During its nascent years serious persuasion was needed to convince sneering cultural sceptics that the cinema merited recognition as an art form. For many, the notion of ‘running away to the circus’ evokes a similar response; a stereotype of travelling bands of gypsy families living out of caravans, jumping, flipping, throwing knives and firing out of canons, before moving on elsewhere. High-flying documentary Grazing the Sky (2013) seeks to set the record straight by negating the traditional image of what constitutes a nomadic existence.

In its heyday, Tickle Head, Newfoundland, was a proud fishing harbour. Men rose before dawn, took to their boats and trawled the north Atlantic for fish, only returning after dark, hands red raw and bodies weary. After a good square meal and a little fun between the sheets with their wives, they slept soundly, safe in the knowledge that they worked hard, were respected and put food on the table for their families. Life was simple but it was dignified…

The opening seconds of The Immigrant show the film’s title on a black screen. The lettering turns from white to red. White – purity and innocence; red – bloodlust, passion, danger. The imagery is simple enough, but our subconscious picks up on the change of colour and what psychological convention has taught us that each signify. A ship glides past an out-of-focus Statue of Liberty; the quintessential symbol of arriving to America, of beginning the American Dream, of starting a new, and better, life – and yet it is cloaked in a foggy haze and too far away to be within reach. There seems to be little room for idealism or hope upon arriving in the New World.

As opening soliliquies go, a beefed up, tattooed and incarcerated Jude Law championing the exquisiteness of his male appendage while receiving fellatio from a fellow inmate is unusual. This ill-advised and unfunny speech has the necessary shock factor but misses the darkly comic desires of the film. It sets the tone for much of what is to come; if you’ll excuse the pun.

There are two sides to every city; just as there are two sides to every relationship and every marriage. One moment you gaze in awe at the silhouetted Eiffel Tower against the hazy Paris skyline from the balcony of your luxury hotel suite and the next you find yourself on your backside in a pile of empty crates and bags of rubbish outside an overly-priced seafood restaurant.

12 Years a Slave is based upon the memoirs of Solomon Northrup, a free man from Saratoga, N.Y. A family man and talented violinist by trade; he is duped into visiting Washington D.C. under the auspices of a large sum of easy money performing in a travelling show. From here he is abducted, sold into slavery and shipped south. In the ensuing two hours we witness the brutality, systematic violence, injustice and unimaginable desperation that he was subjected to for more than a decade. His story is a drop in the ocean, but it is an important one, and one that an audience must suffer with him.

During the deep freeze that hit North America last week I watched a news report on how the homeless men and women of Washington DC were handling the extreme cold. They huddled together, warming their hands on cups of tea given out by a local charity. One man, beaming a toothless smile, said “It’s the survival of the fittest, man!” As much as America is a land of opportunity and the American Dream remains a dream for the Jay Gatsby’s amongst us; for many it is a dog-eat-dog struggle. Whether this is a fight against the injustice of homelessness, the harshness of Mother Nature, the feds, the mob, or even yourself, it is about doing what you have to do to survive.

Captain Phillips opens with parallel scenes that show two men preparing for work. The first man is at home in Vermont. At his desk he checks a shipping itinerary, sorts through papers and packs his bag before driving to the airport with his wife to board a plane to Oman. The second man is asleep on a bare mattress on the floor of a hut in Eyl, a village situated on the coast of Somalia. He is awoken by the threatening, frenzied arrival of armed men who advise him, and others, to take to the sea to make money. The former is the captain of an American cargo ship and the latter is a modern day pirate.

On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think you are? And if you were told that you were a 3, how would you go about getting closer to double figures?

So begins The Way Way Back and a conversation between step-father Trent (Steve Carrell) and step-son Duncan (a tremendous Liam James). This early exchange is passed off as a rather blunt but nonetheless humorous and light-hearted tete-à-tete between two men who are forced into a station wagon on the road to the beach house for a summer getaway.