American Hustle (2013) – It starts like Goodfellas, with its depiction of a child discovering a taste for petty crime and the his-and-hers narration, but the mood here is completely different – altogether more seductive and cajoling. This is not a jaded mobster and his wife speaking from bitter experience but a pair of cons who depend on their ability to charm people: they make us, the audience, their marks. The movie is, among other things, a celebration of the mutability of identity. The principals are constantly adjusting their personas according to the circumstances, and their transformations give the movie wonderful fizziness and brio. The actors respond by reinventing themselves: Christian Bale disappears into his character’s tubby physicality and exchanges his usual glum intensity for genial warmth, while Amy Adams gives a ferocious, dexterous performance (one moment she’s a luscious fake aristocrat, the next she’s howling in triumph in a toilet stall). The movie wins you over entirely to these disreputable people: it’s a terrific con. ****

Blue Jasmine (2013) – Plot has never been Woody Allen’s strong point: there’s often an expository dullness to the way his movies lay out their stories. That’s the case here: rather than allow Jasmine’s back-story to emerge from her interactions with her sister and her new milieu, Allen keeps giving us flashbacks to her previous, wealthy life, labouring the same obvious contrast with her present. If this is Allen’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Jasmine is Blanche Dubois, she’s Blanche without mystery. The movie basically adopts Stanley’s view of her – as a destructive phony. She’s transfixing nonetheless because of Cate Blanchett’s performance. Jasmine has a compulsive need to explain herself – to have others agree with her image of herself – and as Blanchett talks and talks and talks, haggard, usually with a drink in one hand, she’s good campy fun. ***

Enough Said (2013) – Julia Louis-Dreyfus demonstrates more warmth and range than she ever has before, and her interactions with James Gandolfini yield a pleasure that has been in short supply in recent movies: the fluky crackle of star chemistry. Nicole Holofcener has made the first good romantic comedy in quite some time. Her preoccupations with the snarls of family relationships and the small dilemmas of upper-middle class life are on display, to mixed effect: Louis-Dreyfus’ relationship with her daughter, pitched perfectly somewhere between intimacy and exasperation, is one of the best things in the movie, but there’s a subplot revolving around Toni Collette’s dissatisfaction with her maid that feels trite and superfluous. Mostly, though, the movie is sharp and funny and well-observed, with pleasure in the details, from Catherine Keener’s Nancy Meyers-perfect house to the mimosas Gandolfini serves in jam jars. ***

Gravity (2013) – It’s easy to forgive the moments of Hollywood philosophising (George Clooney’s condescending pep talk is the worst offender) because at its best, this movie is existentialism rendered in images: human identity asserted by small acts against a background of darkness. I expected it to be impressive – Emmanuel Lubezki’s images have a sober beauty – but I didn’t expect it to be so emotional. Alfonso Cuarón has the confidence in his material that Danny Boyle didn’t, quite, with Sunshine: he trusts that we will find the astronauts’ expertise fascinating. Most of the movie’s drama is in their work, in the way they negotiate their environment. Sandra Bullock is perfect as the heroine: her very ordinariness encourages us to identify with her on the most basic level, as a human whose panicked breathing is exhausting her oxygen supply, as a body made clumsy by its cumbersome suit. She becomes a representative figure lightly, without making a big deal of it. This is a great film. ****