Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt
on January 23, 2011 at 5:58 PM
When I compiled my Best Films of 2010 list days ago, I had not yet seen Mike Leigh's Another Year. Now that I have, I must give it its due. No, it doesn't quiet pierce my sturdy Top 10 list, but it deserves to be listed among my runners-up without a doubt.
This dense tapestry of family and friends bonding over wine and unloading their deeply rooted frustrations onto each other provides indelible moments of joy and sadness intertwining. Like the great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, Leigh drops in on average people living ordinary lives and examines their tangled interactions with micro-sociological precision, placing them against a backdrop of seasonal change to mimic their emotional journies. Here he constructs his slice of life story into four episodes, one for each season, as we look upon a handful of characters facing the pangs of aging and elusive happiness. Why are Tom and Gerri so blissfully happy and Mary is not? Their social class and occupations don't really differ, but life has a random flow of its own, and it treats some better than others.
Lesley Manville, the flighty ball of energy who in middle age is crumbling into a hazy depression, slowly becomes the tragic crux of the film as she's stripped into a hopeless shell of anguish in the final act. Her performance is an astonishing feat of vulnerability and aching despair layered under a sunny façade, her empathetic fragility registering in every amazing crevice of her face. Maybe, she learns, life isn't a guarantee for satisfaction. Maybe life is a lonely place. Perhaps fulfillment is a pursuit some are just not able to reach. We don't know for sure what happens to Mary as the final frame fades to black, but the way Leigh has us contemplating it afterwards is part of the film's engrossing power.