WPPB

Mark Jenkins

To rescue his kidnapped fiancee, an earnest dandy rides into the wilderness, accompanied by a fake preacher and a miniature horse. That's the setup for Damsel, a deadpan farce filmed on the rocky Utah turf of classic John Ford Westerns. David and Nathan Zellner are on another cinematic quest.

Stuffed with references to classic crime flicks, American Animals is British writer-director Bart Layton's clever and assured bid to rival Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino. The film is highly self-conscious, but no more so than its real-life antiheroes, a quartet of Kentucky college kids who study The Killing and Reservoir Dogs to plan a heist that turns out to be poorly scripted.

Among Isabelle Huppert's many impressively vehement roles are several murderers, a mother who seduces her son, and the abortionist who was the last woman France ever sent to the guillotine. So the first joke of the intriguing but bewilderingly scattered Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde) is director Serge Bozon's casting of the anything-goes actress as a shy, awkward schoolteacher.

As he announced with The Artist, writer-director Michel Hazanavicius makes movies about movies. So it was nearly inevitable that he would someday burlesque the work of Jean-Luc Godard, the Franco-Swiss director who virtually invented the meta-film. The result, Godard Mon Amour, is fascinating but not as much fun as the movies its title character made between 1959 and 1966.

In 2007, writer-director Tony Gilroy dispatched the protagonist of Michael Clayton, a cynical and corrupt law-firm fixer, to unravel a plot so grubby it made him look clean by comparison. Gilroy pursues the same strategy in the involving if somewhat predictable Beirut, which was directed by Brad Anderson.

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