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Another Round has a chance to make history at the Oscars this year. The list of movies that have won Best Director but not Best Picture is relatively short. It’s under thirty films, and most of them are not crazy upsets. There are notable exceptions, like The Godfather and Cabaret or Shakespeare in Love and Saving Private Ryan, but most of the time if a movie won one of the two “big” awards it deserved to win it. It’s almost unheard of for a movie to win Best Director but not even be nominated for Best Picture, though, which is the rare position we are discussing today.
I don’t think Another Round has any realistic shot. It’s up for Best International Film alongside Best Director, and the last time that happened Roma won both. Interestingly, that year Poland’s submission Cold War was also up for both awards and obviously won neither. Roma is the better film, but Cold War is really remarkable. It’s especially dumb that year that Green Book won in a year with such a competitive group of international films, but let us not digress. Another Round is a joint effort of several countries but is officially a Danish submission as that’s the language that’s used.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Martin, a teacher at a prep school in Copenhagen. He’s lost his zest for life and he’s in a marriage that is going nowhere with a wife who works nights and is detached. His kids don’t listen to him. His friends mock him but don’t really have any malice behind it. His life just happens to him. The turning point comes when he is engaged at school by a group that asks him if he’s so indifferent, will his students even be able to pass?
There are hundreds of movies that would find themselves at the 40th birthday party that Martin finds himself at and all of them would have the scene that happens next. Martin is staying sober to drive, but he is talked into having some of the fancy liquor. The gang finds their spark again and gets wasted and roughhouses in the park. Everyone finally remembers how to live. Booze loosens everyone up and it’s all, finally, great again. Why don’t we all do this all the time, they wonder?
If you hit pause at this point in Another Round, you’d probably be able to guess a lot of what comes next, but not all of it. We’ve previously discussed Cassavetes’ Husbands in this series, and Another Round owes a lot to that film. Both are an exploration of running away from problems and embracing an apparent solution that actually does not address the real problem. Both are alcohol-soaked fantasies of a good life with the real, actual good life eschewed purposefully. Both require you to look a little beyond what’s on screen to understand that this is a look into what the characters think, but not what’s actually right.
In Husbands, everyone is afraid of death and responding to a fear of mortality by hiding in booze and “the old ways.” In Another Round, supposedly the four guys are experimenting with a social theory that mankind is just slightly below the level of drunk needed to have balance. Supposedly, the theory goes, everyone is born .05% below the necessary level of alcohol. Just one or two drinks in the morning would even you out. It’s ridiculous.
What makes it work is it’s just enough artifice for the standard, everyone runs away from their problems mid-life crisis plot to make some kind of sense. Your experience may vary, but it seemed clear to me that the guys didn’t really believe in this to start. To start it was just a fun, weird thing to do because life was so boring, so why not be drunk? As it advances, it becomes clear that they really do think their lives are getting better and there really is some logic to being just a little bit drunk during the day.
I really think it’s important that there’s some belief in the theory. Most of the film centers on this idea, and ultimately how far each of the four teachers are willing to go to test it. Martin has a moment where he feels like it has served him well but everyone else wants to go deeper and he says “this is where I get off.” He then downs a Sazerac and it spirals from there. That he believes they were doing something scientific, even to a small degree, is important. That’s the moment it no longer is about that, or really anything.
It is inherently boring to tell a story about characters who feel their life has become boring and it is especially difficult to do so when your central characters are all men who are frustrated by actual real life with real problems and daily annoyances like a family and a job. We’ve seen so many of these stories and it is hard to not roll your eyes. It is required that something else happen to make you care about characters that you normally would want to just wise up and get back to life.
The device here is just enough. When everything goes brutally wrong in different ways it’s not unexpected and it’s not easy viewing, but you care. That alone is some magic, but the trick of making you almost, just slightly, agree with the guys and their plan is something else. You see all four of them and they really do appear to be improving, drunk as hell, and it seems like they’ve figured something out. Then, as always, reality sets in.
The drunk acting is incredible, which is saying something because it’s one of the hardest challenges in film. Mads Mikkelsen has become a cult figure in acting for good reason and this is the best performance I’ve seen him execute. Even if the premise here is uninteresting to you, I really cannot recommend this high enough just to see him teach history lessons blacked out and manic.
The premise undersells this film. If I told you Another Round is a celebration of alcohol, that wouldn’t really be accurate. If I told you it was a dark parable, that’s also not strictly true. This movie does something more complicated than most mid-life crisis films or most booze-as-villain stories. There’s commentary about how to embrace life’s complications as well as how to enjoy successes. It’s really an incredibly complex approach to a pretty rote idea.
Is it better than the last movie we looked at? Promising Young Woman will probably stick with you longer. One of the yardsticks I’ve used to break ties when I’ve liked both movies is “degree of difficulty,” and I think this is an idea that most people won’t immediately buy into. I think it’s extremely hard to tell the story of Another Round and have it feel fresh. Promising Young Woman is probably the better lead performance with more choices and more notes hit and is justly nominated for it, but I think I give the slight nod to Another Round as a film.
Is it the best movie of all time? I still stick with In the Mood for Love, but this is very close. The interstitial scenes to show the gang’s alcohol intake and the tight shots on Mikkelsen’s face just kept surprising me, but part of me still thinks a movie about drinking to fix your problems is a tough sell. I don’t think I can call it the best movie of all time, but it’s the best version of this thing I can think of and really, so, so many of them exist.
You can watch Another Round on YouTube ($3.99) or Amazon Prime ($3.99). You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ gmail.com or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.