24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Mike Leigh

With J.M.W. Turner film, Mike Leigh looks to a new landscape

December 9, 2010 |  4:10 pm

Fans of the emotional realism of Mike Leigh will be keen to see the director back on his game with his  twilight-years drama "Another Year," a movie that drew a strongly favorable reaction at Cannes and opens in the U.S. this month.

But Leigh's next movie could take him far from the working- and middle-class lives he chronicles in "Another Year" and, indeed, in most of his films over the last two decades.

The indie filmmaker told 24 Frames he's marshaling new interest and funding for a long-planned film about J.M.W. Turner, the influential 19th century British landscape artist.

"We want to make a film about Turner the painter, and that’s all I have to say about it," Leigh, in his charmingly irascible style, told us this week on a publicity swing through Los Angeles. "It would have to be an expensive project, so we're working to make it happen."

Turner, a Romantic painter known for his images of natural landscapes and disasters, was an eccentric figure who left a sizable artistic legacy. Leigh's interest in Turner would make the director the latest in a line of single-minded artists making art about other single-minded artists.

"I'd like to paint a bigger picture. I've only done two period films," Leigh, famous for working without stars or scripts, said of his interest in the subject. (One, "Vera Drake," is a 1950s abortion drama; the other is "Topsy Turvy," his 1999 film that's also centered in the world of art -- namely, the behind-the-scenes dysfunction as Gilbert & Sullivan prepare to stage "The Mikado.")

Making movies about a famous artist might seem a shift for him, Leigh said, but it isn't, or at least it wasn't with "Turvy."  "The conceit there was to take these famous people and subvert the whole thing by saying they're real people with problems and issues and relationships and vulnerabilities," he said.

But Leigh said that the budget remained an issue for the Turner movie. "With 'Topsy-Turvy' we were able to cut the budget by cutting the exteriors," he said. "You don’t make a film about Turner and cut the exteriors. This is a guy who strapped himself to the mast of a ship to paint a storm. He’s for real. So, yes, expensive."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Mike Leigh. Credit: Sony Pictures Classics


The Happy Outsider



Cannes 2010: The Euros love 'Blue Valentine' like Nutella; Sony Classics makes this not just another year

May 18, 2010 |  7:55 pm

The Weinstein Co. on Tuesday night unveiled "Blue Valentine," Derek Cianfrance's Sundance hit that earned the rare honor of landing a spot at Cannes (last year "Precious" achieved the feat).

We'll be talking to stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in the coming days, so more from them shortly, but the relationship drama played as strongly as one could have hoped. The crowd at the Palais hung on every quiet (and loud) utterance the stars made on screen, and because it was an Un Certain Regard screening, which tends to be a little more informal, they got to salute them on stage as well.

On second viewing, the film more than holds up --  never easy for a character study -- as new subtleties emerged and the movie's unique structure (which has us jumping between a relationship's present and its roots) continued to offer the emotional rush of seeing a couple come together and break up at pretty much the same time. The linchpin of the film, a scene in a motel in which the couple, bathed in blue light, exchange emotional fire, has been unfortunately trimmed a bit from the Sundance version, but it still delivers the necessary wallop.

These are serious actors in seriously meaty roles, and there's every reason to think the academy will continue in the footsteps of both Sundance and Cannes audiences in embracing them. If not, it would be the snub of the century.

In other Cannes news that happens to involve awards-worthy performances, Sony Pictures Classics, which as we reported yesterday was in the lead position to pick up Mike Leigh's textured middle-aged dramedy "Another Year," has officially done so. That means the film will get a nice awards run  itself. And given SPC's knack for landing Oscar performance nominations, particularly on the female side (Melissa Leo, Penelope Cruz, Anne Hathaway and Helen Mirren, just to name a few examples from the past couple years), expect Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville to get some love. A lot more love, it should be said, than Manville's Eleanor Rigby character ever gets in the film.

--Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes, France


Photo: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine." Credit: Cannes Film Festival


Photos: Scene at Cannes Film Festival 2010

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Cannes 2010: Can the sales market go from ugly to 'Biutiful'?

May 18, 2010 |  2:00 am


About halfway through the Cannes Film Festival, there are, amazingly, still no sales of films playing in any of the festival sections. Such is the frozen tundra of (a certain part of) the indie business these days. (The market, where many mainstream films are sold and where much of the business takes place, isn't faring much better, at least on the domestic side; it's tire-kicking time and not much more.)

But two festival movies could go within days, or at least before the end of the festival -- Mike Leigh's "Another Year," the poignant human drama from the king of that genre, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Biutiful," a charged Spanish-language tale about a troubled man slowly dying, which premiered Monday night to a warm audience response if not an equally hot-blooded critical one (more on that one Wednesday).

Several buyers are in the mix on each of these titles, but sources and the smart money have anointed a favorite to land each of them. Sony Pictures Classics will in all probability walk away with "Another Year" -- the company is keenly interested, it has more money to play with than the smaller indie players also circling, and it can make a case that it will give the film a classic studio specialty-division release.

"Biutiful," which marks the first film for Inarritu since his surprise globally themed hit "Babel" more than three years ago, is a tough commercial sell, if also a movie that comes with prestige to burn. It's Harvey Weinstein (rumored to be in the mix on several other titles) who could wind up snatching the film.

A purchase from The Weinstein Company would make sense on several levels. Inarritu is the kind of high-class filmmaker Weinstein loves being in business with -- the mogul was in fact the primary entity with whom to make such deals before the specialty boom and bust several years ago. And star Javier Bardem is the kind of glamorous but elite performer around whom Weinstein enjoys building an awards campaign. It's always about the negotiations at these things -- and given the rough market, expect discussions to bog down over price --  but at least one of these companies will probably walk away with its prey.

If these deals happen, the good news for film fans is that the movies will get a release and play theatrically sometime within the next year. The fact that they will go for comparatively less money, and have fewer buyers competing for them, is probably bad news. It means that the winning companies can commit to spending less on marketing, which in turns means that fewer people are likely to hear about the films, which could be bad for these films and high-end independent film overall. But in a cold climate, any heat is good heat.

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes, France


Photo: Javier Bardem in 'Biutiful.' Credit: Cannes Film Festival

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Cannes 2010: Mike Leigh's topsy-turvy ride

May 17, 2010 |  2:00 am

Mike Leigh can be a famously challenging interview. But questioning the unorthodox director -- who has managed to consistently turn out strong, Oscar-worthy films with an iconoclastic method that involves very little scripting and a lot of rehearsal -- isn't nearly as complicated as his fate has been at Cannes over his long career.

The Brit has come to the festival several times, taking the Palme d'Or for the interracial adoption drama "Secrets & Lies" back in 1996. But then  he didn't come in 2004 with "Vera Drake" -- to some, his best movie -- and despite the outcry on that, he didn't come with "Happy Go-Lucky" four years later.

This year, Leigh's fortunes have gone upside down once again.  He's turned out, in another year, "Another Year," which is another very strong film. A story that slyly and continually shifts its focus between a low-key, stable elderly couple, played by the brilliant Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent, and a constellation of dysfunctional acquaintances pulled into the couple's orbit, the film is indeed as appealing as many of the critics have it. It's smart, unexpected, touching, palpably believable and

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Cannes Critical Consensus: 'Another Year'

May 15, 2010 | 12:47 pm

1 Finally, a movie critics love.

After unsaddling "Robin Hood" and being bearish on "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," reviewers at the Cannes Film Festival have found a prominent title to recommend: writer-director Mike Leigh's "Another Year."

Having won the festival's top prize in 1996 with "Secrets and Lies" (Leigh's "All or Nothing" and "Naked" also played at Cannes), the filmmaker's new movie is an ensemble story starring Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton about, well -- let the reviewers explain it all to you:

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "...when I say that I loved 'Another Year,' the Leigh film that just premiered at Cannes, members of the Leigh cult should consider themselves warned: The movie has precious little in the way of shrieking, didactic working-class sanctimony, or cheaply lovable over-the-top gags. What it does have is an overwhelming bittersweet melancholy at the passing of life from middle age into…well, I guess you could call it late middle age, but then you’d be falling into the self-deception shared by the movie’s characters, who will do anything to avoid the realization that the cold and nasty word for the condition they’re heading towards is…old. "

Jenny Barchfield, Associated Press:"'Another Year" ... looks at a group of middle-aged friends as they grapple with loneliness, love, loss and change over the four seasons of a single year. It's a tribute to the talent of the British director and his outstanding cast — including Leigh regulars Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville — that the film manages to be funny and charming despite its heavy subject matter."

Charles Gant, The Telegraph: "Initially, 'Another Year' appears to be another of those low-concept Leigh slice-of-life movies, emerging from his distinct improvisational method without a narrative hook or even much of a theme... But as spring passes into summer, autumn and winter, 'Another Year' increasingly declares its hand. This is a film about loneliness, in which a caring, considerate, loving couple cannot ever really know what it's like to lead a life of quiet desperation."

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