I think there are a lot of people who have written a lot of words about movies who are good at what they do. I think many of them are working currently, and many of them have worked in the past. But as far as critics whose work I will seek out and read for the sheer pleasure of reading, no matter what they're reviewing?
Outlaw Vern is the best of the best.
I spent many years publishing his articles at Ain't It Cool, and what many people don't realize is that I was familiar with Outlaw Vern well before he started publishing articles. I have been a fan of the way he thinks about movies since 1995 or so, and I've been entertained by the way he expresses those ideas since the first time I encountered him. I take genuine pleasure from reading about the way he approaches a film. He is as good at teasing out subtext as any of the "great thinkers" on film, but he's also a man with a real appreciation for the tactile pleasures of filmmaking. He's able to surrender himself completely to movies, and I've never caught him acting like he was above watching or reviewing something. There is an open contempt for movies that many professional critics express in public, and even in private, Vern is as relentlessly in love with movies as he seems in his published work.
He finally broke through to a level of mainstream success and awareness with his first self-published book, Seagalogy: A Study Of The Ass-Kicking Films Of Steven Seagal, which was indeed a scholarly breakdown of the onscreen career of Steven Seagal. It sounds like a joke, but it's not. It's a great, entertaining, in-depth, intelligent piece of work that studies seriously the work of Steven Seagal. It is one of the best books about movies written in recent memory. It's so good because it is laser-focused. Vern becomes the expert on these movies by virtue of seeing and seriously writing about each one. In doing so, he establishes himself as the foremost published authority on the onscreen work of Steven Seagal. His book is absolutely and precisely about that. It's a great way for people to get their head around an introduction.