"Welcome to the Dollhouse" - written and directed by Todd Solondz
Todd Solondz's ferociously funny "Welcome to the Dollhouse" heralded the arrival of one of the most bitterly funny voices of our time. The film follows Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo), an awkward and unpopular 7th-grade girl who faces relentless torment from her classmates and slight neglect from her parents, who seem to favor her younger, ballet-dancing sister Missy. When her brother's band takes on hunky high-schooler Steve Rogers, Dawn is immediately infatuated, cluelessly trying to get his attention while also developing a secret admirer from bullying classmate Brandon. "Welcome to the Dollhouse" is able to achieve a strangely perfect balance of hard and soft, never sugar-coating the cruel teasing that Dawn is forced to endure on a daily basis while ultimately retaining a kernel of hope for our shy and bespectacled protagonist. The fact that Solondz also makes it outrageously hilarious is further testament to his accomplishment. No other filmmaker today seems to understand how closely intertwined happiness and sadness can be in life. Watching the film, you laugh out of amusement as well as a sense of relief that you'll never have to go through the hellish torment of middle school ever again. [Clint Holloway]

"Winter's Bone"- directed by Debra Granik, Written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini
Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, "Winter's Bone" is the film that put Jennifer Lawrence on the radar. Lawrence played Ree Dolly, a young woman looking after her mentally ill mother and two young siblings in the Ozarks. When her father goes missing, Ree sets out to find him before their house is repossessed. The film explores the seedy underbelly of methamphetamine manufacturing and touched on the rules of the middle-America drug trade, and themes of poverty, family and resilience. Lawrence's performance was natural and engaging. She managed to embody Ree's heartbreaking story without resorting to pity and earned her her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. An equally stunning performance came from John Hawkes who portrayed Ree's uncle and meth addict Teardrop. The dark and twisted tale of meth in the country won the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at Sundance 2010. [Casey Cipriani]

You Can Count On Me” - directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan
When Kenneth Lonergan’s directorial debut won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance for Dramatic Narrative and Screenplay in 2000, no one thought it would take 11 years to see his follow-up film. Yet because of studio interference, a complicated legal battle, and artistic stubbornness, no one heard from the once-hot director until “Margaret” was unceremoniously pushed in and pulled out of theaters in 2011. It still won rave reviews and even managed to build a cult following, but the delay certainly didn’t help anyone remember the man or his first film. Let us remind you. “You Can Count On Me” tracks the difficult relationship between a troubled brother (an outstanding Mark Ruffalo) and sister (Laura Linney, who received an Oscar nomination for her role). Linney’s character, Samantha, is trying to hold her life together. As a single mother with a missing sibling -- Terry, her brother, doesn’t call often and hasn’t been seen for months -- she’s a bit lost, even if she feels close to having it all together. It’s a credit to Lonergan and his cast (including a young Rory Culkin and young-ish Matthew Broderick) that none of the film feels familiar or contrived. It’s a sporadically comedic, continuously touching depiction of two anything but mundane mid-life crises. Don’t forget it.  [Ben Travers]