Friday, December 31, 2010

Movie with Abe: Another Year

Another Year
Directed by Mike Leigh
Released December 29, 2010

It’s fascinating to hear director Mike Leigh talk explain the way he makes movies. The six-time Oscar nominee creates characters and trains his actors to live and breath like the people they’re playing, constructing his own version of the script in his head as he goes along. After months of working with their characters, Leigh throws his actors together and builds a film. Often, his actors don’t even know what is supposed to happen next, making their performances all the more authentic. It may seem strange, but it’s a proven success given the extraordinary achievement of his many films, not least of which is his latest, “Another Year.”

It’s extremely difficult to summarize the plot of “Another Year,” and a viewing of the trailer doesn’t help matters much. Yet that’s exactly what Leigh is all about, crafting extraordinarily lifelike characters and then placing them into situations that aren’t nearly as crucial to the story as the definitions of their personalities. “Another Year” is an appropriate title because this is a simply a given year in the lives of these characters, and it’s the people that make it interesting rather than the sequence of events. For a film without a specific plot, this is an incredibly engaging experience full of realistic, believable conversations.

Leigh has a history of working with the same actors, often spotlighting one or two in a given film after they’ve played bit parts in his previous efforts. Last up was the wonderful Sally Hawkins, who does not appear here, in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” and before that, the incredible Imelda Staunton in “Vera Drake.” Staunton appears in just two short scenes in “Another Year,” but easily makes her mark. It’s often hard to distinguish between the lead players and the bit players, and that’s what makes a performance like that of Karina Fernandez as Katie, who is merely a tangential character, so surprisingly memorable. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are marvelous as a couple whose names happen to be Tom and Gerri, but the real find of this film is Lesley Manville, in her sixth collaboration with Leigh. Manville delivers one of the strongest performances of the year as the self-involved, blissfully ignorant but kind-hearted Mary, who attempts to live out her life through the happiness of others. The ensemble functions terrifically, and it’s difficult to classify all of the players as lead or supporting because no one is trying to steal the show and everyone is performing admirably. This film may not be constructed in the most typical fashion, but it’s entirely heartwarming and endearing, and ranks as one of this year’s best films.


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