Cartel Land (2015) – Matthew Heineman’s closeness to his subjects – vigilante movements on either side of the US/Mexico border – proves a mixed blessing. As he shows Dr. Mireles – leader of the Autodefensas – speechifying, at work in his medical practice, relaxing with his family, Heineman seems to be participating in the creation of a folk hero; the Autodefensas’ armed raids on the Knights Templar drug cartel are shot for excitement, as an adrenalin rush. You could argue that Heineman’s approach captures the appeal of such movements, and the picture becomes more complicated in the film’s latter stages. But these armed insurgents with their law and order rhetoric are not so different from ISIS (we see the good doctor order a man’s execution for sporting the wrong tattoo), and for too much of its running time this movie comes dangerously close to endorsing them. **

54: The Director’s Cut (2015) – The movie’s debt to Saturday Night Fever was always obvious: Mark Christopher’s restored version proves a worthy successor to that disco classic. Christopher’s portrait of the dancefloor gets at its utopian aspects – its inclusiveness and the potential for self-invention (the floor at Studio 54 is like a masque ball) – and the holy feeling when the music and the drugs are just right. It’s aware too of its excess and exploitation, and how stubbornly differences of class and gender persist outside that magic space. The movie’s examination of the power of male beauty and its limitations is uncomfortably apt when it comes to the career of Ryan Phillippe. He’s at the height of his prettiness here, and the film’s gay sensibility is in the camera’s frank worship of that beauty as much as his character’s newly explicit bisexuality. The climax – an avalanche of disasters at the dawn of the 80s – still feels a bit on the nose, but this film reanimates an era. ***

Hill of Freedom (2014) – This precious, pretentious movie, with its pointlessly scrambled timeline, is yet another Valentine to male passivity, where the protagonist’s glum indecision proves irresistible to everyone around him. Moro (Ryo Kase) is in Seoul for the declared purpose of finding a lover he met on a previous visit. However, it’s only late in the film that he actually goes to visit her apartment. He’d rather moon around in her general vicinity: everyone he encounters seems to find this adorable. Because Moro is Japanese and speaks no Korean, most of his interactions are in English (the second language that he and the locals have in common): the halting conversations that result are certainly an apt rendering of expat experience, but they’re still a drag to sit through. It’s an infuriating movie. **

Our Little Sister (2015) – In broad outline – abandoned by their mother, a group of siblings must get on in her absence – this is similar to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s previous film Nobody Knows, but the treatment here is totally different. These characters are never in jeopardy; even those who die do so in an orderly fashion, attended by their loved ones. It’s closer in tone to a ‘woman’s picture’ like How to Make an American Quilt, preoccupied by female relationships and taking in boyfriends and work and the passing of knowledge between generations. To this genre Kore-eda brings his luminous sense of faces and the small details of household life – his gift for noticing. His unstressed style doesn’t punch up or falsify the big moments, the way a Hollywood version might. Though it turns a bit flabby in its second half, its warmth and specificity are very pleasurable. ***

Results (2015) – The director of Funny Ha Ha is still fascinated by indecision, but it plays differently with this older set of characters. They’re not so much keeping their options open as stuck in patterns, with painful histories to live down. At the outset the movie seems equally interested in its three leads, but it soon skews to the two men: its comparative lack of curiosity about Cobie Smulders’ Kat (she disappears for a long stretch before being parachuted in at the end) is the movie’s main flaw. Smulders makes a strong impression anyway, with her self-control that so easily gives way to anger. Andrew Bujalski’s stroke is to situate these lost people in the fitness industry, with its earnest sense of self-improvement: his characters are striving for perfection even as they go nowhere. Guy Pearce is particularly funny as an Australian gym owner. ***

Tales (2014) – Rakhshan Bani-Etemad may have devised the structure of her film – a series of small portraits of Tehran – to evade the Iranian censors, but it results in a scope (the different stories cut across class and gender) and a panoramic sense of place reminiscent of Altman’s great ensemble dramas. The set-ups are exceedingly simple (often we’re stuck with the characters in a moving vehicle), which emphasises the eloquence with which these people narrate themselves and their hardships. The transitions between stories are elegantly handled: the narrative baton sometimes passes almost imperceptibly, our focus transferred from one character to another in the course of a scene. The way peripheral characters come to the centre (and vice versa) puts these stories in context. It’s simple in the best sense – beautifully designed. ****