In Chuck Klosterman's recent book Killing Yourself To Live, the pop critic gripes about colleagues who try too hard to be "right" … who worry about having a morally, politically and socially balanced list of current favorites rather than writing about music they actually like. I'm sympathetic to Klosterman. (Goodness knows I've had it with being lectured to by the deans of rock criticism about how I should be listening to more sub-Saharan pop, or whatever.) But I'm also sympathetic to critics who want desperately to be on the leading edge. Journalists love a scoop, and it's hard to scoop your cohorts when you write about music or movies. Someone else has always heard what you've heard and seen what you've seen … often well before you get to it.

Because of that, critics sometimes doubt their own opinions. If I come across a movie or piece of music that strikes me as being legitimately great, but it has no rep yet, I admit I worry that I'm finding something that's just not there.

The movie that's crossed me up most this year is Sheriff. It played a small arthouse in New York for a week, and I reviewed it favorably. The documentary was generally well-liked, but didn't exactly draw raves, and it hasn't broken through to the broader arthouse circuit. Still, out of all the docs I've seen this year, Sheriff is the one that's stuck with me most. Without getting too political here, this little character sketch—following a North Carolina country sheriff who's fashioned a benevolent mini-kingdom in the sticks—says more about the current power structure in this country than a dozen hot-button "issue docs."

And aptly enough, Sheriff is about "being right," to a large extent. The subject, Ronald Hewett, displays such moral certitude, not just about police work but about how to lead a good life. And it's not like Hewett's churchgoing old-boy-network is misguided any significant way. Sheriff doesn't reveal him to be a racist or a sexist or a thug. The worst that can be said about him is that he's a prickly perfectionist who'd rather do things himself than trust anyone else to do it. And yes, he does tell a congregation that Christian faith is black-and-white while reality is gray, and that their job should be to "help the gray." But that's just arrogant, not malicious. What's most impressive about Sheriff is that it shows Hewett in his natural element without trying to explain or judge him. He's a likable guy, and maddening only in that he seems to possess secret stores of resolve that mere film critics lack.