Oscar Moment: “Another Year”

24 09 2010

I’ll close out this week chalked full of Oscar Moments with the movie that has been a favorite since it premiered at Cannes back in May, Mike Leigh’s “Another Year.”  It received adoring review after adoring review, most speculating that it would win the prestigious Palme d’Or.  And while it didn’t take home any hardware, it emerged as the movie with the most buzz from the festival.

This month, it played at Telluride and Toronto, not really gaining any more traction but rather cementing its status as a sure-fire critical favorite.  So can all that awards season heat from May last all the way until February?

I’m not a big Mike Leigh fan, although I certainly have a lot of respect for the way he makes his movies.  For those who may not be familiar with his filmmaking methods, allow me to explain.  Here’s a critical perspective from the British Council:

Instead of writing a script, Leigh works from a basic premise, however vague it may be, that will be fleshed out through months of improvisation and rehearsal. This will involve an exploration of the actor’s own experiences and people they know, things which will then inform the characters they develop; Leigh’s work then, is devised, so much of the credit must be given to those he works with. Equally significant is the way Leigh controls story: ‘You have to be free as an actor from knowing what your character wouldn’t know.’ Yet while his performers are vital to the process, it is Leigh, who moulds and shapes the work, who provides the simple instructions which allow the narrative to develop. The material is continually reshaped until the very moment the cameras role. It is then that the work is in some way ‘fixed’. After that, there is little time for improvisation.

It’s a fascinating idea, although from my experience with Leigh’s work, I’m not sure how much it works for me.  Nevertheless, the Academy loves his writing and direction.  He has been nominated four times for Best Original Screenplay, most recently in 2008 for “Happy-Go-Lucky,” and twice for Best Director, most recently for 2004’s “Vera Drake.”  As for the overall success of his movies, only one, 1996’s “Secrets & Lies,” was nominated for Best Picture.

While Leigh’s track record with the Academy is overall pretty spotty, it’s clear to see that they do really like him, especially as of late.  I think the movie’s surest bet is in the Best Original Screenplay category, Leigh’s most common stomping grounds.  Although Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly says of the script, “This time, Leigh doesn’t bother with the pretense of a story; like a more boisterous Eric Rohmer, he simply splits the movie into four seasonal chapters over the course of a year, thereby liberating it from the clank of narrative,” so we can’t be totally assured.

However, at 67, Leigh may be the beneficiary of “let’s-give-it-to-him-before-he-leaves-us” syndrome in the Best Director category.  If he’s nominated, he’ll be a big threat because he’s been there twice before and many will feel that he finally deserves it.  Plus, according to Kris Tapley of In Contention, “to say the least, it’s Leigh’s finest hour in years.”

I’d say given the critical fanfare, “Another Year” should easily slide into the Best Picture field of ten.  The real challenge for the movie will be landing acting nominations.  Given the film’s large ensemble, will anyone other than Lesley Manville have a shot at a nod?  Here’s Gleiberman again, this time on the actress’ turn:

Lesley Manville, who plays Sheen and Broadbent’s most regular, and desperate, Saturday night dinner companion, a fragile, sozzled, enthusiastically needy secretary who has been coyly girlish, and drunk, for so long that she has no idea the loneliness she’s seeking to escape is of her own devising.

Manville has been hogging the spotlight, and when anyone talks of the ensemble, they single her out.  She’s the movie’s best bet for an acting nomination, although category fraud may play a part.  Most pundits consider her a leading actress, but Sony Pictures Classics may want to sneak her into the weaker Best Supporting Actress field.

The rest of the cast, save for prior winner Jim Broadbent, has so little name recognition that it’s going to be hard for any of them to sneak in.  Ruth Sheen could have a shot at Best Supporting Actress, as could Broadbent in the Best Actor category.  But for any of them to be legitimate contenders, I think they are going to need support from critics’ groups in December to thrust them into contention.  No one really knew who Amy Ryan was in 2007, yet thanks to being named Best Supporting Actress by association after association, she wound up with an Oscar nomination.

If anyone thinks “The King’s Speech” is going to have a hard time keeping September buzz, I think “Another Year” may have it just as hard.  How can it keep riding the wave of critical success into Oscar season?  With a release of December 29, did Sony Pictures Classics wait until the last minute so the wave can die and begin anew?

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Manville), Best Original Screenplay

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (Broadbent), Best Supporting Actress (Sheen)

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One response

28 09 2010
Red

I think it’s a lock for Best Picture with all the buzz it has generated throughout the year (I would in fact say it’s about 4 or 5 on my chart right now), and Manville with the next likely nomination, as well as the most likely to win the actual award.

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