The buzz is subsiding, the consensus is emerging and it's now possible to separate the quality films at this year's Sundance from the films featuring John Malkovich in a funny hairpiece.
Among the keepers, alphabetically:
American Teen, Nanette Burstein - Four teenagers in an Indiana small town trying to survive high school. Criticized for being as tightly scripted as a reality TV show, this documentary still brings audiences to tears.
Ballast, Lance Hammer - Low-key drama shot in a poor, black Mississippi town, this debut is being hailed for bringing Euro discipline to American drama. Frequently compared to a Dardenne-brothers film.
Derek, Isaac Julien - Filmmaker turned visual artist paints a portrait of gay avant-garde director Derek Jarman, who transformed British cinema in the 80s, then died. Jarman's former muse Tilda Swinton contributes a running elegy.
Frozen River, Courtney Hunt - Poor white woman teams up with a tough Mohawk to smuggle migrants from Canada to U.S. Downbeat, emotional and plugged into pressing social issues, this is classic Sundance.
Phoebe in Wonderland, Daniel Barnz - Felicity Huffman and Elle Fanning star as dysfunctional mother and daughter in a psychodrama that also features Patricia Clarkson. Powerhouse estrogen, from start to finish.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Marina Zenovich - Everyone knows Roman Polanski can't go back to America because he was convicted of unlawful sex with a minor back in the late 70s. Few know the troubling details of the case. Zenovich's doc serves up beefy legal details, with a side of gossipy juice.
Sleep Dealer, Alex Rivera - A rare sci-fi success at Sundance, Sleep Dealer reimagines the U.S./Mexico border crisis as a future dystopia where water and even consciousness are bought and ransomed.
Trouble The Water, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal - Lessin and Deal work with Michael Moore, but their doc is less first-person and more immersive. Drawing on footage shot by a couple who survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, their film is a harrowing, essential complement to Spike Lee's When The Levees Broke.
The Wackness, Jonathan Levine -- Josh Peck is a loser pot dealer in 1994 New York. Ben Kingsley is his shrink, who gets paid in herb. As a coming-of-age among too-smart kids story, Wackness reminds me of Igby Goes Down, but with an even better soundtrack of mid-90s hiphop. Cut 10 minutes from this film and it's gold.