Another Year is an affirmation of life, Somewhere not so much 

Mike Leigh scores, Sofia Coppola swings and misses

Each of these films explore the human experience but take very different paths in getting there. Another Year, which examines twilight years in suburban London, is full of life and energy. Somewhere, which looks at Hollywood youth, feels arthritic.

The worst first: Somewhere, the latest, critically-acclaimed effort from Sofia Coppola shadows Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) at the infamous Chateau Marmont, Sunset Boulevard's version of jejune pretension: Greta Garbo, Hunter Thompson and Jim Morrison lived there; John Belushi died of an overdose there.

Somewhere asks us to care for Marco for no apparent reason other than the fact that he's a famous actor. His 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) comes to stay with him, which naturally would give the plot some opportunities, but alas, no. It's a movie about nothing. And that's exactly what it delivers: nothing.

The young Coppola has given us some of the best (Lost in Translation) and some of the worst (Marie Antoinette). Considering this is only her fourth feature, it might be appropriate to cut her some slack. At least she hasn't returned to acting--remember her embarrassing performance in Godfather III?

Now the best of the two.

Another Year has been falsely advertised as a film about old age. Nothing could be further from the truth. Its core characters are certainly on the far side of middle age, but director Mike Leigh has refereed a quirky team of characters thrown together in the game of life. Leigh's inspired genius lies somewhere in the silent moments of Another Year. The dialogue is economical, giving way to life-bending pauses. And the cast ably deconstructs the script with ease and grace.

Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (Iris) marks his seventh collaboration with Leigh, dating back 20 years. Broadbent's Tom is friend, lover and husband to Ruth Sheen's Gerri. They are the centerpiece of Another Year as they celebrate and sometimes tolerate the foibles and failings of their friends and family.

Gerri's co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville) is a mess. She's a functional alcoholic, and that's about the best thing you can say about her. Manville's layered performance vaults her to the short list of the industry's finest actresses. She was named best actress this year by the National Board of Review.

Leigh and Coppola are similar in that they develop a final script through improvisation during lengthy rehearsals. Leigh has parlayed the skill into numerous successes: Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky and now Another Year. Coppola's Somewhere unfortunately goes nowhere.

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