Another Year

A quietly haunting character study about Tom and Gerri (Leigh stalwarts Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), an aging hippie couple living in the suburbs of London, whose remarkably healthy marriage is contrasted with the seriously screwed-up friends they give their time to. The biggest trainwreck, whose visits to their house over the course of a year (the film is neatly divided into four seasons), is Gerri's coworker Mary, played by Lesley Manville in a boldly manic performance.

What follows is vintage Leigh, with the generic banter between the characters made infinitely tense and awkward by Mary's self-absorbed desperation. Those who haven't already taken a shine to Leigh's films should move on, but for those who've come to appreciate the subtleties in his stories and the impeccable work of his actors, Another Year offers plenty to chew on. For Leigh is a classic liberal humanist, and he seems to be saying here that, just as it is the responsibility of the financially comfortable to support the financially impoverished, so too is it the responsibility of the emotionally well-off to give their love and attention to the emotionally needy. The true liberal test is whether you can still give of yourself to someone who doesn't, on the surface, "deserve" your time. Tom and Gerri's patience – not saintly, just openhearted – with the pathetic Mary underscores this point.

In many ways, Another Year is a companion piece to Leigh's previous feature, Happy-Go-Lucky, in which Sally Hawkins' eternal optimist understands that her uncommonly buoyant attitude provides a crucial service in the bleak world she lives in. By the time Another Year ends, you may not like Mary any more than you did at the beginning, but you walk away with genuine concern about her future. It's a real accomplishment when a movie can make you care that much for a character, and for that reason I recommend Another Year.