Battle of the Sexes (2017) – This is a mainstream entertainment as good as A League of Their Own. The casting is impeccable top to bottom – from Sarah Silverman’s way with a cigarette to Alan Cumming’s finely calibrated mixture of kindness and bitchy speculation. It’s a particular pleasure to witness Emma Stone’s return to form after her insipid performances in La La Land and Magic in the Moonlight: she’s good at conveying King’s mingled fear and desire as she begins to explore her sexuality. There’s a scene at a salon – a woman’s hands in her hair, Stone looking at herself in the mirror – that turns a haircut into foreplay. Directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton have a gift for finding the telling moment – when Stone’s glasses come off as a prelude to a sexual encounter, it’s as potent as a full undressing – and for staging, like the comedy they find in hotel corridors. There are plenty of clichés – the cuts to characters watching various tennis matches are the worst offenders – but the shifts in the characters’ relationships are nuanced and surprising. The point of view is generous: the people behave better than you expect, mostly erring on the side of kindness. The film also gets at the ways sport can register as theatre and politics, and the relationship between its different kinds of liberation story. ***½

Coco (2017) – There are Pixar story elements here, like the child alienated from his family (think Brave or The Good Dinosaur) or the scary possibility of being forgotten by the people you love, that are familiar to the point of cliché: Pixar keeps wringing the same tears from us, from Bing Bong to Woody at the tip. Coco hits its beats effectively, however, and the character design is so perfect and the world so richly imagined that the film feels fresh anyway. The power of the film’s Mexican matriarchy is expressed in the squat, sculptural presence of one abuela and the severe elegance of another; the identity of each member of Miguel’s extended family is fixed in an instant, so that the movie feels densely populated without ever losing its momentum, and the hairless dog is a triumph. Perhaps most impressive is the ease with which it moves between worlds (in this it’s indebted to Spirited Away): the movie wears its supernatural elements lightly, like this culture in which the spirits of departed ancestors are welcome guests. Docked half a star for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a short that feels very long. ***

Get Out (2017) – From the opening sequence, this is so elegantly framed and shot – a long shot that excludes vital information until someone lunges out of the darkness, a figure placed in the background so that an apparently friendly house tour takes on an air of unease – that a large part of the movie’s pleasure is in Jordan Peele’s command of the medium. It’s packed with references to other horror classics, from a Hallorann figure out of The Shining (not only there to provide a snowmobile this time) to the brief, distracted car ride out of The Haunting. This belongs in their company. There are echoes of Peele’s sketch comedy in the hero’s rapport with his best friend and the highfalutin white monsters at the garden party: another sign of Peele’s mastery (as writer as well as director) is the confident way he combines genres and tones. The way each villain is dispatched is funny and perfect, but the most potent moment of violence is emotional. These white people feel entitled to everything, even the hero’s most personal experiences. ****

The Last Jedi (2017) – This is a significant departure in tone for the series – from the campy, declamatory way the actors (particularly Domhnall Gleeson as a perpetually thwarted Imperial officer) deliver their gobbets of exposition to the various species of alien introduced as animal sidekicks, Rian Johnson’s film is goofier, cuter, more sentimental than its predecessors. This is both good and bad. On one hand, the absence of self-seriousness is a virtue in blockbuster filmmaking – a healthy recognition of its silliness – and the tone Johnson cultivates is close to the movie serial heroics that inspired George Lucas in the first place. (There’s a red throne room right out of Flash Gordon.) On the other, it sacrifices some of the qualities that make Star Wars stand out: its sense of space as a grand stage, its yearning spirituality. To me, it felt like a calculated attempt to bring Star Wars closer to the Disney house style, so that these characters could slot in to Pirates of the Caribbean or The Avengers or any of its universes. (The most egregious Disney moment is a troupe of kids – the next generation of consumers – soot brushed on their cheeks, learning to love the Rebellion.) It was probably inevitable, as the Star Wars movies and their spinoffs proliferate, that they would become less distinctive, less special. Still, it’s a fairly entertaining act of corporate course correction. **½

The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) – Noah Baumbach is so consistent in what he does – Woody Allen’s heir in making small, personal films with stacked casts and a familiar set of thematic preoccupations (failed artists, monstrous fathers, the failure to be hip) – that small differences stick out: where While We’re Young (my favourite of his films) was an out and out comedy about a middle aged couple falling under the spell of an attractive pair of hipsters, this dives back into the family inferno of The Squid and the Whale. Baumbach is right there with his characters: as the movie opens, we sit, another passenger, in the car that an increasingly rattled Adam Sandler is trying to park. At the same time Baumbach is aware of how little their emotions matter in the scheme of things: often he cuts away from his characters as they’re on the verge of blowing up. Their outbursts aren’t cathartic; they’re how this family functions. At the heart of the film is the spiky relationship between the half-brothers played by Sandler (giving his best performance since Punch-Drunk Love) and Ben Stiller: the children are close to the surface in these men, whether seeking their father’s approval, clumsily defending their sister, or squabbling in the grass. ***

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) – Kenneth Branagh’s chief vice as a filmmaker is his insistence on giving himself the biggest role in his movies. His Poirot dominates more than he should, and the bits that screenwriter Michael Green contrives to humanise him, like the photograph of a lost love that Poirot confides to in his cabin, or his rumination over the burden of being a great detective, are maudlin. This Poirot is less entertaining fusspot than drama queen, and Branagh’s hamming is not as fun as it should be. As a director he’s florid too, given to computer-generated landscapes (every plain infinite, every mountain an Everest) and a camera that whirls, prowls and plunges. This gets in the way of the genre’s chief pleasure: an all-star cast playing caricatures to the hilt. There’s no Angela Lansbury in Death on the Nile or Kim Novak in The Mirror Crack’d here: the people aren’t given enough time to be vivid, and Branagh and his moustache keep getting in the way. **