JUDY (12A) Four stars

In a long, distinguished career on stage and screen, which soared over the rainbow in 1939 when she donned Dorothy Gale’s ruby slippers in The Wizard Of Oz, Judy Garland was nominated for two Academy Awards in the first remake of A Star Is Born and gripping courtroom drama Judgment At Nuremberg.

Stellar performances from Grace Kelly in The Country Girl and Rita Moreno in West Side Story denied her those precious golden statuettes.

Fifty years after her death in London, Garland may have her glittering moment in the Oscars spotlight after all courtesy of Renee Zellweger’s tour-de-force portrayal in Judy. Adapted from Peter Quilter’s award-winning stage play End Of The Rainbow, director Rupert Goold’s impeccably choreographed drama focuses on the final months of Garland’s life when she married her fifth husband and sought refuge on this side of the Atlantic.

Fittingly, Zellweger is the talk of every glossy frame.

Singing with her own voice in a lower octave, the Texan actress commits fully and fiercely to a showstopping, sympathetic and defiant embodiment of a fading diva enslaved to a daily regime of amphetamines and sleeping pills, which began during teenage years as a pawn of the controlling Hollywood studio system.

When we meet Judy, she is embroiled in an acrimonious tug-of-war with third husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) for care and custody of their children, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd).

Crippled by debt and financial mismanagement, Judy reluctantly agrees to a five-week run of shows at The Talk Of The Town nightclub in London run by Bernard Delfont (Sir Michael Gambon).

“I have to leave my children if I want to make enough money to be with my children?” she asks incredulously.

Delfont assigns despairing assistant Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) the unenviable task of shepherding Garland to the stage each night.

Unfortunately, flighty fiance Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) continually distracts Judy when she should be rehearsing with music director Burt (Royce Pierreson) and her band.

Tormented by ghosts of the past, notably film studio titan Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery), a sleep-deprived Judy threatens to self-sabotage what remains of her legacy.

Judy is elevated beyond the pages of Tom Edge’s script by the luminous Zellweger.

Justifiable concerns about characterisation and dramatic momentum melt like lemon drops as she delivers crisp one-liners with fighting spirit - “I know what a bad mother is, I lived with one” - and tumbles ingloriously on stage in front of heavy-paying punters, who articulate their displeasure by throwing bread rolls.

Eldest daughter Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux) appears fleetingly in a party scene but is otherwise absent from the emotional wreckage. In Zellweger’s gutsy, bravura performance, we feel every bruise and glancing blow.

JOKER (15) Four stars

The Joker’s wild and plagued with a neurological condition which compels him to burst into fits of maniacal giggling in director Todd Phillips’s profoundly disturbing character study.

Co-written by Scott Silver, this relentlessly grim portrait of mental illness and societal neglect burrows deep beneath the translucent, bone-stretched skin of Batman’s adversary, several years before the Caped Crusader dons a cowl.

While Christopher Nolan’s brooding Dark Knight trilogy underpinned muscular thrills with sustained menace, earning Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar as a schizophrenic clown devoid of empathy, Phillips’s deep-dive into the DC Comics universe shrugs off the action-oriented demands of a conventional blockbuster to focus intently on the psychological destruction of its chief antagonist.

“Is it just me, or is it get crazier out there?” Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) asks an impassive social worker at the beginning of the film.

Phoenix’s ferocious and uncompromising performance gambols through a fug of delusions and horrifying self-realisation that gives birth to an anarchistic revolutionary with nothing to lose.

Rubbish bags clutter Gotham’s streets on the 10th day of a city-wide collectors’ strike as Arthur studiously applies white face make-up and an exaggerated red smile.

A gang of wayward youths steal the advertising board he has been hired to twirl in colourful apparel and vicious beat the mentally unstable loner when he chases them down an alley.

Arthur returns home, bloodied and bruised, to his ailing mother Penny (Frances Conroy), a former employee of billionaire philanthropist Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) who has announced his candidacy for mayor.

Penny unintentionally drizzles scorn on her son’s dream of performing stand-up - “Don’t you have to be funny to be a comedian?” - and Arthur seeks comfort in the nightly broadcast of talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), who he fancifully imagines as the doting father he never had.

An impromptu act of violence on a subway train propels Arthur into the glare of the media’s eye.

As Gotham teeters on the brink of insurrection and a young Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson) witnesses the lawlessness first-hand, Arthur becomes a grinning poster boy for the downtrodden, discarded and disenfranchised.

Joker is deeply disquieting, capturing the anti-establishment sentiment which has shaken mainstream politic establishments to their foundation.

An emaciated Phoenix electrifies every scene, dragging us kicking and silently screaming to the edge of insanity.

Explosions of violence serve the tightly wound narrative and are often graphic, but no more so than the final 15 minutes of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood. Like the persistent itch you can’t quite scratch, Phillips’s picture commands forceful, complete attention and continues to pucker the skin with goose bumps long after the end credits roll.

GOOD POSTURE (15) Three stars

Charming and beautiful college graduate Lilian (Grace Van Patten) trades on her looks and wealth to get everyone, particularly men like her boyfriend Nate (Gary Richardson), to do her bidding.

Her laziness drives a stake through the heart of her relationship with Nate and she seeks self-indulgent refuge in a townhouse owned by her father’s friend, reclusive author Julia Price (Emily Mortimer), and her husband Don (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Lilian’s corrosive presence tests Julia’s marriage and creates friction with the couple’s dog walker, George (Timm Sharp).