Lone Gunmen

"MILKY WAY" (THE VOLKSWAGEN COMMERCIAL WITH THE NICK DRAKE SONG) That's not a movie, it's a commercial, blah blah blah. Desecration of Nick Drake's grave, blah blah blah. In a year where many of the hypercoolest directors made car ads, mostly for BMW, it seems reasonable to include such work in the cinema scope. I think whoever sold the rights to the song is an asshole. And I have no interest in being a corporate apologist—don't buy Volkswagens, they suck anyway. But in the meantime, this is a brilliant minuscule flick: from the majestic opening shot (tracking vertically along a nighttime river, all abstracted glimmers in the dark, until the flying camera intersects a car crossing a bridge and suddenly the story turns left along the horizontal), to the German-expressionist way all the riders' faces are lit, to the astounding compression of the narrative (which is, in the end, what commercials are best at; they're like labs where theories of narratology get tested and refined). Most of us, we never got invited to those cool parties in the woods; to drive away without ever walking in seems like self-involved apathy. But it also requires a kind of insight about where the action is, a knowledge no kids that age ever had. It is a story about prodigal, melancholy, and finally impossible knowledge—a romantic fantasy of wisdom, compressed into a minimal, expressionistic space. Which, magic of magics, is exactly what Nick Drake and "Pink Moon" have going for them. What's staggering about this movie isn't how poorly matched the crass commercial and the holy song are, but how perfectly. —Jane Dark

As with 1988's The Vanishing, evil in WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY remains fundamentally inscrutable. (Nor do we ever know if its writer-hero has any genuine talent worth nurturing.) Instead of the same tired psychological answers in our serial killer and slasher flicks, there aren't any pat explanations for deviancy. Harry expertly binds its antagonists, and audience, with ambiguous guilt and complicity. We morbidly root for Harry, curious to see if his murderous, can-do spirit of problem-solving will work according to plan. The self-satisfied little smirk the writer finally wears in his new luxury SUV is the perfect note of punctuation to a film that remains, in the very best sense, a mystery. —Brian Miller

A formal exercise as displaced and astute as its protagonist (a yakuza exiled to L.A.), Takeshi Kitano's BROTHER wears its lousiness with pride. It's totally negative, and it has no justification, unless a glance at Peckinpah at his most dire justifies something. This is genre cinema at its most wan and bitter, with a complete contempt for America, and as mirthless a parody of the "buddy movie" (lowest of film genres?) as Clint Eastwood's The Rookie (10th best film of 1990). And yet it's sad. —Chris Fujiwara

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