sheen characters AREN'T figures of grace in some sense. I'm just intrigued by the way a number of critics have found the characters "condescending", whereas we Christian critics seem to think they're better than that -- and, in Brent's case, he specifically states that the characters are NOT "condescending", though he does not seem to be saying this in reply to anyone else's critiques.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Brett McCracken, in a post headlined "Portrayals of the Good", extols the Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen characters as "models of goodness & virtue", as "figures of hope", as people who "open their home and serve up grace to a parade of sad, lonely alcoholics" and whose house is "a haven, a place to escape–where good food, happy company, wise counsel and unconditional love are guaranteed. A rarity. But oh so needed."

Good stuff from Brett. (Maybe he can work Another Year into his list of most trascendent films from this decade. :))

I recently rewatched the film because I needed to write it up for Crosswalk's "Best of 2010" movies list (I'll keep you in suspense as to where Another Year landed). I'm more certain now that Brett's take is correct, so I continue to be perplexed by how others see the characters of Tom and Gerri.

This made for an interesting capsule write-up of the film, as I struggled with precisely the issue Peter lays out below.

It's interesting that Brett describes characters like these as people who "help the struggling get better". Is that, in fact, what we see in Another Year? Given how the film begins AND ends, can we truly say that the struggles faced by the Imelda Staunton or Lesley Manville characters have "gotten better"?

Great observation, as it struck me on second viewing that not only does the film close with an image of despair, but it basically opens with the same image from another character (Staunton's, although some comments attributed to her as being in the opening scene are actually a few minutes later, after she's been referred by one worker to Sheen's character; their interaction takes place shortly thereafter.)

It's worth thinking about this because, rather than showing that Sheen is "condescending," I think it shows that sometimes our efforts to help people go unheeded. We can't fix everyone, and Sheen recognizes this over the years. Why, then, is her character punished by critics who normally applaud such realism? What, exactly, do they want from Sheen's character -- someone who mends, heals and sees positive results in the lives of her friends and acquaintances?

Life doesn't work like that, and I suspect that what REALLY troubles critics of this film -- and of Tom and Gerri's characters, in particular -- is that Tom and Gerri seem to accept this reality, while the critics, who so often champion "realism" in films, struggle to see characters who are so content in accepting this obvious truth.

Fair critique? Maybe not.

Edited by Christian

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In that vein, I am reminded of how Steven Spielberg once declared at the Oscars that Stanley Kubrick's films reflected "a vision of hope and wonder, of grace and of mystery." To put it mildly, that seems... inadequate.

No kidding.

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FWIW, my brief write-up of the film can be found here, along with Crosswalk's other "Honorable Mention" titles for its Best of 2010 list.

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I just caught up with Ebert's review:

He begins with Tom and Gerri, a North London couple who have been happily married for years. Immediately you can see the risks Leigh is prepared to take. A happy marriage? Between two wise and lovable people? Who are intelligent and alert to the real world? Not caricatures, not comforting, not cliches, but simply two people I wish I knew? I'd look forward to them every time I visited their house and be slow to leave.

(At Crosswalk, I had written this about this film: "[Tom and Gerri's] union is a happy one, their home always open to others, their spirits usually cheerful. Who wouldn't want to be their friends?")

It's nice to see that Ebert didn't find the couple condescending.

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This finally opens in Seattle on Friday. I'll be back in town Monday night, so maybe I can catch it on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Hey, Mike Hertenstein will be in the neighborhood. Maybe I can talk him into a late show.

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Tell him we said "Hi!"

Don't tell him I've still got his VHS copy of Hamoon...

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Ann Hornaday:

If "Rabbit Hole" and "Blue Valentine" have each exquisitely traced the contours of relationships on the ropes, Leigh's "Another Year" presents viewers with a rock-solid, decades-old marriage, secure in its moorings and smug in its harbor.

Oops, did I say smug? Well, let's let it stand. Because, seen from a different angle, the ritualized joys and habitual satisfactions of settled attachment can seem just a tad judgmental, just a bit patronizing to the less fortunate looking in. Only Leigh could find so much pathos in ripe, rounded happiness: As a double portrait of loneliness and intimacy, "Another Year" allows viewers to occupy both psychic spaces, nesting into the warm comforts of a long-lived-in home and then, on a dime, seeing it through the searching eyes of the marginalized figures that, over the course of 11 films, Leigh has so often championed. ...

As "Another Year" inexorably progresses, the limits of Tom and Gerri's friendship begin to strain. Happy families are all alike - tight little islands of fiercely defended contentment, meeting the incursions of smokers and drinkers and sad single friends with measured bonhomie and a conspiracy of meaningful glances ("poor thing").

But as clearly as Leigh sees Tom and Gerri through Mary's eyes, he just as frankly admires the life they've made for themselves through rectitude and hard work (both of them work in excavation, Tom as a geologist, Gerri as a social worker). If they're so encased in good fortune that they occasionally can't see the suffering around them ("Tasty!" Joe cluelessly says when one of his Indian clients says she works at a restaurant), they don't completely lack for compassion.

I like Hornaday's review, but FWIW, I don't think Leigh "sees Tom and Gerri through Mary's eyes." How could that be, when the couple is introduced first? At least Gerri is introduced first. I don't think Mary is part of the first scenes at Mary's workplace, but maybe I'm wrong.

As for the "poor thing" comment: What else is there to say about Mary? That's a pretty accurate description, the kind of thing you say when you recognize someone's sad situation, or maybe feel their pain.

Still, I'm OK with Hornaday's "allows viewers to occupy both psychic spaces," which is apt. We identify with Mary in her pain, but that doesn't mean we have to see Tom and Gerri as somehow unconcerned, or unwilling to fix her problems.

Edited by Christian

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What a beautiful film.

I got choked up several times in this film... not so much at how frustrated characters were ruining themselves, but at the turmoil in the faces and hearts of Tom and Gerri as they kept on offering grace and counsel, grace that was always taken, and counsel that was almost always refused.

I've experienced that many times. You see someone making bad decisions on a daily basis. You offer help. You muster the courage to make suggestions. And three weeks later, nothing's changed except your friends are that much closer to the kind of crisis that they can't come back from. And often it seems that the demands of needy friends are specifically timed for maximum inconvenience. That sounds self-centered, but it is comically true sometimes. Anne and I can sometimes predict when we'll hear from someone who only ever calls when there's trouble; it'll happen on the first weekend in months that we've an opportunity to spend some quality time together. Or it'll happen on a weekend when I have a burdensome deadline. And we'll fight to maintain our composure, to show patience and tenderness as we listen to elaborate excuses about a person's latest crisis.

I can really, really, relate to poor Tom in this movie. And yet I admire his longsuffering love. Mike Leigh did a great job of allowing us to marvel at the man's kindness even as we see the toll it is taking on him. We even see moments when he starts to lose his patience, then struggles to get it back again.

I often complain about the rarity of seeing a great marriage on the big screen. This one's worth its weight in gold.

And to those critics who see Tom and Gerri as condescending... wow. I just don't get it. I can't help but wonder: Are they just bound to be jealous and angry about others who enjoy a good relationship, and who possess a modest measure of material blessings, no matter how generously and graciously they use those blessings?

I agree, though, that this isn't a movie in which love helps broken people get better. Love just gives them a safe place to fall apart. And they just keep on crumbling.

Leslie Manville was very good, as everyone's saying, but her performance reminded me so much of Brenda Blethyn's trembling-cigarette/facial-earthquake performance in Secrets and Lies that I was much more impressed with Ruth Sheen, who created a character unlike any I can remember seeing in a movie before.

And Jim Broadbent: God bless him. I hope he's around for a long time to come. There's a certain kind of warmth he brings to his movies, and I can't think of another actor who will fill his shoes when he's gone.

I think I now have three favorite Leigh films: Secrets and Lies, Naked, and this one.

Edited by Overstreet

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