Comedy. Starring The Muppets, Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo. Director: James Bobin. Cert: General
NOT only was 2012's The Muppets a wonderful reintroduction to Jim Henson's great cast of characters who've endured for more than three decades, it also happened to be the funniest film of the year.
A lot of that came down to the persistence of lifelong fan, co-screenwriter and star Jason Segel, who managed to get the movie into production and clearly had a marvellous time while he was working on it, he and his great co-star Amy Adams practically beaming with pride all the way through.
The absence of Segel's involvement with this project initially gave some cause for concern, but by the time the opening sequence has referenced the previous film, and the characters discussed what they're going to do next before bursting into a big production number called We're Doing a Sequel, fears have been allayed and the laugh-rate is already way ahead of any of the rest of this year's so-called comedies.
By its nature Most Wanted had to be a different beast to its predecessor.
The Muppets was all about reintroducing the crew to the world, so with that duly taken care of, screenwriter Nicholas Stoller has opted for a 60s-style caper movie.
Approached by shifty-looking business agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), the Muppets are persuaded to undertake a world tour, unaware that Kermit has been replaced by Constantine, and sent to a gulag in Siberia, presided over by a Kermit-obsessed prison warder (Tina Fey).
Things become very silly indeed as the troupe head to Berlin, Madrid and Dublin before winding up in London for a big wedding. Along the way there are celebrity cameos galore, a gag-count that's off the scale and several wonderfully staged musical numbers, with songs again by Bret Mackenzie from Flight of the Conchords.
Granted, it does fall somewhat short of the brilliance of The Muppets but that's hardly a damning indictment, given that Most Wanted is still marvellously entertaining and easily the best comedy of the year so far. HHHHI
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Fantasy. Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Toby Jones. Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Cert: 12A
DEAR God, is it that time of the year already? We're only a week into spring and the first of the comic book blockbusters is upon us, with all its eye-watering 3D IMAX bells and whistles ringing and blowing.
Marvel geeks will no doubt be beside themselves for the second Captain America outing, even though it lacks any of the wit which characterised the first film and stretches a very thin, if vaguely political, plot to breaking point way before we hit the 90-minute mark.
There are echoes of 70s conspiracy thrillers lurking beneath the usual migraine-inducing editing and the presence of Robert Redford as a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who may or may not be up to no good adds a touch of class to proceedings, although it's fair to say that The Winter Soldier won't be troubling Three Days of the Condor or All the President's Men when it comes to compiling a resume of his finest cinematic moments.
Instead, the action focuses on Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) as they try to figure out who's trying to oust Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and gain control of three super-duper S.H.I.E.L.D. weapons platforms.
There's some guff about the price of freedom but, as per usual, everything boils down to tedious and repetitive CGI action sequences.
Like the character of Captain America himself, The Winter Soldier is bulked up and extremely efficient but deadly, deadly dull. HHIII
20 FEET FROM STARDOM
Documentary. Featuring Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Judith Hill, Lisa Fischer, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, Stevie Wonder. Director: Morgan Neville Cert: General
ONE of the few real surprises at this year's Oscars was when the gong for Best Documentary went to this US-made look at the role of backing singers down the years rather than to the remarkable The Act of Killing.
I'll have to admit that I was among those ready to cry 'foul!' at the injustice of it all but, having finally seen the winner, I can safely say that all is right with the world.
Morgan Neville has produced a magnificent piece of work which no self-respecting music fan should miss.
In a film which is revealing, sad and at times deeply moving we get to hear of the women and men, who add so much to records and live shows, but are rarely accorded their due in the spotlight.
Not only are there some blood-curdling tales of music business injustice (Darlene Love's account of her treatment at the hands of the monstrous Phil Spector is heartbreaking) and sheer bad luck (Judith Hill seemed fair set for stardom on a Michael Jackson tour until he went and died), but the music throughout is joyous.
Apart from hearing from the backing singers themselves, Neville also includes tributes and intelligent insights from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder and Sting and – in what must be a first for a film of this type – there's no sign of Bono. An extra star for that. HHHHH
Drama. Starring Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mossafa, Pauline Burlet, Jeanne Jestin, Elyes Aguis. Director: Asghar Farhadi Cert: 12A
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (who brought us the Oscar-winning and marvellous A Separation) makes his first European movie with a tense family drama set in a dreary suburb of north-east Paris.
Ali Mossafa plays Ahmad, who's travelled from Tehran to finalise his divorce from Marie-Anne (Berenice Bejo, unrecognisable from her role in The Artist), now living with Samir (Tahar Rahim from A Prophet) and pregnant with his child. Having an ex-husband staying under the same roof as a new partner and with three children, including a spiky teenage girl (Pauline Burlet), thrown into the mix is hardly going to be a recipe for happy families, and so it proves.
All three leads are excellent as the drama unfolds,and while one major plot revelation feels like it belongs in one of the more outlandish soap operas, it still can't spoil the enjoyment of another fine offering from a supremely talented film-maker. HHHHI