I don’t quite know where to put The Holdovers. Alexander Payne’s style isn’t the rigorous near cookie-cutter filmmaking system of Wes Anderson, which constantly threatens to subsume the material (and often succeeds). But Payne’s recent output does show a sameyness which, sure, is the mark of an artist with something to say, but I left this film having had a decent enough time, but slightly baffled at the rapturous reception this has received in some quarters. Nothing like as vinegar-sharp as Election, this is more in the same vein as The Descendants, Sideways or Nebraska, in which grumpy middle-aged men grouse about life’s petty indignities until the external structure of the story brings them into land.

It all looks lovely, and so seventies, I assume it was shot with mahogany cameras on film made of bri-nylon. At my screening, there was even a (fake) British Board of Film Censors card giving it an “AA” rating. And a walleyed Paul Giamatti (who is being very coy about how this look was achieved) is on suitably splenetic form. Much attention is given early on to prize jackass Teddy Kountze, who is the standout asshole in Mr Hunham’s collection of lonely students who have to suffer Christmas at school. But, thanks to a conveniently-deployed helicopter, it ends up being only Dominic Sessa’s Angus Tully who is left behind, and we only have some harsh sun reflected off the ski-slopes by way of karmic retribution for Kountze.

Over time, Giamatti and Sessa’s relationship ebbs and flows, they learn a little more about each other, confess some secrets and reveal some vulnerabilities. The acting is splendid with great turns also from Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Carrie Preston. But what’s it all for? And haven’t we seen a lot of this snotty-kids-from-fancy-Academies-learn-a-thing-or-two-about-life-from-a-crochety-yet-charismatic-ersatz-father-figure before in films like Good Will Hunting, Scent of a Woman, Dead Poets Society and more besides?

I admire all the care and craft that’s been poured into this, and the script (an original by David Hemingson) is full of choice one-liners, but it feels as if the director was so keen to evoke a time, he forget to evoke all that much meaning.

The End We Start From couldn’t be more different. If Alexander Payne’s film is a warm bath slowing growing tepid, then Mahalia Belo’s is a blast of cold water in the face. And that’s more or less what happens to Jodie Comer’s young mother whose onset of labour is interrupted not by her waters breaking but by flood waters crashing through her bay windows. Plotted like a disaster movie (script by Alice Birch from the novel by Megan Hunter), this focuses not on the devastation of the UK by unstoppable storms, but on the human fallout. And like all good survival films, the biggest problem isn’t the climate disaster / erupting volcano / hoards of zombies / cordyceps infections / man-eating plants – it’s your fellow survivors and their moral weaknesses.

Indomitably trudging through this bleakness, tiny baby strapped to her chest, Jodie Comer is outstanding, and given great support by Katherine Waterston as the similarly blessed friend she makes along the way. Whether by choice, or as a consequence of the kind of limited budget generally afforded British films, the editing is lean to the point of choppy, with very few scenes allowed to linger, but the score by Anna Meredith (with occasional overtones of John Carpenter) knits the whole thing together, and the result is a harrowing tale which feels all too believable, but which crucially doesn’t forget the power of a good laugh every so often. “Do we really have nothing left to eat?” asks Comer at one point. “Only these delicious babies,” responds Waterston.

None of the characters have names, which I almost didn’t notice until moments before the end, but this gives a dark hint that this could happen to anyone. And all the details of how different people and institutions might react to such as disaster are well-worked out. With strong themes of family, duty, home and belonging, this remarkable film effortlessly transcends its pulpy premise, and adds another to a string of sensational performances from Comer who is surely one of the very best actors working in Britain today.

Baked Ziti