Maestro: Mike Leigh
Known For: modern kitchen sink dramas.
Influences: classic kitchen sink dramas.
Masterpieces: Secrets & Lies
Disasters: some less memorable entries, but certainly no disasters
Better than you remember: depends on how you remember things.
Box Office: Secrets & Lies with over 13 mil (such is the power of Oscar publicity)
Favorite Actor: Leslie Manville
Mike Leigh often gets short changed as the king of crying. This is undoubtedly because his two best known films of the past twenty years (thanks to a pair of best actress nominations) have been the copiously, though not excessively weepy Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake. Which is why it was such a shame that Sally Hawkins failed to be nominated for Happy-Go-Lucky. Aside from the fact that she was great (usually an afterthought for the Academy) it certainly couldn't have hurt to have drawn attention to the fact that not all of Leigh's films are devastatingly depressing. In fact, the proper constant of Leigh's films isn't sadness but insight, honesty and the routinely fantastic performances that bring it all about.
Mike Leigh is one of the few filmmakers still dedicated to the idea of kitchen sink realism. His films frame the messy imperfect lives of the Britons with sincerity, never judgment. The principles of the great British filmmakers of the 1960's which seemed so mod and truthful then an have seemingly gone out of style are sill alive in his movies. While his themes may seem old fashioned his method is one rare enough to seem perpetually modern (though it secretly isn't). Leigh's films are created through dramatic improvisation, which requires first and foremost a total trust of the actors' abilities to build, understand and evolve their characters to create reality. As a director this requires such a high level of giving and trust in your actors, it's really no surprise that few filmmakers employ it. For most movie makers are craftsmen turning out scripts, auteurs declaring a vision, but Leigh has taken the process to a truly communal place. When you consider the quality of his actors, it's really evident how the result is usually phenomenal.
The lives and characters embodied by these actors are usually the misfits of society (then again, who isn't?). Whether it's Naked's criminal Johnny, Vera Drake the abortionist, or eternal optimist Poppy, Leigh and his actor's characters live in a world that seems to have no simple place for them. Whether they deserve the consequences of this are quite beside the fact for Leigh. He's more interested in understanding people than making overreaching statements. And through his insight, and the insight of his collaborators we come to understand these people as well.
The trailer for Another Year
For his next film, Another Year Leigh continues to demonstrate his interest in people who seem to have found peace and the world that continually, inevitably antagonizes them. It received positive reviews in Cannes for not only Leigh but for, you guessed it, the performers.