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As I sit here typ­ing, I can hear the sounds of a Wellington sum­mer all around me – the rain pour­ing on to the deck out­side and the wind howl­ing through the trees. Is this why loc­al film dis­trib­ut­ors release so much product over the Christmas/New Year peri­od? Perhaps it’s just cli­mate and noth­ing to do with the Oscars at all? Anyhow, here’s a quick sum­mary of what’s been dished out at loc­al cinemas in des­cend­ing order of greatness.

First up, Ang Lee’s glow­ing 3D adapt­a­tion of Yann Martell’s Life of Pi, storm­ing the loc­al box offices and deservedly so. Ravishing to look at – and mak­ing pro­found rather than nov­elty use of the extra depth avail­able – Lee’s film man­ages to dis­til the essence of the book’s mes­sage even if the ambigu­ous end­ing proves less sat­is­fy­ing cine­mat­ic­ally than lit­er­ar­ily. Dreamy. I was par­tic­u­larly taken by the con­scious recre­ation of the book’s ori­gin­al cov­er in one scene, even to the extent of chan­ging the film’s aspect ratio for that single shot.

Imagine, if you will, that Mike Leigh had made Badlands instead of Terrence Malick and you have a hint of the great­ness that is Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers. Stifled Tina (Alice Lowe) meets ginger Chris (Steve Oram) at capoeira and they fall for each oth­er. Soon after he takes her away from Tina’s sus­pi­cious and over­bear­ing moth­er (Eileen Davies) on a cara­van­ning hol­i­day around the unlikely tour­ist sites of north­ern England where inno­cence – you might say – is well and truly lost.

Often hil­ari­ous and often hor­ri­fy­ing, Sightseers is anoth­er Wheatley spot­light on mod­ern British ali­en­a­tion – his earli­er Kill List fea­tured a frus­trated hit­man trav­el­ling the “B” roads of England from indus­tri­al estates to salesman’s hotels – but much of the cred­it goes here to Oram and Lowe who are cred­ited with the largely impro­vised script. “He’s not a per­son, Tina, he’s a Daily Mail read­er,” says Steve after bludgeon­ing anoth­er awful example of British human­ity to death with a rock. Brilliantly misanthropic.

Bart Layton’s doc­u­ment­ary The Imposter belongs in the pan­theon of great WTF? doc­u­ment­ar­ies like Crazy Love and Deep Water, films that seem even more unbe­liev­able the more they unspool in front of you. Sadly, Layton doesn’t get the end­ing I’m sure he was after but the setup is amaz­ing. A young Frenchman (Frédéric Bourdin) in trouble in Spain, pre­tends to be a miss­ing Texan school­boy and sur­prises even him­self when the boy’s fam­ily wel­come him ‘home’ to the US with open arms.

I’m not nor­mally a fan of recre­ated scenes in doc­u­ment­ar­ies but Layton handles these styl­ishly and he skil­fully builds his psy­cho­lo­gic­al study of a bunch of people (Bourdin, the fam­ily and even law enforce­ment) who so wanted their own truth that they would ignore all the evid­ence in front of them.

Kids of all ages will enjoy Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, an anim­ated pic­ture about an arcade video game char­ac­ter who tires of always being the bad guy. John C. Reilly’s Ralph goes look­ing for anoth­er game in which he can be the hero for a change but he doesn’t real­ise that he’s throw­ing the entire arcade world out of bal­ance and threat­en­ing everyone’s future.

There’s out­stand­ing voice work from Sarah Silverman as feisty young Vanellope and kids will enjoy the exuber­ant visu­als although adults will get nos­tal­gic from the many old game ref­er­ences – not sure if kids still go to spa­cies par­lours these days, do they?

The great thing about Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is that the mul­tiple earli­er ver­sions of Mackintosh, Boublil and Schönberg’s music­al all still exist either on video tape or in our memor­ies. We still have them. But now, if we want a ver­sion that is con­sciously cine­mat­ic and that fore­grounds char­ac­ter rather than sta­ging, we have one of those too. Hooper knows that cinema pun­ishes insin­cer­ity and so he emphas­ises the act­ing rather than the singing, trust­ing that the music has good enough bones to sur­vive it and for the most part he is right.

Russell Crowe’s malevol­ent law­man Javert doesn’t have the big Broadway or oper­at­ic voice that we are used to in the role but he’s totally believe­able in the world that Hooper has cre­ated, and that’s all that mat­ters. If Les Mis is let down by any­thing, it’s by some of the craft – sets look like sets when com­pared with some vivid loc­a­tions, the poor people’s makeup looks like poor people’s makeup and some of the CGI looks rough around the edges. I enjoyed myself, though, but I acknow­ledge that it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Fans of the cult hit In Bruges will be pleased to know that Martin McDonagh has finally made anoth­er film, this time about what it is like to sit around in Hollywood try­ing to write a script and drink­ing too much. Write what you know, eh? There’s some deep exist­en­tial philo­sophy gurg­ling around under the sur­face of Seven Psychopaths but you might find it hard to dis­cov­er because of all the noise being made by a Tarantino-esque bunch of bril­liant char­ac­ter act­ors com­pet­ing for screen space.

Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Christopher Walken and Colin Farrell all have their moments but the cham­pi­on is Sam Rockwell who proves once again what a win­ning pres­ence he can be. Farrell is the screen­writer, Rockwell is the best friend, try­ing to give his blocked mate some – mostly ter­rible – ideas. Rockwell makes his liv­ing kid­nap­ping dogs so that part­ner Walken can return them and claim the reward. But then they kid­nap the wrong mutt and Harrelson’s mob justice des­cends. I was par­tic­u­larly taken with the LA-ness of all this.

In clos­ing, Tom Cruise’s franchise-starter Jack Reacher is the film that Alex Cross could’ve been if it was, you know, com­pet­ent. It’s still not very good but at least has some inven­tion – a couple of the fight scenes, for example, and the weirdly com­mand­ing pres­ence of the great Werner Herzog as the villain.

Animated Rise of the Guardians suf­fers from being down­right ugly – the look of the thing just doesn’t work for me and I couldn’t help noti­cing that there simply weren’t any kids at the pub­lic screen­ing I was at.

Dustin Hoffman’s dir­ect­ori­al debut is the sur­pris­ingly con­ven­tion­al Quartet, about a res­id­en­tial home for retired musi­cians that is fall­ing on hard times.

The annu­al char­ity gala needs a big draw and new arrival Maggie Smith is a fomer diva who might fit the bill. The themes of age­ing and the loss of your powers might well res­on­ate with 75 year old Mr Hoffman but his exe­cu­tion of Ronald Harwood’s script feels like tele­vi­sion to me.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 16 January, 2013.