By Ty Burr
Updated July 10, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Talk is cheap — otherwise Henry Jaglom couldn’t afford to make movies. In the last 20 years, this little-known wonder has written, directed, and occasionally starred in eight low-budget films that feature characters chattering endlessly about their deepest, darkest subtexts. Frustrating and amusing, ridiculous and challenging, Jaglom’s movies are cheaper but more emotionally ambitious than nearly anything that comes out of the major studios. That alone makes them worth seeing, and one of home video’s advantages is that something this oddball can be seen outside the urban art houses. They’re also very funny, however, and that only enhances their appeal.

Jaglom films are about the ugly, messy, and comical depths to which people go in order to rationalize their fears. Jaglom takes it for granted that modern man has surrounded himself with B.S. What he’s interested in is separating the B.S. that keeps us sane from the B.S. that keeps us from connecting.

Last year’s New Year’s Day is a half-step back from that previous high point. Despite a critically lauded performance by Maggie Jakobson (since seen as a terminally ill lawyer on L.A. Law) and a terrific scene in which a selfish young stud talks himself into a corner, Jaglom indulges his penchant for fuzzy-wuzzy therapy dialogue to the point where you want to pelt him with popcorn.

Still, it’s because he makes an art form out of self-conscious yammering that this director divides audiences so sharply: Depending on your point of view, Jaglom’s either one of the best-kept secrets in independent filmmaking or a pox upon it, a lucid, funny ironist or a self-indulgent whiner. He’s all of those, of course. That’s what makes his movies interesting. B