"Mike Leigh is often accused of talking down to his characters," notes Slant's Ed Gonzalez. "With Another Year, this fan of the British auteur can see why. Leigh's latest is a lovingly told but insufficiently nuanced story of four seasons, a year in the lives of a happy couple and their miserably single friends. It begins in spring with a close-up of a face locked in abject misery: Asked by a counselor how happy she is on a scale from one to 10, Janet (Imelda Staunton) says one, in effect setting the tone for much of the film. The only happiness here belongs to Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and her husband, Tom (Jim Broadbent), whose relationship is as organic as the vegetables they grow in their backyard, but what's their secret? No one's asking, including Leigh."
"As alike and unalike as trees." Glenn Kenny tracks the origins of the simile and then gets going: "One could say the same about the films of British director Mike Leigh, and at this late stage of his career it seems that the alikeness is beginning to wear on certain critics. I'm not one of them, and I would (gently) counsel those who take him for granted that they ought not. Because nobody makes films that feel and play the way his do, for better or for worse, and after he's gone, it's doubtful that anybody else is going to. His deep-dish method of creation — involving intensive preparation with his actors and a huge amount of controlled and oft turned-over improvisation — has been much discussed in various venues; but as Leigh himself pointed out in the post-press-screening Q&A for the film the other day (during which various journalists donned all manner of metaphorical 'kick me' signs which Leigh did not follow, but did acknowledge the existence of, let's say), it's the finished, polished product that finally counts. I found this particular product thoroughly engrossing, personally galvanizing, and a little problematic all at once. A thoroughly successful Leigh film, in other words, going by a certain yardstick."
"Leigh's films," writes the L's Mark Asch, "as many have observed, are about the collective, communal spirit, whether present (Happy-Go-Lucky uplifting attitudes and a nurturing education system), absent (Naked's many tragic loners, none of whom seem to connect amid the teeming humanity) or somewhere in between (Vera Drake's titular postwar abortionist, who steps in to 'help girls in trouble' when the state won't)." As for Another Year, "what carries through here is Leigh and his collaborators' belief in the beautiful necessity of human relations, couched with a very human a tonal register that encompasses everything from domestic bliss to mild techtiness to awkward comedy to a sense, present in wistful conversations about past or deferred holidays, of our too-brief span in the sun."
"So intimate as to remind you not only of your own family, but also your own dreams and fears, Another Year will wreck you like no other film in the fest," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.
Nelson Kim at Hammer to Nail: "Leigh's humane intelligence, large-souled comedy, and deft ensemble-management skills are all on full display here; he provides a smoothly pleasurable entertainment even as he probes at disappointment and loss. A gem." For Tom Hall, this is "among Leigh's finest works."
"I'm rooting hard for seasoned character actress Lesley Manville to get her first Oscar nod this year," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. Manville plays Tom and Gerri's friend, Mary, by the way. "Manville is Leigh's longest-serving ally. She first collaborated with the director on a 1979 radio play before going on to star in six of his feature films, climaxing with a stunning lead turn in 2002's All or Nothing that was shamefully ignored by awards bodies on both sides of the Atlantic. It's sweet to see the middle-aged actress finally having her moment in the sun with Another Year — she's earned it. Putting all this into context, in the November edition of UK film magazine Sight & Sound, Manville and Leigh give a great joint interview in which they discuss both Another Year and their evolving professional partnership. (It isn't yet available online, but is on newsstands now.)" If you don't happen to be near a newsstand at the moment, though, Guy's got the money quotes.
There's one more NYFF screening of Another Year — tonight. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, where Daniel Kasman senses "Another Year curl up into the stability and contentedness of its single idea much like the admirable but ultimately unsatisfying marriage at its center."
Update, 10/11: "Another Year, like the best of Leigh's films, is very much a Rorschach test," writes Ed Champion. "It will be appreciated and understood and felt by anyone who understands that even the unpleasant and the marginalized have souls. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of this considerably embedded masterpiece, but it's definitely one of the year's best films."
Update, 10/13: "Of a piece with Leigh's films past yet more formally ambitious, his latest works on the level of closely observed portraiture but also as cinematic fugue and metaphysical lament," writes Eric Hynes in Reverse Shot. "Like in the films of John Cassavetes, performance is so central to Leigh's project that it's easy to overlook how his performances are literally shaped by the frame. For Another Year, Leigh and longtime DP Dick Pope (they've collaborated on every feature since 1990's Life is Sweet) develop four distinct looks and visual strategies for each of the four seasons: spring and fall are suitably neutral in both palette and approach, receding through medium close-ups and reverse shots; Mary's youthful pink hoodie invades summer's greenery, and Leigh stages scenes with minimal cuts, evoking Secrets and Lies' long takes of familial activity; and for winter Leigh employs a bleached, high contrast style, and shows a preference for negative space that's recalls Naked. Yet there's just as much modulation within each section of Another Year — even within a single scene or on the singular, miraculous faces of Broadbent or Manville — tonally shifting from humor to heartbreak, optimism to mourning, melancholy to terror, sometimes within a single scene."
Coverage of the coverage: NYFF 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.