Palookaville (15). A bunch of losers, a criminal plan, plenty of screw-ups - in outline, Alan Taylor's first film sounds like old hat, but thanks to David Epstein's droll script and superb performances by Vincent Gallo, William Forsythe, and Adam Trese, this was actually one of last year's most pleasant surprises. The movie is quirky (the aspiring crooks prepare for a heist by watching an old film noir), but not in the smug manner of most American indies. If the good-natured, low-key tone seems familiar, chances are that's because the film's producer is Uberto Pasolini, better known for The Full Monty.

Lost Highway (18). The virtually wordless first hour of David Lynch's best film since Blue Velvet is a model of paranoid intensity, as sensuous and terrifying an experience as movies can offer. The second hour is slack by comparison, but it doesn't matter; by that time, Lynch's electrifying psychosexual nightmare has lodged itself in your brain. Strange things are happening to jazz musician Fred (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette); for starters, someone is videotaping them while they sleep and dropping off the tapes on their doorstep. Fred eventually kills Renee (or does he?) and is consigned to Death Row, where he abruptly metamorphoses into a teenager called Pete (Balthazar Getty). Duly released from prison, Pete begins a relationship with a gangster's moll (also played by Arquette). With this tangle of alter-egos, Lynch fashions a teasing Mobius-strip narrative. It's never clear if this is a murder mystery, a noir pastiche, an existential horror flick, or a study of an acute identity crisis; whatever it is, there's never been a film quite like it.

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