In an unfortunate scheduling coincidence, two films that recently featured in the Parky at the Pictures survey of 2010 have their DVD release this week. However, when the titles in question are as distinguished as Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy and Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, no excuse is needed for celebrating their excellence once more.

Making his first feature outside Iran, Kiarostami has produced a simmering pastiche of bickering couple pictures from Roberto Rossellini's Voyage to Italy (1954) to Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). Using mirrors and shifts of perspective to ensure that nothing is as it seems, this meticulously photographed, philosophically provocative and mischievously romcomic piece sends English academic William Shimell and French antique dealer Juliette Binoche on a Sunday odyssey to the Tuscan hill town of Lucignano, where they debate originality, authenticity and value while keeping the audience (and themselves) guessing about the precise nature of their relationship. The dialogue is a touch ripe in places, but the leads respond splendidly to Kiarostami's playful mockery of the clichés sustaining both arthouse and mainstream film.

Shimell is in Italy to promote his contentious new book about copies being as artistically valid as the original works and he is warming to his theme when Binoche arrives late and takes a seat on the front row. She is distracted, however, by the restless antics of hungry son, Adrian Moore, and leaves hurriedly after hastily scribbling a note and acquiring six copies of the text. Later that day, Shimell ventures into her cellar shop and comments awkwardly on the reproduction statues she has for sale. He seems anxious to catch a train, but Binoche persuades him to take a drive into the surrounding countryside.

En route, she tells him about her sister's marriage and he listens with civility rather than interest. They arrive in Lucignano and Binoche tells Shimell that couples come here to marry because there is a golden tree in the church that is supposed to bring good luck. Once again, he responds politely and follows Binoche into the small museum, where a tour party is standing in front of a painting that was long believed to date from Roman times, but is, in fact, an 18th-century reproduction.

This time, Shimell allows his disdain to show and the hurt Binoche's mood is scarcely improved by a phone call from Moore asking if he can go skating rather than study. They stop at a café and, while Shimell is taking a call of his own outside, Binoche allows owner Gianna Giachetti to believe that they're husband and wife and invents a backstory to explain Shimell's demeanour. Yet, as they wander to the church, the conversation seems to suggest that Shimell and Binoche do have a history and this sense that a once great passion has cooled into fractious intolerance is reinforced by Shimell's refusal to pose with newlyweds beside the golden tree, a curious encounter with strangers Jean-Claude Carrière and Agathe Natanson in the town square and Shimell's peevish behaviour in a deserted restaurant.

The charade seems to be over, as they sit on some steps and listen to the bells tolling. But Binoche claims to recognise the pensione and they take the room she insists they stayed in once before. The view from the window looks familiar and Shimell's mood improves. Binoche goes to the bathroom to freshen up and smiles at her reflection, because while the situation may not be perfect, it's better than nothing.

Kiarostami has resolutely refused to clarify the precise nature of the couple's relationship. But the mystery merely adds to the allure of this cineaste's delight. Working for the first time from a detailed screenplay, Kiarostami peppers the conversation with ideas that veer from the challenging to the mischievous, while Luca Bigazzi's restless camera captures both the tension between the protagonists and the ethereal atmosphere of the sublime location. Making his screen debut, Shimell deftly recalls George Sanders's solicitous indifference in Voyage to Italy, while Binoche (who won the Best Actress prize at Cannes) adds a playful sensuality to Ingrid Bergman's melancholic determination.

An exceptional performance from Jennifer Lawrence dominates Debra Granik's adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's bleak Ozarks novel, Winter's Bone. Indeed, Michael McDonough's camera can barely pull itself away from her steadfast features to focus on Mark White's meticulous production design, which barely distinguishes between the dwellings occupied by the feuding families and the ramshackle outhouses surrounded by rusting junk. But this is far from being another clichéd backwoods melodrama, as the dealings are largely conducted by the womenfolk, who never seem to use more words than are strictly necessary.

With her father in jail for cooking methamphetamine, 17 year-old Lawrence takes care of her mentally fragile mother and dependent younger siblings. She gets help putting food on the table from neighbour Shelley Wagganer. But when sheriff Garret Dillahunt calls to inform her that her father has jumped bail after putting up their home as collateral, she has no option but to walk the mountains in the hope that somebody knows where he is hiding. Unfortunately, her father has made many enemies, including his testy brother John Hawkes, who advises Lawrence against meddling in matters that can only provoke trouble.

But, with best friend Lauren Sweetser offering to keep house in her absence, Lawrence ventures into a pitiless world of drink, drugs, ignorance and internecine violence to call in some family favours. Cousin Casey MacLaren tells her that clan chief Ronnie Hall is the only one who can help her, but access to him is firmly blocked by his doughty wife, Dale Dickey. Hawkes tries to convince Lawrence that her father died in a brewing blaze, but she refuses to accept the evidence of a torched shack and inevitably finds herself dragged back to Hall's estate to be taught a lesson in minding her business.

Although this is bound to invite comparisons to Courtney Hunt's Frozen River (2008), this unflinching saga is actually closer in spirit to Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Rosetta (1999) and Lance Hammer's Ballast (2008). The Oscar-nominated Lawrence is fearless in her deadpan determination to find her father, as much in a bid to salvage a last vestige of respect for him as to hold him to account for his reckless selfishness. Her showdowns with Hawkes and Dickey are particularly striking, both for their frankness and their simmering unpredictability. But she also impresses when teaching her siblings to fend for themselves in the kitchen and how to handle a gun in the wilds. Her triumph is never in doubt, especially when Hawkes decides to do his avuncular duty. But Granik never takes for granted the tenacity and mettle Lawrence has to display in order to stand firm in the face of unregenerate chauvinism.

Indian cinema can rarely be accused of such subtlety and debuting writer-director Anusha Rizvi's Peepli [Live] lays on the satire with a trowel. But there's something appealing about the sub-continent's first-ever submission to the Sundance Film Festival. Moreover, any film that pays respectful homage to both Frank Capra's Meet John Doe (1941) and Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951) can't be all bad.

Having failed to secure a bank loan to pay off their mounting debts, brothers Raghubir Yadav and Omkar Das Manikpuri return to the tiny village of Peepli facing the prospect of their farm being put up for auction. Bed-ridden mother Farrukh Jaffer lambasts them both as failures. But when Manikpuri's shrewish wife, Shalini Vatsa, adds her ten rupeesworth, Jaffer accuses her of being a witch who has brought misfortune upon her household. All is not quite lost, however, as there is soon to be an election and the siblings hope that thakur Sitaram Panchal will employ them for the campaign. However, he dismisses them as losers and jokes that the only hope they have of making any money is for one to commit suicide and claim state compensation of 100,000 rupees.

The bone-idle Yadav likes the sound of this proposition and, even though Manikpuri has a wife and three children, he talks him into ending it all for the greater good of the entire family. However, local newspaper reporter Nawazuddin Siddiqui overhears their plan and calls glamorous TV anchor Malaika Shenoy in the hope of selling her the story. With tension growing between the political parties and Shenoy in need of a scoop to prove she's not just a pretty face, she comes to the country and sets up camp. Most disregard Manikpuri's plight as a publicity stunt. But rival journalist Vishal Sharma spots its human interest potential and Peepli is soon the centre of a media circus, with opportunists arriving hot on their heels with fast food kiosks and fairground rides to cater for the throng.

The army is called in to keep the peace and Agriculture Minister Naseeruddin Shah finds himself dragged into the fracas, as party and caste bigwigs compete for votes by attempting to ameliorate Manikpuri's situation. But, at the height of the furore, the would-be suicide disappears and an entirely new blame game breaks out that prompts federal, state and local politicos to acquiesce in the notion that Islamic fundamentalists are responsible. However, the truth is more affecting.

Shanker Rahman's photography unfussily establishes a sense of place, while Rizvi and editor Hemanti Sarkar deserve great credit for keeping this cutting farce brisk and clear. The montage sequences depicting the frenzied media activity are particularly astute and ably lampoon the vacuity of rolling news techniques. The vagaries of the Indian political and caste systems are also exposed, as is the shameful poverty into which so many farmers have been plunged in the decade since the economic emphasis shifted away from agriculture.

Yet Manikpuri is far too taciturn to make much of an anti-hero and neither the rivalry between Shenoy and Sharma nor Siddiqui's gradual realisation that he's ill-suited to his scurrilous profession fires the imagination. The mockery of the calculating philanthropy and ad hoc policy-making of the ruling classes is more intriguing, but it is always more of a sideshow. Thus, while this is lively, perceptive and amusing, it's never quite as slick, acute or witty as it might be and it's left to the last image of a building site for some luxury apartments to really drive home the tragedy of the eight million farm-workers who were sacrificed to progress.

The tensions simmering in the tinderbox city of Jaffa are delineated with equally admirable equanimity by Palestinian Scandar Copti and Israeli Yaron Shani in the Oscar-nominated Ajami. The product of several months workshopping with a non-professional cast and shot in a rigorous vérité style, this is a sobering insight into the macho culture that exists on the mean streets of the eponymous multi-ethnic neighbourhood. Moreover, the elliptical temporal structure compels the viewer continually to reassess the ever-shifting situation and gain some idea of the complexity and unpredictability of daily life predicated on hatred, frustration and violence.

Thirteen year-old narrator Fouad Habash is the brother of Shahir Kabaha, the teenage head of his family who is being targeted by a Bedouin gang in a revenge killing. Restaurateur Youssef Sahwani attempts to broker a truce, but the only way Kabaha can pay the agreed fine is by drug dealing. Meanwhile, 16 year-old Ibrahim Frege arrives from Nablus in the hope of finding work to pay for his mother's bone marrow transplant. He is illegally hired by Sahwani, but promptly falls for his Christian daughter, Ranin Karim, who is secretly dating Kabaha.

Completing the story strands are Israeli cop Eran Naim, who is obsessed with tracing his missing soldier brother, and cosmopolitan Arab, Scandar Copti, who has alienated his community by having a Jewish girlfriend and is being investigated by the police for involvement in his brother's drug ring. Indeed, the sins of siblings prove crucial to the combustible action, with confused notions of honour and loyalty further reinforcing entrenched positions. But while the co-directors are to be applauded for the impartiality of their approach, this is often unnecessarily intricate, with the unsigned flashbacks occasionally confusing as much as they illuminate. Moreover, the relentless hustling of Boaz Yehonatan Yacov's handheld imagery tends to disorientate the viewer rather than plunge them into the centre of the action.

The emphasis on the personal rather than the political is laudably shrewd. But the bipartite approach means that Shani and Copti end up compromising rather than critiquing and, thus, while this is technically more ambitious than the majority of films on the Arab-Israeli stand-off, its conclusions are remarkably conventional.

By contrast, self-satisfaction and an antipathetic protagonist blight Srdjan Spasojevic's debut feature, A Serbian Film. However, these are perhaps the least of the crimes committed by a picture that required 49 cuts - amounting to four minutes and 11 seconds - before it was awarded an 18 certificate by the British Board of Film Classification. According to the BBFC ruling, the changes were made to remove both `elements of sexual violence that tend to eroticise or endorse sexual violence' and `scenes in which images of children are intercut with images of adult sexual activity and sexual violence'. Nevertheless, this clumsy attempt at political allegory still contains allusions to bestiality and paedophilia that will make this discomfiting for even the broadest-minded viewer.

Despite the devotion of wife Jelena Gavrilovic and son Luka Mijatovic, ex-porn star Kabir Tourani is struggling to adapt to retirement. So, when onetime co-star Katarina Žutic informs him that producer Sergej Trifunovic is keen to hire him for a lucrative shoot, he signs the contract without knowing precisely what will be required of him.

This oversight quickly comes to haunt Tourani, as he returns from work each day with a growing sense of apprehension after filming sequences in which pre-pubescent Andela Nenadovic is forced to watch as her mother (Ana Sakic) is assaulted for disgracing the reputation of her war hero husband by selling drugs and behaving in a lewd manner. Indeed, Tourani becomes so disturbed by what he sees that he asks cop brother Slobodan Bestic to investigate Trifunovic's background. But things are about to become a good deal more sordid.

In fairness to Spasojevic, this is a more than capably crafted piece of torture porn. It may lack the knowing intensity of James Wan's Saw (2004) or Eli Roth's Hostel (2005), but the flashbacking denouement, in which Tourani pieces together what happened after he was injected by doctor Lena Bogdanovic with a potent cocktail of tranquilisers and animal Viagra, is slickly handled - even though much of its content is reprehensible.

However, this is much less successful as either an exposé of the Serbian psyche or a treatise on the abuse heaped upon the populace by its leadership since the break-up of Yugoslavia. Trifunovic may protest that Serbia is `no country for real art', but the occasional references to war orphans and atrocity trials in the Hague fail to make the case that it is capable only of churning out snuff movies and the repugnant genre of `newborn porn'.

Spasojevic was reportedly reluctant to allow this to be marketed as a horror film. But, for all the attempts to invest scenes of rape, incest and murder with grimly ironic satire, incidents like the ithyphallic attack on an empty eye socket ensure that this always feels more like a cynical exercise in exploitation than a serious political tract.

The BBFC's intervention is regrettable (if understandable), as the cuts only emphasise the grotesqueness of the now off-screen barbarism. Moreover, the controversy the excisions have generated distracts from the excellence of Nemanja Jovanov's relentless widescreen cinematography, Nemanja Petrovic's fearsome production design and Darko Simic's sharp editing. But few will view this dispassionately, even though it is - as Tourani says of the hardcore DVD he catches his six year-old watching - little more than `a cartoon for grown-ups'.

The same might also be said - albeit in puppet form - of Jackboots on Whitehall. Beautifully made, but scrappily scripted, this rousing animated lampoon of the clichés of the Second World War movie is a real family affair. Written and directed by the debuting siblings Edward and Rory McHenry, designed by their father David and numbering brothers Dominic and Jack among the puppeteers, it's clearly a labour of love and the work of genuinely inspired film-makers. But the jokes range from the crude to the banal and, for all the witty allusions to classic pictures and the odd moment of dark camp, this is nowhere near as funny as its brilliant visuals deserve it to be.

With troops trapped at Dunkirk and the RAF beaten in the Battle of Britain, Blighty is left defenceless against the marauding Nazis. In Berlin, Himmler (Richard O'Brien), Goebbels (Tom Wilkinson) and Goering (Richard Griffiths) plan an invasion using a giant mole to dig under the English Channel that will bypass the coastal defences being erected in Kent by such stalwart yokels as Tom (Stephen Merchant) and Chris (Ewan McGregor), an outsider whose unfeasibly large hands so repulse the local vicar (Richard E. Grant) that he refuses to let him date his innocent daughter, Daisy (Rosamund Pike).

All is not lost, however, even as tanks surface on Trafalgar Square and trundle towards Downing Street, as Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) is defended by a crack unit of Indian troops led by Major Rupee (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a maverick American volunteer, Billy Fiske (Dominic West), who is convinced he is fighting the Communists. But the Prime Minister still needs to be rescued by Chris at the throttle of a clunky old steam engine, which beats a hasty retreat to Hadrian's Wall in order to mount a rearguard.

As Hitler (Alan Cumming) settles into Buckingham Palace by donning one of Queen Elizabeth I's dresses, a ragtag corps of farmers, workers and a womanising French Resistance fighter named Gaston (Hugh Fraser) dig in on the border of Scot Land and send Chris into the fearsome hinterland in search of reinforcements. Wearing redcoats left behind centuries before, the plucky Little Englanders prepare to confront the Wehrmacht might. But Chris is about to unleash a far more terrifying force upon the unsuspecting nation.

Filmed in Glorious PanzerVision and riffing on everything from Thunderbirds and Michael Bentine's Potty Time to Spitting Image and Team America: World Police, this is hugely enjoyable and audaciously politically incorrect fun. The nods towards films like Ice Cold in Alex, Zulu, Independence Day and any number of Ealing gems are neat, while the vocal cast fully enters into the madcap bulldog spirit, with Grant particularly relishing the opportunity to play a foul-mouthed clergyman, Moreover, the largely inanimate puppets - which are essentially a cross between Action Man and Barbie - range hilariously from the caricatured to the kitsch.

But too many gags fall wide of the mark. The constant references to Matron Rutty (Pam Ferris) and her First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) quickly become tiresome and the surfeit of Mel Gibson cracks after Chris enlists the support of a Braveheart with an Australian accent compound the lameness of the disappointing denouement. Despite the technical ingenuity involved, the combat sequences also rely more on excess than acuity and, as a consequence, they sit awkwardly with the overall tone of gleeful iconoclasm.

Destined for instant cult status, this pitches somewhere between Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's It Happened Here (1965) and Peter Richardson's Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004). But, with a couple more rewrites and a few less post-modern wisecracks, this could have been something very special, indeed.

Rather more firmly rooted in fact and by turns touching, bleak and droll, Adam Elliot's feature debut, Mary and Max., may lack the precision of his Oscar-winning short, Harvie Krumpet, but this decidedly grown-up exercise in clayography is destined for cult status. Chronicling the pen-palship between an eight year-old Melbourne misfit and a fortysomething Manhattan outcast, the story has its rocky moments, particularly in the final third. But Barry Humphries's acerbic narration and acute voice-work by Bethany Whitmore and Philip Seymour-Hoffman perfectly complement the wealth of grimly witty details in both the deliciously offbeat text and the meticulously created brown-grey visuals.

Life is tough for Mary Daisy Dinkle in the nondescript 1976 suburb of Mount Waverley. Podgy, short-sighted and with an unsightly birthmark on her forehead, she is neglected by her dullard dad Noel and chain-smoking, sherry-swigging mum, Vera, and has no friends beside a pet rooster named Ethel. So, she decides to acquire a pen pal and, having randomly selected Max Jerry Horowitz from the phone book, sends him a missive unaware that he is an obese, middle-aged loner with Asperger Syndrome.

Charmed by Mary's hand-written inquisitiveness, Max types a response containing details about himself and his pets and questions about her likes and dislikes. Soon, they are corresponding on a regular basis and sending each other sweet samples and discussing their favourite TV show, The Noblets. He also describes his latest failure to find a job, while she tells him about her misfortunes at school. However, as Mary gets older (and Toni Collette assumes the voice-over), she falls for her sexually ambivalent neighbour Damian (Eric Bana) and writes a bestseller about her relationship with Max that causes a rift between them and plunges Mary into an alcoholic depression that finally prompts her to head for New York to meet Max in person.

The letters are packed with intimate revelations, touching insecurities and naive aspirations. But they are also witty, astute and entertaining and any misgivings the viewer might have about a 48 year-old befriending someone four decades younger quickly disappear amidst the deadpan non sequiturs and hilarious counter-pointing visuals. The quality of the claymation is exceptional and the torrent of throwaway sight gags incessant. But it's the scripting that sets this fine film apart, as it tackles such un-animation themes as loneliness, body image, substance abuse, suicide and mental health.

Perfectly complementing Whitmore's sparky garrulousness and Seymour-Hoffman's drawling self-deprecation, Humphries's world-wearily empathetic narration holds things together during the darker last act, when plot takes over from character and Elliot struggles to sustain the odd couple quirkiness now that both Mary and Max are both socially deficient adults. Nevertheless, this remains charmingly eccentric, unsentimentally compassionate and ever so slightly seedily sweet.