"Another Year," another Oscar bet for Mike Leigh

Updated: 2011-01-03 14:47


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LOS ANGELES - With six Oscar nominations to his credit, British filmmaker Mike Leigh is back in theaters with an awards contender struggling to be heard among the clamor.

"Another Year" opened last week in New York and Los Angeles against three other high-prestige pictures vying for Oscar glory: "Blue Valentine," "Biutiful" and "The Way Back." They join a big field of contenders led by the likes of "The Social Network," "Black Swan," "The King's Speech" and "True Grit."

To date, "Another Year" has been recognized only by the National Board of Review, which named Lesley Manville best actress for her role as a lonely, single woman prone to a few too many glasses of wine.

The Writers Guild of America ruled the film ineligible for a writing award (despite Leigh's 1997 nod for "Secrets & Lies"), and many argue that its best Oscar shot, for Manville's performance, is hampered by Sony Pictures Classics' decision to put her up for best actress instead of supporting actress, where she would have loomed larger. "That might be an error," Manville told New York Magazine. "I don't know -- but it's their call. I'm a novice at this, so I wouldn't dictate it, really."

Leigh is fairly philosophical about the awards process. When he's informed of the film's Oscar buzz, he says, "Well, I'll believe it when I see it."

He previously bagged Oscar nominations for directing "Vera Drake" and "Secrets," and for writing "Vera," "Secrets," "Topsy-Turvy" and "Happy-Go-Lucky." His stars do well, too: Imelda Staunton, who has a small role in "Another Year," got a best actress Oscar nomination for "Vera," and Jim Broadbent a best actor BAFTA nod for "Topsy."

Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play a radiantly happily married couple who divide their time between tending to their vegetable garden and tending to their needy family and friends.

Leigh made the $8 million film in a 12-week period that depicted the passing of four seasons. Sony picked up U.S. rights at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Leigh has worked with Manville more than any other actor, on "Secrets," "High Hopes," "Topsy," "All or Nothing," "Vera," the BBC film "Grown-Ups," a radio play and theater productions). She was accordingly well-versed in Leigh's exacting production technique.

"I did what I always do," he says, "which is to spend months -- in this case, five months -- working individually with each actor, creating a character together, building up a whole world, exploring, researching, making a completely three dimensional world."

Uniquely, Leigh creates a "premise for the film so I can then get out on location and make the film up as we go along and distill it and make a properly constructed dramatic, precise movie."

Leigh repeatedly uses the word "precise," perhaps to emphasize that his method, partly influenced by Cassavetes, actually involves very little on-camera improvisation.

"Everything in all my films comes out of improvisation, but we then rehearse very thoroughly and the scripting goes on as a development of what starts in improvisation. So what we wind up with is very precisely scripted, but we do it through rehearsal.

"You work through and refine and refine until you arrive at the precise piece of sculpture or painting or novel or whatever it is. So rehearsing is an inherent, inevitable and non-negotiable part of the creative process."


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