The Adventures of Tintin (2011) – Steven Spielberg’s movie is so faithful to its source material that it preserves even the painful bits, like the laboured comedy of the twin English detectives (there’s a tedious sub-plot involving their bumbling pursuit of a pickpocket); it captures Hergé’s distinctive blend of amateur sleuthing and Boy’s Own Adventure. It might be a bit light in the storytelling department; it’s really a series of (fabulous) set pieces strung out on a line, its abrupt ending awkwardly laying the ground for a sequel. But the motion-capture technology imbues those set pieces with a lively sense of anything-is-possible, from the sequence that see-saws from Saharan dunes to a pitched pirate battle on the Caribbean to the extraordinary single shot that follows heroes, villains and a wafting piece of paper down a North African hillside. ***

The Ides of March (2011) – From the outset – when a sound-check is rendered portentous by the booming sound of spotlights being trained on Ryan Gosling – actor/co-writer/director George Clooney gives you plenty of time to absorb his obvious ideas. (When the campaign of the Democratic presidential candidate played by Clooney runs into trouble, Clooney the writer/director has his actors sit in a plane beset by turbulence.) The leftist orientation and the focus on politics behind the scenes are reminiscent of Aaron Sorkin – but Sorkin spoken at a glacial pace and shot from a series of fixed camera positions. The silly skulduggery of the second half is actually an improvement; until then the movie is worthy and dull. **

The Iron Lady (2011) – Phyllida Lloyd’s movie starts well, with its startling presentation of Thatcher as a bewildered old lady in a convenience store, and Meryl Streep is superlative at communicating the elderly Thatcher’s dogged attempts to stay in the present tense – one stiff-hipped step at a time – and the seductive power of her memories of her dead husband. As a political biography it’s a complete failure, however – there’s no sense of deliberation, process or context, just Streep making one speech after another about her inflexibility or looking beleaguered in the back seat of a car. Its resemblance to Iris (right down to the casting of Jim Broadbent as the supportive husband) also highlights moviemakers’ disquieting habit of depicting powerful, gifted woman not at their peak but at a moment of infirmity. The film does justice to old age but not to Thatcher, its supposed subject. ***

Melancholia (2011) – For once, Kirsten Dunst’s child-actor thinness – she’s perpetually playing for response – is perfect; her Justine play-acts, giving each person around her what she thinks they want, to mask her numbness and estrangement. The impending catastrophe – the huge blue planet on a collision course with Earth – allows her to drop these pretences, and thus comes as a relief. Melancholia is a good deal more sumptuous than Lars von Trier’s previous films – both in its setting in the higher reaches of the bourgeoisie and its luxuriant imagery of the apocalypse; at the same time, his handheld camera continues its restless interrogation of his actors. For once, it doesn’t feel like he’s toying with his audience (or his heroine): it’s heavy going, but it’s probably his most deeply felt movie. ****

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) – Brad Bird’s new film lacks The Incredibles‘ intellectual dimension – its wrenching drama of heroism denied – but it shares its witty approach to action. It’s a pure, glittering toy of a movie, from its delight in – and personification of – gadgetry (my favourite was the perverse little glove that taunts Tom Cruise as he scales the outside of a building) to its casual globe-trotting (the movie takes in Budapest, Moscow, Dubai and Mumbai) and Bird’s virtuoso use of both silence (the sequence in the Kremlin basement) and ironic detail (the Dean Martin that provides the soundtrack for a prison break). Bird piles on the elements in each of his set pieces so that you laugh at his audacity even as you’re perched on the edge of your seat. It’s tremendous fun. ****