The older he gets, the more Michael Caine seems to be happier with nostalgia than novelty. He featured in Sylvester Stallone’s dismal remake of Get Carter, assumed the Laurence Olivier role in Kenneth Branagh's wholly unnecessary reworking of Sleuth and spoofed his Harry Palmer spy persona in Austin Powers in Goldmember. He’s even butled for Batman. But nowhere has Caine seemed more comfortable of late than as the janitor planning a diamond heist in Michael Radford’s period romp, Flawless.

Set in London before the 1960s started swinging, the yarn efficiently entangles Caine and ambitious Oxford graduate Demi Moore, whose resentment at hitting the glass ceiling prompts her to throw in her lot with a menial who seems to know a great deal more about the workings of their company than boss Joss Ackland or anyone else in the boardroom. But once the mission is accomplished, the action quickly becomes snarled up in superfluous subplots, the least of which is insurance investigator Lambert Wilson’s crush on Demi.

Radford handles the blag with precision, but this is no Rififi. Similarly, Caine and Moore add lustre without ever sparkling like the rocks they’ve risked all to purloin. Indeed, the picture as a whole never quite drags itself out of the mire which Radford uses as an opening-sequence metaphor for the grimy business of affluence. But the 60s gadgetry is as delicious as the PC anachronisms and it’s hard not to admire the polished craftsmanship on display.

In leaping into the 1970s for Rivals, Jacques Maillot may have done well to follow Radford’s ‘less is more’ credo where period trappings are concerned, as the garish décor, dodgy fashions and tacky tunes occasionally threaten to swamp this fact-based Lyons crime saga. However, Guillaume Canet and François Cluzet are sufficiently compelling as brothers on either side of the law to keep the kitsch at bay.

Having hurtled through the streets Bullitt-style to make his initial arrest, Canet exploits the fact he put nutter Medhi Nebbou behind bars by flirting with his girlfriend, Clotilde Hesme. However, he’s soon distracted by Cluzet’s emergence from prison after a ten-year stretch for murder. Despite his best intentions to go straight with a stockroom job, Cluzet quickly accepts a contract killing to romance cashier Marie Denarnaud and bolster his dreams of buying a country house. But the siblings are soon at loggerheads, as Canet’s career is jeopardised by Cluzet’s antics.

Although it slickly shifts gears from high-octane thriller to quasi-documentary police procedural, this works best as an intimate character study, with neither Canet nor Cluzet willing to take responsibility for their abrasive behaviour. But there’s more to this than testosterone, as Hesme, Denarnaud and Carole Franck (as a spiky hooker) are all outstanding. Their performances are topped, however, by Tilda Swinton’s bravura display in Eric Zonca’s Julia. Never on a par with its inspiration, John Cassavetes’s Gloria, this is a much-maligned lowlife drama, in which Swinton’s drunken Los Angelina loses her job and promises ex-lover Saul Rubinek that she will go to AA meetings.

But she agrees instead to help Mexican emigrée Kate del Castillo kidnap son Aidan Gould from the wealthy grandfather who denies her access. Inevitably, the scheme unravels and Swinton finds herself heading through the desert and over the border in the hope of hooking up with her unhinged partner in crime and receiving her share of Gould’s trust fund. Had Zonca injected a little more humanity into Julia’s character, this would have seemed less like a series of increasingly unlikely incidents and encounters driven solely by the anti-heroine’s impetuosity.

Nevertheless, Swinton delivers a tour-de-force turn as the rootless fortysomething whose compulsive talent for taking the wrong option makes her utterly riveting, whether she’s trying to wheedle favours out of her drug dealer, bargaining with macho thugs or struggling to reconcile her feelings for her spirited eight-year-old hostage. Not even her failure to learn anything from her experiences can make her wholly resistible.

Robert Carlyle, on the other hand, does reach an understanding of his relationship with a dying pal in Kenny Glenaan’s Summer. This is essentially a three-act drama that’s been sundered and reassembled to symbolise the fractured ties that still bind Carlyle and the wheelchair-bound Steve Evets. Inseparable as rascally kids, they discovered sex and cider in their teens, when the illiterate Carlyle found solace from his struggles at school with future solicitor Rachel Blake, whose class-conscious mother disapproved of their romance. But only as Evets succumbs to his cirrhosis does Carlyle finally come to terms with the passing of his youth and the accident that transformed their lives forever.

With its denunciation of Britain’s drinking culture, this could easily have been preachy and mawkish. But Glenaan keeps a lid on both the rhetoric and the emotions, while the hangdog Carlyle delivers his most thoughtful performance of recent times.