"Another Year" and "Blue Valentine" are not bad films. Both are intelligent, well made and have some great acting in them. But they are terminally depressing.
Mike Leigh, the director of "Another Year", doesn't write scripts for his films but rather lets the script emerge through improvisation with his actors in extensive rehearsals. This time what emerged from their process is a kind of cinematic Calvinism. There are happy people and miserable people, the elect and the damned and that's it. Happy people stay basically happy and the miserable, miserable. You can't change your state. All the wonderful British actors (Jim Broadbent, Leslie Manville, Ruth Sheen, David Bradley) can't make this into anymore then an exercise in predestination.
If "Another Year" is downbeat, "Blue Valentine" is the picture of a marriage as the Bataan Death March. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, the married couple, are exceptionally good. They deserve all the critical praise they've been receiving but there isn't a single happy person in the whole movie. The closest to happy is the couple's little girl and her dog runs away at the start of the movie. The film skillfully intercuts the hopeful beginning of their relationship with its painful end but the main characters seem fairly screwed up all the way through. They didn't suffer a fall from a previously blissful state.
I realize that this post has turned into a plaintive cry of "where's the happiness?" I have to admit that scenes from these two films have stuck with me much longer than those from more pleasant films but then the picture from the last Raiders press conference of Al Davis looking dead and skinned has stuck with me too and that's not a good thing.