Lone Gunmen

Our 84 participants collectively cited a total of 143 films; of those, 47 won a single, defiant Top 10 mention from a maverick voter. Below, some critics defend their orphan picks.

Elf is one of those movies you have to walk out of 15 minutes early (whereas you only have to jet on Bad Santa about six minutes before the credits). But until then, it's one of the few honestly sweet movies that would qualify for the Department of Whiteness Studies. That's the thing about Will Ferrell; every move he makes is a pretty smart italicizing of Caucasiana. This is the delightful naive version, though I can't wait for the concert film of Ferrell doing Robert Goulet doing Snoop Dogg. Canadian white guys are even whiter than American white guys, but still less so than elves. . . . JOSHUA CLOVER

Because the indie crowd likes its third-world victims both dirty and pretty, Pablo Trapero's masochistically bleak El Bonaerense barely made a splash during its Film Forum run. This un-air-conditioned bus tour of lowest Argentine life never skimps on ugliness. Those queuing up for Miramax's DPT/City of God double feature at the Angelika should see what "dirty" really entails: raw, non-consensual backdoor sex; sebum-clogged skin coated with a perma-layer of grime; and body odor so acrid it practically sails off the screen directly into your nostrils. DAVID NG

Elf (one vote)
photo: Alan Marksfield/New Line Cinema
Elf (one vote)

I appreciated The Last Samurai on a political level. In its conscious linking of the fate of the American Indians with the fate of the samurai, the movie provides an excellent analysis of the modernization Japan (and, by extension, the U.S.) was undergoing at the time, and by implication it has a lot to say about current questions of forced globalization. PETER BRUNETTE

Treating the moribund conventions of the con job/heist film as a macguffin, Matchstick Men double-crossed expectations with a genre hybrid that advertised tense thrills but delivered touching melodrama. Conned, cured, and happily off the grift at the coda, Nicolas Cage's guilt-ridden scam artist seizes redemption out of the seeds of his own deceptions. THOMAS DOHERTY

I can't say I was clamoring to see an Asian American gloss on the original Miramax juggernaut. But Charlotte Sometimesremembers what most of the spawn of sex, liesforgot: that true drama lies in the gulf between word and thought, intention and demeanor. It suggests where others declaim, and such expressive reticence is something to treasure. MIKE D'ANGELO

Buffalo Soldiers was spectacularly ill-timed, and that's part of its pleasure. An acidic comedy about thieving grunts on a West German Army base, circa 1989, it was held back as the U.S. invaded first Afghanistan and then Iraq. But good satire can play even at the wrong moment. JUSTINE ELIAS

Writers often speak of a mythological beast known as the "ideal reader." Stone Reader director Mark Moskowitz has become the über ideal. His quest for Dow Mossman, author of The Stones of Summer (1972), not only located the obscure broken man, it defibrillated his soul. What the world needs now is the rest of the story. (WNET approached Moskowitz to make the sequel but he respectfully declined.) The update goes like this: Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio saw the movie, decided to publish a hardback reprint of a book no one had read, watched in awe as crateloads of the 600-page art object flew off shelves, and thereby provided for Mossman's first plane ride, which in turn led to a support group of luminary admirers such as A.S. Byatt, Toni Morrison, and Stanley Crouch. Not bad for a guy formerly living on the steady diet of nothing $8,000 a year provides. CHRIS CHANG

Ron Howard's The Missing, an antidote to the gummy human-spirit healing of A Beautiful Mind, is a kick-in-the-face western that revels in frontier brutality and imagines family life as a mouthful of dirt. STEPHEN GARRETT

One more turn round the Limelight, and its bloody aftermath. Macaulay Culkin shines, but Party Monster belongs to Seth Green. As James St. James he gives the most ferocious film performance since Glenn Anders in The Lady From Shanghai. DAVID EHRENSTEIN

Italian neorealism breathed again in Eman-uele Crialese's Respiro, which elicited a career performance from Valeria Golino as a fisherman's wife whose social transgressions prompt her husband and fellow villagers to institutionalize her. The concluding shot of them treading water as they search for her in the Med is an epiphany. GRAHAM FULLER

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is Þlled with tiny surprises and an endearing readiness to brake for any digression from its frayed plotline. Its demonic idiot fizz is perhaps better suited to DVD, where viewers can stop the film every 20 minutes and reattach their heads. B. KITE

 
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