'Another Year' is a true gem of a movie. It's a simple, though-provoking film about how we as humans relate with one another. How we live, laugh, and love. How we worry and despair. 'Another Year' really is a fishbowl look at humanity in its bare form.
Writer and director Mike Leigh has an uncanny way of capturing the art of conversation. The characters on display here have seemingly meaningless, everyday conversations with one another. They talk about weather, car troubles, and their jobs. Yet, somehow Leigh masterfully weaves in a subtext throughout the movie, where we become intimate with these characters without even realizing what's happened. Every sideways glance, every sarcastic bend of an eyebrow; it's all caught by Leigh's masterful direction of the camera. Those embedded intricacies that we rarely even know are happening during our conversations are on full display here, and they give us the unique ability to read these deeply interesting characters.
Speaking of the characters, let's take a look at them shall we? Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are the idyllic couple. If they ever fight, then we're not privy to it. To us they appear to be a couple entering their twilight years, content with spending their lives with one another. They treat everyone with respect and a congeinial jovial nature. Maybe that's why life's downtrodden seem to stick to them. Leeching off their positive energy.
Chief among the leeches is Mary (Lesley Manville). I don't say this lightly, but I dare say I've never encountered a cinematic character like Mary before. To put it simply, she's a neurotic mess. Yet, there's nothing simple about her. Mary's neuroses is a complicated labyrinth of insecurities and general depression. She works with Gerri at a local hospital. The two of them have been friends for years. Whether Gerri genuinely enjoys Mary's company, or as I suspect, puts up with her because she feels bad for her, isn't answered. Instead Tom and Gerri willingly put up with Mary and her awkward, insecure self. They invite her to dinner, they befriend her, they do everything in their power to make her feel like she's part of the family. That's just the kind of people they are.
Manville's performance is an amazing one. I've never felt so uncomfortable watching a character before. Maybe that's because I've met people like Mary. I've had conversations with people as awkward and as insecure as her, and it's hard to not feel for them. You can see that Mary begins to wear on Gerri and Tom's generosity. She's outstayed her welcome, but they're far too nice to tell her to get lost. They find themselves in the awkward position of hanging around someone they don't really want to hang around with. Perhaps they're nice to a fault, but Tom and Gerri would never turn their back on their friends, no matter how annoying they may be.
Leigh's journey through a year in the life of Tom, Gerri, Mary, and a few other assorted characters is really a tiny masterpiece. It's not a lavish, expansive performance. This is an intimate movie about characters that you'll come to know and love. It's easy to get sucked into this film, because it's so easy to relate with everyone on screen. Leigh has crafted a rare cinematic experience where simple, conversational dialogue reveals more than just words. It reveals a soul.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Another Year' is distributed by Sony's arm for independent film, Sony Pictures Classics. They've packaged with a BD-50 Blu-ray Disc, along with a standard DVD. According to the case, 'Another Year' is slated only for region A use, but B and C haven't been tested.
Sony has given us another very solid looking release with this 1080p presentation of 'Another Year'. The film has been framed with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, preserving its original theatrical aspect ratio.
Set in England, the movie exhibits lush greens juxtaposed with the grays of downtown London. The colors here are near exquisite. Like the movie they aren't flashy, but they ebb and flow depending on what season we're watching. As the movie progresses through the seasons from Spring to Winter the color palette subtly changes. Spring and summer are bathed in a golden hue as the sun drenches the picture, while we find the winter months being dominated by icy blues and grays as the cold rolls into their lives.
As can be expected from a brand new film that was shot on 35mm, this transfer looks clean and concise. Detail is top-notch, as facial lines and fine hair are perfectly visible. It's important that we can see even the slightest details in the actor's faces, because they tell a story during the conversations that words could never convey. Textures are lively and detailed, although I did observe some shimmering on a checkered shirt worn by Joe. Shadows are nicely delineated, offering depth to the already detailed picture. I didn't notice any crush enter into the picture. Other technical anomalies were also kept at bay as far as I could tell. Sony delivers another great looking transfer.
As you probably could guess, 'Another Year' is a dramatic, talkative picture that doesn't have much in the way of oomph when it comes to booming sound effects. This is a quiet affair, with conversations taking up the majority of the sound design.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound presentation offers a fantastic sound stage for the heavy amount of talking that happens in this film. Each line of dialogue is presented cleanly and clearly. Even with some of these actor's thick British accents, it's still relatively easy to understand them. Directionality is actually the most amazing part of this mix. Characters are placed exactly where they should be in the soundfield whenever their out of frame. One such example of the precision directionality going on here is a conversation that happens while another conversation is going on. Gerri confronts her nephew in a kitchen, while Tom talks to some other people out of frame. We can actually hear both conversations. Like we are sitting there in the room with a conversation happening to the side of us, but we're trying to concentrate on the one happening a little further away. It's a perfect recreation of a setting that many of us have found ourselves in.
Like the video, the audio here does nothing but please.
'Another Year' is a sweet, often humorous, truly genuine film about how we as humans interact with one another. Leigh captures the minutia of everyday conversation and puts it on display. We easily become enamored with these characters, glaring faults and all. They're easy to relate to and almost impossible to not end up loving. With a strong audio and video presentation, 'Another Year' comes highly recommended.