The silver screen's finest...

Seven outstanding cinema releases of the year so far, as chosen by Clash’s film contributors.

(Please note that selections are based on UK release dates.)

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12 Years A Slave

With 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen created a masterpiece – a film that is both savage and tender in equal measure. The true story of Solomon Northup’s kidnapping in pre-Civil War USA is one of horrific happenstance that sees a loving family man torn from his comfortable life in New York and forced into Southern state slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings a quiet solemnity to Solomon that is much in contrast with Michael Fassbender’s maniacal plantation owner who revels in his own barbarism and prides himself on being able to ‘break’ his property – slaves. And although backs were broken in the fields and spirits pushed beyond breaking point, hope is a constant for Solomon in an experience that both appals and amazes. Gareth Kolze-Jones

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Dallas Buyers Club

This is an exceptional and essential piece of modern cinema. As Ron Woodroof, a Texan who reacts to his HIV-positive diagnosis in the early days of the AIDS epidemic by seeking alternative forms of treatment, a physically atrophied Matthew McConaughey cements his place as a truly fine actor – a continuing reinvention following strong performances in Killer Joe and Mud. The whole film feels ripped from the vitality and urgency of the American New Wave of the 1970s, and in channelling that energy becomes one of the most important movies of the last 10 years. Andrew Law

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As far as sci-fi cinema is concerned, there’s nothing new about falling in love with your computer. Yet for all the antecedents, it’s never been done quite like in Spike Jonze’s self-penned film Her. Set in a near-future Los Angeles utopia, Her is a captivating pastiche of light-hearted rom-com and hard-hitting societal examination, centred on the relationship between Theodore and his Operating System love interest Samantha. It’s through this well-worn conceit that the film negotiates its true interest – that distinctly modern complaint that Theodore nails when he says, “Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m gonna feel.” In Her, we perhaps have Jonze’s first masterwork – a wry meditation on love, lust, and life. Jack Enright

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So many strands of Lars von Trier’s previous films quietly influence his controversial double-bill Nymphomaniac that it feels like the Dane’s personal greatest hits collection. There’s the grim despair of sex and control falling into disequilibrium that he previously mined in Breaking The Waves; there’s the absurdist humour of The Boss of It All; the explicitness of Antichrist; the sheer audaciousness of The Kingdom. Being a professional contrarian and all-round madcap bastard, only Lars could use sex addiction as the starting point for his most thought-provoking, emotional and funny film to date. Ben Hopkins

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Pulp: A Film About Life, Death And Supermarkets

Pulp’s last hurrah – a homecoming gig in Sheffield – is the starting point for this documentary, but its main focus is not the Jarvis Cocker fronted five-piece. Its scope is far wider. Taking a fascinating, witty and affectionate look at the city’s ‘common people’, Pulp: A Film About Life, Death And Supermarkets mirrors the no-nonsense ordinariness of its subjects, and it’s ultimately a film about all of those things. It shows real life and real people, erasing any of the self-indulgent pomp and ceremony associated with rock and roll as it anchors Pulp to their roots. Echoing the subject matter of their songs, it gives more of an insight into the band than many a more conventional rockumentary would. Kim Francis

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s films tend to ramble and roll as his characters loquaciously debate everything from the foibles of their upbringing to existential discussions of their place within the wider world. Essentially a shaggy dog story by nature, The Grand Budapest Hotel uses plenty of the director’s usual collaborators who are again spoiled with the wealth of their dialogue, but the plot bombs forward with a manic energy that stretches across both eras and geography. It makes for an experience that’s definitely Wes Anderson, but also one that feels a step apart from his prior work. Ben Hopkins

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The Wolf Of Wall Street

Even the most cynical mind can’t watch The Wolf Of Wall Street without briefly considering that with money, power, woman and brotherhood, Jordan Belfort’s life must’ve been awesome. Yet only the most hedonistic, emotional vacant soul could view the film as a blueprint for life. Expertly seesawing this celebration / condemnation of emotionally vacant, money-fuelled hedonism, The Wolf Of Wall Street isn’t Scorsese’s finest film (look at the competition) but it could well be his most enjoyable. A howling, hilarious rush through bad behaviour and a scathing satire on the moral vacuity of the 1990s stockbroking scene, it’s rammed with killer performances (Jonah Hill perhaps even overshadowing Leonardo DiCaprio) and shoots past with a gonzoid energy that fully justifies its three-hour running time. Ben Hopkins

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Related: more 7 Of The Bests for 2014 so far

Related: more Clash film content

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