He's the most famous director in the history of the movies, but Alfred Hitchcock remains an enigma, a showman who loved to make cheeky cameos in his films and an odd-looking man who obsessed about his leading ladies.
At Christmas we were presented with the darkest possible version of the director, by the BBC drama The Girl, a heavy-handed affair that dealt with his hounding of the actress Tippi Hedren during the making of The Birds. Hitchcock is a very welcome antidote. It's not just better made and hugely more enjoyable, but beneath its buoyant façade is a nuanced characterisation of the man that actually feels tenable.
This time the "making of" backdrop is Hitchcock's groundbreaking Psycho. And instead of an obsession with one of the "Hitchcock blondes", we have a portrait of the director's complicated but extraordinarily bonded marriage with a woman who was also his greatest, yet unsung, collaborator, Alma Reville.
It's 1959. North By Northwest has just opened and Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is looking for his next project. Robert Bloch's sensationalist novel Psycho, inspired by real-life murderer Ed Gein, has been turned down by everyone in Hollywood. But what if, Hitch asks of Alma, "someone really good made a horror picture?".
Fuelled by a busy, intelligent and endlessly witty script, Sacha Gervasi's film offers a lot for our bucks: Hitch's struggles with the studio and the censor ("No American movie has found it necessary to show a toilet," suggests the latter, "let alone flush one"); his flirtation with leading lady Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), who is sassy enough to keep him at bay; his stressed-out, imaginary conversations with Gein; and the battles with his wife (Helen Mirren), as she despairs of his roving eye and he hypocritically becomes jealous of her.
And, throughout, is their collaboration, as Reville, Hitchcock's most trusted script and editing adviser, helps him bring Psycho home.
The film's tone is largely tongue in cheek, but beneath runs pathos, courtesy of Mirren's tremendous portrait of a formidable woman who nevertheless has spent a lifetime supporting a genius director but far-from-perfect husband, with little to show for it. Hopkins is her equal, walking a tightrope between impersonation and interpretation. His Hitch is funny, egotistical, vulnerable and a little scary, Hollywood royalty and grocer's son in one.
Pablo Larrain completes his superlative trilogy on the Chilean dictatorship with No. And whereas Tony Manero and Post Mortem were brilliantly made but emotionally gruelling, the finale – befitting its coverage of the end of repression – is gloriously upbeat.
In 1988, General Pinochet succumbed to international pressure and called a referendum on whether he would remain in power. He expected to win. The opposition parties expected him to win. But he lost. That we know. The film is about how exactly the "No" television campaign turned the tables.
Larrain skillfully blends archive footage with his fictional story of the campaigners, led by a cynical ad man with leftie leanings, played to perfection by Gael Garcia Bernal. Alfredo Castro, who sends up his sinister image as the man leading Pinochet's campaign. The result, Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, is a mixture of laughter, suspense and triumphant tears.
Warm Bodies is a gloriously silly and surprisingly soulful zombie comedy, with Nicholas Hoult from Skins doing very good work as a post-plague zombie, whose lumbering persona conceals a fully functioning consciousness and a romantic heart – who, when he meets the living girl of his dreams, warns himself: "Don't be creepy."