Lone Gunmen

Our 78 participants collectively cited a total of 147 films; of those, 60 won a single, defiant top-10 vote from a maverick critic. Below, some participants defend their orphan picks.


8 MILE has to be the most satisfying pop-star vehicle since A Hard Day's Night. Despite his proclaimed kinship to another white boy with black chops, the current King of Controversy adopted an emphatically anti-Elvis persona for his big screen debut. The megalomaniacal juvenile of the CDs and MTV videos morphed into a man of tolerance, compassion, generosity, self-deprecation, and maturity. Elvis had flunkies, Eminem has friends; Elvis got the girl, Eminem gets cuckolded; Elvis taekwondoed all comers, Eminem gets his ass kicked. At the end of the film, after winning the big showdown, he returns to the night shift to complete his overtime. —THOMAS DOHERTY

Return of the dispossessed: Erik Per Sullivan in Wendigo
photo: Magnolia Films
Return of the dispossessed: Erik Per Sullivan in Wendigo

As the title character in BARTLEBY, Jonathan Parker's adaptation of the Herman Melville story, Crispin Glover raises that retractable neck of his, tilts his head to one side, and stares off into space, as if his entire molecular structure is keyed not to the physical world around him, but to its secret internal hum, a sound only he can hear. —CHUCK WILSON

"Back through that maze I sent ya," Biggie says on Life After Death, and one of the sad ironies of his murder—an irony Nick Broomfield's BIGGIE & TUPACconveys—is that B.I.G. tracks like "What's Beef?" prove that he'd have the maze-navigating narrative abilities required to make sense of his own murder. Can't say the same for the craven Chuck Philips. —JOHNNY RAY HUSTON

THE WEIGHT OF WATERis an X ray of female desire and rage, but Kathryn Bigelow was punished by her action fans, whose testosterone was doubtless triggered in all the wrong ways by this femme tale. Bigelow put a fascinating spin on Anita Shreve's 1873 true-crime snapshot of the underbelly of immigrant seafaring life. There's even an inspired if misunderstood irony at work in her casting: Elizabeth Hurley playing a spoiled, rich poseur trading in flagrant sex appeal. What acting. —B. RUBY RICH

SPY KIDS 2is to For a Few Dollars More as the first Spy Kids is to A Fistful of Dollars—the kind of sequel that unhinges itself from the original's normality and flies off in its own loopy directions. Director Robert Rodriguez doesn't have a subtext; he's all buzzing, happy surface. Check out the spy kids' grandpa—I have to control my excitement as I type this—Ricardo Montalban in a flying wheelchair! Muy macho, and right on. —ROBERT HORTON

Tunisian director Raja Amari's SATIN ROUGE captures middle-class emptiness, repression, and longing in a few precise details. Forget the overwrought and superficial Far From Heaven; this is the real homage to Douglas Sirk. —PETER KEOUGH

The doting parents' main worry in 'R XMASis getting the hot toy their daughter covets—as hard to come by legally as the heroin they peddle—until they run into Ice-T's corrupt-cop version of Dickens's Ghost of Christmas Present. Because he can even cast a compassionate eye on a priest (clad in vestments) who passes a dealer a box of smack-filled condoms, Abel Ferrara is the moralist Neil LaBute will never be. —KRISTIN M. JONES

In a year full of film controversies—not the least of which was Abbas Kiarostami's inability to get over the border and the Academy's disallowance of Divine Intervention as Palestine's entry for foreign film—the hands-down winner in the greatest losses category is the Senegalese director of KARMEN GEI, Joseph Gaï Ramaka. After screenings of his gorgeous, bawdy, bisexual version of Carmen in Dakar, 300 angry patrons showed up at his theater with machetes and gasoline, ready to burn the place down and mete out punishment to its creators. They confiscated prints of the film and destroyed the projectors. The film's star, Djeïnaba Diop Gaï, fled the country. —SUSAN GERHARD

A ballad of sexual dependency set against the backdrop of China's political and economic reversals of fortune during the late '80s, Stanley Kwan's LAN YUmarks a distinct departure from Actress, Red Rose White Rose, and Rouge—the women-centered weepies on which he made his reputation as Hong Kong's other greatest art-filmmaker. This straightforward romance between a hard-shell entrepreneur and soft-centered country boy not only manages to strip melodrama down to its bikini briefs while tearing your heart apart; it also holds a gilt-edged mirror up to so much of the under-endowed "new queer cinema" on this side of the globe. —CHUCK STEPHENS

The Two Towers may have pulled off a CGI feat in re-imagining Albrecht Altdorfer's 1529 The Battle of Issus, but the specter of looming apocalyptic warfare—with Baghdad its vortex—was more alarmingly and viscerally rendered in the Kurosawian THE FALL OF OTRAR. Shown at Walter Reade in August, Ardak Amirkulov's 1990 epic of 13th-century Muslim realpolitik culminates in the hordes of Genghis Khan (Sauron lives!) swarming like Orcs over the Kazakh city of Otrar. It may be one of the greatest war films ever. —GRAHAM FULLER

Clint Eastwood's BLOOD WORK (which casts the effortlessly self-reflexive director as a retired expert in "crime scenes") has two faces: One, serene, reviews the rules of the genres in which, with conscious belatedness, the film enrolls itself; the other, stern and anguished, considers the decline of those genres. —CHRIS FUJIWARA

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