Make no mistake about it; British director Mike Leigh, whose latest film, Another Year, premiered at Cannes last night, is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. But fairly or unfairly, his name has also become synonymous with depressing working-class angst (despite the fact that one of his most acclaimed films was a cheerful, song-filled period piece about the production of The Mikado). That may be because, even at his funniest (and it should be said that his films are often very, very funny), Leigh often devotes himself to laying bare social inequities, exploring desperate milieus, and presenting dysfunctional characters. And so, even as you applaud his art, you often also leave feeling like shit. So, including Another Year, we’ve decided to rank his films in ascending order of miserableness.
The Mike Leigh Misery Index Key:
1 - Downright Chipper!!
2 - Happy, with only trace elements of sadness
3 - Only somewhat gloomy
4 - Quite depressing
5 - Rather desolate
6 - Totally miserable
7 - Just kill us now
Misery Index: 1
Many were perplexed when Leigh made this period picture about Gilbert and Sullivan. They were equally surprised when it turned out to be a bright, boisterous, and flamboyant love letter to the theater.
HAPPY GO LUCKY (2008)
Misery Index: 1
Another oddly cheerful film, this one a portrait of a determinedly optimistic young woman who is nice to literally everybody she meets.
NUTS IN MAY (1976)
Misery Index: 1.5
A mismatched couple struggles for peace and quiet while on a camping trip, but they find themselves unable to deal with those around them. One of Leigh’s funnier works, made for British TV.
FOUR DAYS IN JULY (1985)
Misery Index: 2
Mike Leigh takes on Northern Ireland! And actually does it in such a gentle, non-depressing way that it felt like a trap that was set but never sprung.
LIFE IS SWEET (1990)
Misery Index: 2.5
Twin sisters battle it out against a background of bulimia, drunkenness, bondage, shattered dreams, and general family dysfunction: This is what a breezy Mike Leigh comedy looks like!
SECRETS & LIES (1996)
Misery Index: 3
A confident and successful black optometrist discovers that her biological mother is a poor, anxious white woman with all the emotional fortitude of an exposed nerve. A somewhat hopeful finale can only do so much.
HIGH HOPES (1988)
Misery Index: 3.5
Gentrification, class, mental illness, romance, and socialism in Thatcher’s England - the title in this case is meant to be ironic, in case you’re wondering.
ANOTHER YEAR (2010)
Critics have been impressed with his new film, which centers around a year in the life of a happy, long-married couple (hey, things look happy!) … as they’re visited by a succession of unhappy or depressed friends. Bait and switch!
CAREER GIRLS (1997)
Misery Index: 3.5
Two former roommates recall their anarchic youth, lament their dysfunctional families, get hit on by a pervert, and run into an old friend who’s gone insane.
ABIGAIL’S PARTY (1977)
Misery Index: 4
One of Leigh’s most popular works, this scathing comedy about a small gathering of middle-class Brits was described by one reviewer as “the most painful hundred minutes in British comedy-drama.”
ALL OR NOTHING (2002)
Misery Index: 5
Three working class British families cope with unemployment, unwanted pregnancy, alcoholism, obesity, and premature heart attacks. Whee?
Misery Index: 5.5
A family going nowhere fast - one of them a young, borderline-retarded Tim Roth – struggles to survive on welfare. Things perk up briefly when Gary Oldman shows up as a dim skinhead.
Misery Index: 6
Eloquent misanthrope David Thewlis wanders the London night, excoriating everyone he sees, while pontificating about class and predicting the end of the world. You leave the theater worried he’ll follow you home.
VERA DRAKE (2004)
Misery Index: 6.5
An expansive drama about a working-class maid and devoted wife and mother who also performs illegal backroom abortions in 1950s Britain. Guess how it ends.
BLEAK MOMENTS (1971)
Misery Index: 7
A shy office-worker cares for her retarded sister while dealing with the attentions of a passive-aggressive teacher and a painfully shy hippie. “The title is awfully apt,” said Roger Ebert at the time.