The Bling Ring (2013) – For once, Sofia Coppola’s rich kids are not plagued by ennui; they enjoy their (and other people’s) privileges as much as the little princess Coppola played in Life Without Zoe, the vanity project she made with her father. The difference is that here she cops to the kids’ brattiness – the sense of entitlement that comes with their privilege. Their appetites give these girls a vulgar drive. There’s something intoxicating, too, about Coppola’s vision of Los Angeles as a place of limitless opportunity, where the doors are unlocked and the luxurious consumer goods (which the kids, keen readers of the style pages, are well qualified to appreciate) are there for the taking. Emma Watson’s aspiring reality TV star is good fun – she revels in her notoriety – but it’s Katie Chang as the ringleader who gives the most arresting performance. Her lack of affect is fascinating: she commits her burglaries with a subtly disturbing Mona Lisa smile. ***

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) – This account of how a man diagnosed with HIV defies the medical establishment to secure the treatment he needs is shaped as a little-guy-goes-up-against-uncomprehending-bureaucracy story, but it only rarely lapses into formula. Partly it’s the vividness of director Jean-Marc Vallée’s re-creation of 80s Dallas (from the rodeo to its gay fringes); mostly it’s the astonishing performance of Matthew McConaughey. It’s not just the physical transformation: his Ron Woodroof evolves before our eyes, from a hedonist realising that the old sources of pleasure are no longer available to him to an entrepreneur with a gift for theatre and a sure instinct for the loopholes in the system. Everything he does is surprising but perfect: his reserves of physical grace (from his loose-limbed escape from his debtors to his gallantry and swagger with the doctor played by Jennifer Garner); the notes he hits of fury, sorrow, shy self-acceptance. Vallée’s direction captures the experience of losing control of your body and mind; we’re keyed to the moments of dissociation by a high-pitched whine. There’s very little music (when Vallée brings it in late in the film, it’s intrusive) and this focuses us on the details of Ron’s environment, keeps us close to his experience. It’s a terrific movie. ****

Her (2013) – Spike Jonze creates a vision of the future that’s like a depopulated issue of Monocle magazine: sparse crowds of hipsters wander around in high-waisted trousers, bathed in white light. The public spaces we see never quite chime with the aerial shots of Shanghai, the director’s L.A. of the future: the world of the movie is unconvincing. The flashbacks too to Joaquin Phoenix capering with his ex-wife are too stereotyped to connect, too standard an image of “fun”. The movie is gratifyingly goofy, however: Chris Pratt is his usual loveable self, and there are good running gags about the video games that Phoenix and his friends play and design. Phoenix’s relationship with his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) keeps evolving on both sides: the movie is thoughtful about our relationship with technology. But it never quite shakes a certain dryness: it’s never more than the working out of an idea. ***

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) – Like the second Star Wars trilogy, the Hobbit films are a pointless elaboration of a beloved pop myth. The world here has much in common with Lucas’ prequels: the dreary preoccupation with imaginary politics, the trite romance, the token ‘strong’ female character in a male universe. For a very expensive movie, it looks quite cheap: visually, it has the flat sharpness of behind-the-scenes footage shot on a cheap digital camera. The images have little richness or tone. Peter Jackson’s obviousness as a director recalls Baz Luhrmann: he shoots his actors almost exclusively in close-up, eliciting performances of pantomime broadness. (The characters frequently turn away mid-conversation to gaze solemnly into the distance, before turning back for a dramatic rejoinder.) This might have worked had Jackson pitched the story (as Tolkien did) for children: in trying to imbue it with Lord of the Rings‘ grandeur he’s made a movie that’s both silly and self-serious, grandiose and inconsequential. **

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) –In Ben Stiller’s adaptation, James Thurber’s henpecked husband becomes a numbed-out worker bee in a changing corporate environment. As a director, Stiller goes for stillness and symmetry: each shot is exquisitely composed, with Stiller-the-actor pinned in place, often in front of a field of graphics. He has trouble finding a tone for Walter’s fantasies: where in Thurber the dreams of manly potency are plausible clichés, here they wobble uncertainly between comic book heroics and outright farce. The film rights itself, however, once Walter sets out on his adventures (and the movie departs from Thurber’s conception of him): it’s Stiller’s mid-life crisis movie, in which the hero beats his ennui by climbing back on his skateboard. YOLO. ***