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"Another Year," "Blue Valentine," More

"Class consciousness has frequently played a role in Mike Leigh's films, and not only because, as a storyteller whose native terrain is modern Britain, he can hardly hope to avoid it," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "And sure enough, the observant viewer of his splendidly rich and wise new feature, Another Year, will notice the shadows that an always-evolving system of social hierarchy casts over the passage of the seasons. But in this movie, as in its immediate precursor, Happy-Go-Lucky, Mr Leigh is also after a more elusive and troubling form of injustice, one that is almost cosmically mysterious even as it penetrates, and sometimes threatens to poison, the relationships that make up everyday life."

In Another Year, "we witness the blossoming and waning of a garden belonging to Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen)," explains Slate's Dana Stevens. "This loving older couple is surrounded by a network of younger, less contented single friends — the most difficult of whom is the scattered, melodramatic, perpetually tipsy Mary (an unforgettable Lesley Manville). Leigh's broad, compassionate vision, and the attention he pays to nature and the passage of time, recalls the late Eric Rohmer."

"I was ready to dismiss Another Year entirely until 'winter' rolled around," notes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Suddenly, the film had a look that perfectly matched its mood. Leigh and cinematographer Dick Pope create a somber, funereal atmosphere. The tone is closer to Ingmar Bergman than Todd Solondz. Manville dials down the histrionics considerably, finally granting her character a modicum of dignity. Another Year no longer feels so cruel or condescending. This turnaround isn't enough to completely salvage it, but it turns it from Leigh's worst film into an interesting, honorable failure."

Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky would disagree: "If only any other filmmaker working today could harness life's daily joys, tragedies, and all that difficult stuff in between with as much loving care." More from David Edelstein (New York), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 5/5) Karina Longworth (Voice), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 8.5/10), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, A-), Nick Schager (B+), Ella Taylor (NPR), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, 5/5) and Armond White (New York Press). Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and the New York Film Festival.

Interviews with Leigh: Ed Champion (audio, 23'32"), Eric Hynes (Vulture), Matt Mazur (PopMatters) and Mike Ryan (Movieline). Interviews with Jim Broadbent: Sam Adams (AV Club) and Kyle Buchanan (Vulture). And Aaron Hillis talks with Lesley Manville for the Voice.

"Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) meet cute and break bad in Blue Valentine, director Derek Cianfrance's viscerally raw and lyrically stylized reverie for first love lost," begins Paul Brunick in Slant. "This no-punches-pulled drama of marital collapse leaves its young leads as bruised and heartbroken as the title suggests, and it is, yes, devastatingly sad. Yet the emotional eddies of Gosling and William's relationship contain more memorably funny, screwball-cute, and swooningly romantic moments than this season's rompiest studio rom-coms. It will no doubt still prove 'too depressing' for some audiences. Others might object to the way Cianfrance drowns the sadness in style, finding it atmopsherically overwrought, or to the way his actors leaven their emotionally naked performances with moments of playful, low-key quirk.... But it works beautifully."

"When the MPAA handed Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine an NC-17 rating this fall, cynics suggested that the so-called 'kiss of death' was better publicity for the gently experimental marriage drama than anything famously crafty distributor Harvey Weinstein could buy," notes Karina Longworth in the Voice. "When the rating was reversed this month — downgraded to an R without a single cut to the film — after Weinstein himself reportedly appeared in front of the appeals board armed with a '200-page dossier of letters and arguments, as well as 3000 tweets,' it didn't seem so cynical to cite the controversy as a work of genius.... To be sure, anyone looking for porn here will be disappointed... In keeping with the rest of Cianfrance's picture, Blue Valentine's sex is both unimaginatively blunt and frustratingly obscured.... Even when transparently plumbing for depth, Cianfrance's film is frustratingly surface-bound in ways that reflect, if not out-and-out misogyny, then at least a lack of interest in imbuing his female character with the rich interior life and complicated morality he gives his male lead."

This is, of course, "not the first drama to toy with chronology in telling the story of a tumultuous relationship," writes Dennis Lim in a backgrounder for the NYT. "Harold Pinter's 1978 play Betrayal (filmed in 1983) depicts an adulterous affair from end to beginning. A couple of recent French domestic tragedies, Gaspar Noé's Irrevérsible and François Ozon's 5 x 2, similarly chart a backward progression, from misery to bliss. Madcap love stories like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and (500) Days of Summer have also experimented with scrambled timelines." Blue Valentine "is at once simpler and, in its way, more enigmatic. The movie cuts back and forth between the end and the beginning of a romance, and in omitting the six-year middle, invites the viewer to fill in the blanks."

"Throughout, Williams and Gosling find opportunities to transcend their formulaic confines, exuding a potent sense of in-the-moment rage, terror, and despondence," writes Nick Schager. "Nonetheless, Blue Valentine too often remains a surface-oriented affair." More from Richard Brody (New Yorker), David Edelstein (New York), Ambrose Heron (FILMdetail), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 3.5/5) Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Mary Pols (Time), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, A), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 5/5), AO Scott (NYT), Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times), Benjamin Strong (L), Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart (L), Scott Tobias (NPR), Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 8.5/10) and Farihah Zaman. Durga Chew-Bose talks with Cianfrance for Interview, Sam Adams with Williams for the AV Club, Nicole LaPorte with Gosling for the Daily Beast and James Rocchi with all of them for MSN Movies.

"When you have — as with The Way Back — an old-fashioned, grueling trek odyssey with plenty of far-off shots of tiny figures crossing a vast landscape, there's a danger in making it sound like an awards-season anachronism for the old folks," concedes Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily. "Describing the difficulties he had getting financing for his first film in seven years, director Peter Weir sounded surprisingly like a man who feels out of time: 'One [studio exec] said "We aren't in that kind of business anymore." I thought what kind of business? Show business?' Truly, Weir has more to offer than mere old-school, impress-through-sheer-scale spectacle.... The Way Back is based on a memoir whose veracity is questionable: someone may well have escaped from a Siberian gulag in 1940 and trudged with companions to India, but it probably wasn't author Slavomir Rawicz. Regardless, Weir's movie cleaves closely to the narrative. A group of Soviet prisoners — along with gruffly anonymous, American engineer Mr Smith (Ed Harris) — flee in the middle of a snowstorm and make their way through woods, fields, around towns, over railway and national borders, across deserts, ducking sandstorms, hiking over the Himalayas, etc. There's some of the inevitable wonkiness attending the spectacle of English actors attempting verrrrrry Rooooosian accents, but all the physicality is superb, which fortunately is some 70% of the movie."

"Some viewers may be suspicious," grants David Thomson in the New Republic. "They will note that National Geographic is one of the partners in the production, and they may say this pretty terrain reminds them of David Lean — which can be a way of letting a vicarious travelogue obscure the real history behind TE Lawrence or Dr Zhivago. I say that because The Way Back is not being widely understood, or appreciated." This is "a film that says this is a miraculous world, and the people in it are no less amazing. That view is not fashionable, I suppose, and so the best movie of 2010 is being badly neglected."

"[A]udiences are entitled to ask what value the story has — except, conceivably, as an image for humanity's long, persistent slog away from the prison of Soviet tyranny." The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "This, in fact, is the idea suggested in one late sequence: a historical newsreel montage showing the Poles' postwar communist rule, the Hungarian uprising, the Solidarity trade union, the fall of the Berlin Wall etc, all with a pair of trudging boots at the top of the frame. However, even if disbelieved in the literal sense, The Way Back is still an engaging, old-fashioned piece of storytelling" and "a robustly made picture, heartfelt, well executed with an exhilarating sense of reach and narrative ambition. Where it falls down is a lack of personal intensity to match the spectacle."

More from Philip French (Observer), Trevor Johnston (Time Out London, 3/5), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph, 4/4), Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2/4) and Matt Wolf (Arts Desk). Earlier: Reviews from Telluride. Viewing (5'58"). The Guardian's Steve Rose interviews Weir.

"If you took Ikiru, added a dash of The Sixth Sense, a dollop of A Woman Under the Influence, and then topped it off with a pinch of El Norte, you might end up with something resembling Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful," suggests Chris Wisniewski at Reverse Shot. "In his previous features, Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, [Iñárritu] and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga built a brand around their multicharacter/overlapping/achronological storytelling, and though each of those films yielded successively diminishing artistic returns, Iñárritu and Arriaga steadily ascended to the top ranks of international cinema.... The first of his films in which Arriaga was not involved (the two had a public creative divorce) and also the first to be set in Spain, Biutiful marks an apparent and rather self-conscious turning point in Iñárritu's career. The director, co-writing the screenplay with Armando Bo [and] Nicolas Giacobone, has largely dispensed with the kaleidoscopic narratives and melodramatic histrionics that distinguished and diminished his earlier movies. By comparison, Biutiful almost plays like a restrained tone poem — a self-assured character study of a dying man who is striving to somehow put his affairs in order before he runs out of time. And unlike those other films, which are uniformly ensemble pictures, Biutiful is built around a star turn: as Uxbal, a single father suffering, like Ikiru's indelible bureaucrat, from terminal cancer, Javier Bardem brings a quiet intensity that makes the movie appear better than it actually is."

"Oh sure, it'd be easy to lead off a review of Alejandro González Iñárritu's manipulatively misspelled melodrama with a joke about how it's 'rilly tearible,'" writes Time Out New York's David Fear. "But let's be honest: This movie's misuse of language in the service of easy emotional manhandling (the title comes from a child's scrawled drawing; pathos, people!) is the least of its crimes."

More from Ed Gonzalez (Slant, 2/4), Mark Jenkins (NPR), Eric Kohn (iW), Mary Pols (Time), Nick Schager (C), AO Scott (NYT), Scott Tobias (AV Club, C-), Armond White (NYP) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7/10). Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Interviews with Bardem: Kyle Buchanan (Vulture), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline). Bruce Bennett interviews Iñárritu for Vulture and Nicole Sperling talks with both for the LAT.



"Ghost stories work well in films because all films are essentially about characters who are there and not there — who are there in physical form and image yet also only exist in memory and energy." Miriam Bale in the L on The Strange Case of Angelica: Manoel de Oliveira "pushes some of those metaphors further, obviously identifying himself with the obsessive photographer who falls in love with his own work.... It is a satisfying film, slight enough to be flawless." More from Eric Kohn (iW), Nick Pinkerton (Voice, where J Hoberman named it his favorite film of the year), AO Scott (NYT), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 5/5) and James van Maanen. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and the NYFF. At the IFC Center in New York.

"The Oz in Mamoru Hosoda's excellent anime feature Summer Wars isn't somewhere over the rainbow but just a keystroke away," writes Rachel Saltz in the NYT. "It's a global virtual reality, and when things go wrong in Oz, watch out, real world: traffic tangles, and water mains burst. Worse, someone could launch a missile attack.... There's a lovely, unhurried quality to Mr Hosoda's storytelling, which nicely matches the clean, classically composed images of his outer story." But for Nicolas Rapold, writing in the Voice, "corn is corn, and when everyone starts pulling together... it's hard to appreciate things like the character detail amid the insufferably squealy voicing and arbitrary suspense." At the IFC Center.

Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows, screening at New York's Film Forum through January 4, is "one act of if-you-only-knew heroism after another," writes the L's Mark Asch, "and if it was an American movie you'd wonder whether the fedoras, cigarettes, and terse dialogue weren't brainwashing you for some Greatest Generation ball-washing, only this isn't an American movie, and couldn't be, because everyone in it knows they're going to die. And that's what Army of Shadows is about, mostly: broad, bespectacled Lino Ventura and dashing, ultimately substantial Jean-Pierre Cassel and iron-matronly Simone Signoret choose less to fight the Germans than to be killed by them. Maybe all Melville movies are about how to arrange the best possible death."

"If the illusion of functionality that sustains the North Korean state is achieved by a massive, coordinated system of performance and pageantry, then Danish documentarian Mads Brügger aims to fight theater with theater," writes Andrew Schenker, reviewing The Red Chapel for the L. "Since ultimately Brügger can't go very far at all, he has to settle for tiny acts of subversion... But even if his brand of theater is constantly neutered, Brügger's documenting of North Korea's far more successful theatrical project proves fascinating." More from Steve Erickson (Artforum), Neil Genzlinger (NYT), Eric Hynes (TONY, 4/5), Eric Kohn (iW) and Karina Longworth (Voice). Steve Dollar interviews Brügger for GreenCine Daily. At the IFC Center, where you can also catch Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed on the big screen.

"The ball scene that comprises The Leopard's full final third is justifiably famous, and the purplish claret, tawny flames in vintage candelabra, and fading frescoes look better than ever in this ravishing new restoration (cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno approved the process, which makes his Technirama compositions bloom again)." Justin Stewart in the L: "'Straddling two worlds and ill at ease in both,' the Prince stands helplessly by as Italy in 1860 moves toward Garibaldi's revolution and unification. In awe at the Leopard's graceful deportment and dignity, you mourn with him." Luchino Visconti's 1963 adaptation of Giuseppe de Lampedusa's classic novel opens tomorrow at Film Forum and runs through January 13. More from Eric Henderson (Slant, 3/4) and Keith Uhlich (TONY, 5/5).

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