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Mike Leigh writes and directs this observational comedy drama depicting a year in the life of a contented middle-aged London couple. Medical counsellor Gerri is happily married to Tom. The film follows Gerri over the course of the year as she opens her home and heart to her emotionally needy colleague Mary, counsels a chronic insomniac, spends time on her allotment with Tom and plays host to their 30-year-old lawyer son Joe and his wife and baby.
For more about Another Year and the Another Year Blu-ray release, see Another Year Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on July 19, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley
Director: Mike Leigh
» See full cast & crew
Another Year Blu-ray Review
If a picture says a thousand words, the last few frames of 'Another Year' summarize a lifetime's worth emotions.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, July 19, 2011
Life's not always kind, is it?
Another Year is a movie about the "haves" and the "have nots," but not as they pertain to the financial implications with which most associate those terms. No, this is a story about those who live life and those who don't, or better said, those who lead a happy and fruitful life and those who merely get by as far as their limited social graces allow. Another Year is a daunting, challenging, sobering, and sometimes even difficult film to watch because it paints people in a state of despair that's obvious and runs very deep. Add that there seems to be no help in sight for them and the audience's frustrations with the characters will only grow as they slowly degrade through the course of a two-hour year. Still, this is a film that doesn't exactly paint its message and purpose in broad strokes. Instead, one must look past the superficialities to find what it is Writer/Director Mike Leigh is trying to accomplish with his film. The only question that remains is whether viewers can tolerate the characters and suffer along with them in what might be an ultimately futile effort to discover what the movie has to say about life and the way people live it.
Longtime husband/wife tandem Tom and Gerri Hepple (Jim Broadben and Ruth Sheen) have the ideal marriage. They get along swimmingly, have done and still are doing well for themselves, and have surrounded themselves with good people while rightly raising their now thirty-year-old son Joe (Oliver Maltman). Unfortunately, the pains of the real world are about to catch up with the blissfully wedded couple. No, their marriage isn't in jeopardy, but all the negativity they've managed to keep out of their relationship -- heartache, despair, depression, even death -- will within the course of one year in some way shape their lives. The upheaval centers around Gerri's longtime co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville), a single woman with big dreams but neither the means nor the attitude to get what she wants. She longs for a relationship with the right man -- a good man like Tom -- and with most of the good men taken or not to her liking, she dares flirt with the one man she probably shouldn't approach. Meanwhile, depressed old friends and grief-stricken relatives will take their toll on the strong Hepple couple, but no matter the challenge they can count on their rock-solid marriage to get them through, even with the albatross that is Mary hanging over their necks to challenge their happiness and many strengths of character.
Never mind that Another Year is marketed as the story of Tom and Gerri, longtime lovebirds who witness the slow deterioration of the lives of those around them. That's certainly true, but with the way the movie is structured -- and considering its final shot in particular -- It's difficult to see this as anything other than Mary's movie. It's her emotional state that truly sets the story in motion; she interacts with every character that appears throughout the film, whether the mainstays Tom, Gerri, and Joe, or the "seasonal" friends, relatives, and acquaintances such as Tanya, Ken, and Ronnie. She's the driving force in the film, but she's also, potentially, its biggest hindrance. She's certainly loquacious, which comes with a price. She's in a near constant state of emotional excitement, bounding with energy and a motor mouth that gets her on the wrong side of all who cross her path, whether her figurative -- and sometimes literal, it seems -- victims admit it to her or themselves or not. Often drunk and flirtatious, she annoys the characters who are too polite to shut her up and bothers the audience like fingernails scraping on a chalkboard. Her routine wears thin rather quickly and grows obnoxious to the point that the movie sometimes borders on the unwatchable.
But it's all deliberate and part of Director Mike Leigh's masterful manipulation of the audience. Once Mary turns from exuberant but annoying companion to emotional train wreck who can't shut up and get out of the scene fast enough, that audience hostility turns into something of an aching sympathy. One can't help but realize she means well but has painted herself into a corner and isolated herself to the point that she disappears even in a small gathering, becoming an inconsequential body filling a chair at the dinner table and not a human being engaged in the discussions, revelry, and fun happening around her. Hers is a truly self-destructuve character; she knows what she wants but she always sabotages her own life by unrealistically raising her expectations and clinging to false hopes and fantasies that are far less likely to materialize than they are to suddenly come true as if she only needed to tap her heels together three times. Viewers will grow to dislike her -- maybe even hate her -- but find themselves being beat upon by their better judgement for having developed such a strong negative reaction towards what is certainly one of the most polarizing and complicated but ultimately sympathetic and sad figures in recent cinema memory.
The rest of the film isn't exactly as it seems, either. Writer/Director Mike Leigh crafts the picture as if a master manipulator. Another Year is subtly melancholic and grows into something downright depressing, and he manages to emotionally wear down his viewers simply by having them witness the slow but steady decline of the characters who appear on-screen. Even as Tom and Gerri are the rocks throughout the movie, their world seems as if a bubble, a force field that somehow protects them from the negativity that surrounds them but that deflects all the incoming bad vibes back at the characters who can't take any more. Unfortunately, the audience has no such protective shield, and the negativity seems to spill out of the screen like a waterfall. Another Year is all about its emotional content; the picture is dialogue intensive but few of the spoken words really matter. They convey parts of the plot to be sure, but this film is all about the looks on people's faces, the happiness, regret, anger, or sadness in their eyes. Mike Leigh makes sure to direct with an invisible hand; his camera serves merely as a device that allows his audience to witness the story develop, which lends a greater sense of realism to the film. The end result feels more like a stage play than a movie, allowing viewers to fully concentrate on the characters rather than be distracted by unnecessary movement or other tricks of the trade meant to spice up the screen rather than allow a story to unfold. It's all very well done, with the performances wonderfully engaging and positively seamless. Lesley Manville is fantastic as Mary; for all the raw emotion her character lets out -- and all the raw emotion she struggle to keep in -- her performance is a thing of beauty, even if she manipulates the audiences into a wave of varied feelings towards her that absolutely define the movie and what viewers will take away from it.
Another Year Blu-ray, Video Quality
Another Year features a steady and stable but not-quite-perfect 1080p transfer. Despite some evident softness, the image enjoys above-average detailing both in the usual places -- faces and clothes -- and in more general areas, such as chips and dents in wooden door frames, the rough texture of pavement, and the layout of the short-cut greens at a golf course. Outside of those few soft shots, the image displays a readily-evident crispness and superior clarity that allow details to be well-defined all over the screen, and not just centered on whatever happens to be in the middle of the frame. Colors are well balanced, vibrant when need be but sometimes washed out and occasionally downright gray, but only as the film's mood calls for such drastic shifts. Blacks, however, are a little murky and not too kind to foreground detailing. On the plus side, the source is spotlessly clean and is free of any distracting edge enhancement, debilitating blocking, or unsightly banding. This is another strong effort from Sony, but not quite a showcase title.
Another Year Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Another Year is one of those Character Dramas that doesn't really require much of its soundtrack. The picture is content to get by primarily on light music and dialogue, and Sony's Blu-ray handles both admirably. Music plays with exceptional clarity, as light as it may be; it sounds perfectly natural and pleasant, the kind that melts away the speakers in favor of a natural, lifelike authenticity. No doubt the music is very gentle and reserved, but that in no way lessens the raw sonic quality. Dialogue is expectedly strong, grounded in the middle and of course free of secondary obstruction, a given considering the meagerness of the surrounding elements. A few ambient effects are perfectly integrated, too, notably a gently falling sheet of rain early in the film and two random passes of a wailing ambulance in the film. If there's a fault, there seems to be a completely random but ever-so-slight rumbly undercurrent running through parts of the track. It doesn't seem to fit, but it's there. Still, this is a very high quality audio presentation and a showcase for how good even the most subtle of soundtracks can be.
Another Year Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Another Year arrives on Blu-ray with a handful of extras, the majority of which in one way or another revolve around Writer/Director Mike Leigh.
Another Year Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Another Year is an exhausting film that leads its audience through a minefield of emotions, not only those of the characters on-screen but those that fester and threaten to explode in the gut of all who watch the film. It's the ultimate manipulative film that sees its audience through a wide range of sensations, from annoyance to enmity, from regret to sorrow. Director Mike Leigh's film certainly isn't for everybody. It's slow and deliberate but it's just about the ultimate true Character Drama out there. Made with completely unobtrusive direction, wonderful acting, and a story that's meaning comes more from the eyes and body language and seen and unseen emotions of the characters than in its pages and pages of sometimes monotonous and empty dialogue, Another Year may be seen as nothing short of a uniquely engaging picture that drives the emotions like few others. Sony's Blu-ray release of Another Year features a good video transfer, a reserved but high quality lossless soundtrack, and a few extras. Recommended.
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Another Year Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Another Year Announced on Blu-ray - March 29, 2011
Sony Pictures has announced Another Year for Blu-ray release on June 7, in a BD/DVD combo pack. This drama, directed by Mike Leigh and starring Lesley Manville and Jim Broadbent, follows one year in the life of a long-married couple. It was nominated for an Academy ...
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