One of the finest films of the year is a cartoon about a cyclist called Champion who is abducted by Mafia wine importers and has to be rescued by his spherical, club-footed granny, a dog shaped like a sack of dough, and three aged, harmony-singing triplets. Hard to believe, I know. It's called Belleville Rendez-vous (12A), and it's the first feature film from the award-winning French cartoonist Sylvain Chomet. Don't worry if you can't speak French, though. A few lines of dialogue are translated seamlessly into English, but one of the film's beauties is that it's almost "silent": its story is told by the infectious, jazzy music and the visuals.
And what gorgeous visuals they are. An introductory song, starring caricatures of Josephine Baker and Django Reinhardt, is an unerring homage to the pulsating, elastic-limbed Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons of the 1930s. After that, the animation is unique. Enhanced very subtly by computer effects, it's drawn and painted with an individuality and richness that's closer to book illustration than to the shiny house style of Disney. It's as if each frame has been laboured over by Chomet himself.
The mood is a wondrous blend of quaint nostalgia and barmy, sometimes spooky strangeness. Chomet is a Nick Park fan, and there are echoes of Wallace and Gromit as Champion's gran and his dog pedalo their way across the Atlantic after his kidnappers' ocean liner. Stylistically, however, the film has more in common with Terry Gilliam and Monty Python (note the Fawltyesque waiter and the Mr Creosote-like citizens of Belleville), and with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's The Island Of Lost Children (note the fairy-tale metropolis, a vertiginous mutation of New York, Montreal and Quebec). Belleville Rendez-vous might be too weird for some young children. For older viewers, it's perfection.
Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett are the proverbial Mismatched Partners in the action-comedy Hollywood Homicide (12A). Hartnett is a tofu-eating, yoga-teaching young detective who's thinking of leaving the force and going into acting; Ford is a grizzled veteran who chomps on cheeseburgers, pays alimony to three ex-wives, and moonlights as an estate agent. They're quirkier than the heroes of most buddy-buddy cop movies, and Hollywood Homicide has some fun with the notion of a town where even the police are hoping to get into showbiz. But it's a case of nice characters, shame about the story. The paltry murder plot seems to have been stuck on as an afterthought.
The Lizzie McGuire Movie (U), a TV zitcom spin-off, stars Hilary Duff as a shy, unpopular, 15-year-old wallflower. On a school trip to Rome, she is mistaken for a pop star, and courted by a hunky Italian boy, while her poor classmates have to trudge around - yawn - the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel. Never have so many pre-teen fantasies been distilled so astutely into one film. Parents who go along will get a few chortles from Alex Borstein's swaggering teacher, while parents who don't go along can rest easy: it's all pretty wholesome and bland.
In The Man of the Year (15), an unemployed Brazilian shoots someone dead after an argument, only to find himself hailed as a hero because his victim had been a thief. For want of anything better to do, the killer becomes a vigilante for hire, and, as his stock rises, Jose Henrique Fonseca's film proposes that these days Travis Bickle wouldn't be seen as a psychopathic loner, but as a pillar of society. The Man Of The Year would be a smart indictment of contemporary urban paranoia if it didn't meander off in so many unrelated directions.
Jeepers Creepers 2 (15) is a cracking teen horror flick in which a school bus breaks down in the sticks, and is treated as a sardine tin by a giant demon bat. It's exemplary jump-out-of-your-seat fodder whether or not you've seen the previous episode. Daniel Auteuil stars in Petites Coupures (15), a French bedroom farce without the laughs. Emotional Backgammon (15) is a British independent film about the battle of the sexes. It was produced in London on a budget of small change, but it's the element that needn't have cost a penny - the disastrous script - that scuppers a promising debut.Reuse content