A reader named Mark Zeigler says he’s having doubts about my enthusiasm for Sideways (Fox Searchlight, 10.22) because Salon critic Charles Taylor has mostly panned it and called its director-cowriter, Alexander Payne, “a pretentious wiseass.” First, it’s okay for Taylor to trash Sideways. He’s going to feel pretty lonely with that viewpoint, but fine. But second, Zeigler may want to consider what New York Times critic Manohla Dargis has said about the criticism that Payne treats his characters with condescension, which she calls “a puzzling assessment.” She adds that “it’s hard to understand the genesis of this discomfort” except to note that “like Sideways, Payne’s films cut close to the emotional bone and even movie critics can get squirmy when the screen turns into a mirror.” She adds that “since the late 1970’s we have been under the spell of the blockbuster imperative, with its infallible heroes and comic-book morality, a spell that independent film has done little to break. In this light, the emergence of Mr. Payne into the front ranks of American filmmakers isn’t just cause for celebration; it’s a reason for hope.”