Sundance 2014: The Ten Best Films
The Guest -- Dan Stevens, aka Downton Abbey's doomed heir apparent, kills in his first star role -- literally. In this stylish, subversive horror-comedy, Stevens shows leading man potential as a questionably discharged vet with a surplus of rage and charm. And when it comes to genre credentials, the filmmaking team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (You're Next) has nothing left to prove.
Happy Valley -- The name Joe Paterno triggers a dozen different reactions: Was the disgraced Penn State football coach hero or coward, martyr or accomplice? This measured documentary by Amir Bar-Lev's (My Kid Could Paint That, The Tillman Story) explores every possibility. Instead of pinpointing a villain -- besides, of course, Jerry Sandusky, whose adopted son gives the film's bravest testimony -- Bar-Lev indicts everyone from the NCAA to the press and fans for feeding on the spectacle.
What We Do in the Shadows -- Take MTV's Real World, then multiply months of roommate tensions by a millennia. Add a hunger for blood and you'll get Taika Waititi's hysterical mockumentary about a household of New Zealand vampires still trying to get the lazy one to wash the dishes after 200 years. With Waititi's longtime comedy accomplice Jemaine Clement, of course.
The Overnighters -- They haven't even handed out last year's Oscars yet and I'm ready to call the Academy's attention for next year to this doc about a narrow-minded North Dakota town deluged by desperate men seeking six-figure fracking jobs. The pastor who tries to keep the peace is the closest thing I've ever seen to a human saint -- which makes him a target for the neighbors eager to kick these strangers out of town. It's the kind of small, wrenching story that Sundance makes famous. Maybe Redford could star in the fictionalized remake.
Amy Nicholson is reporting on the Sundance Film Festival for the Voice. Follow her on Twitter at @theamynicholson.