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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

Jean Dujardin (left) stars in The Artist, opening this weekend at the Embarcadero.

December is here, leaving critics and industry insiders to sort through the year's offerings, separating the contenders from the pretenders in the race for Oscar gold. This weekend brings to the Bay Area a popular dark horse: The Artist, a love letter to the era of silent cinema that could upset expected favorites War Horse, The Descendants and Hugo this February at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.

1. The Artist
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Michel Hazanavicius' Palme d'Or-nominated, black-and-white romance, which took the Audience Favorite Award at this year's Mill Valley Film Festival, traces the peaks and valleys of a silent-movie star (Jean Dujardin, of last year's Little White Lies) whose burgeoning love affair with an up-and-coming young dancer (Bérénice Bejo) coincides with the rise of talking pictures. A tribute to early Hollywood, the movie is joyous, mostly weightless, and likely to delight cinephiles of all ages.

2. Shame
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Shame's NC-17 rating might have been a deathblow to an indie struggling to find an audience, if not for Michael Fassbender’s powerfully unsettling performance, which is sure to earn awards consideration. Almost wordlessly, he captures the essence of a downward-spiraling sex addict whose conquests are explicitly photographed and not the least bit titillating. The movie is devastating at times, but difficult to embrace: Fassbender's broken soul is so aloof we’re hard-pressed to forge an emotional connection with him.

3. Eames: The Architect and the Painter
Where: Balboa Theatre, 3630 Balboa St., 415-221-8184
When: All Week
Why: Best known for their mid-century plywood and fiberglass furniture, designers Charles and Ray Eames also created splints for wounded soldiers during World War II, photography, multimedia exhibits, games, films and toys. But their influence on significant events in American life – from the rise of modernism to the advent of the computer age – has been less widely understood. Narrated by James Franco, Eames pays fitting tribute to the husband-and-wife innovators and their astonishing body of work.

4. The Sing-A-Long Sound of Music

Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., 415-621-6120
When: Dec. 2-4
Why: The Castro is alive this week with the Sing-A-Long Sound of Music, which returns the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic to the big screen in impressive widescreen, with subtitles to encourage audience participation. As is the custom at the theater's ongoing series of interactive musicals, goody bags will be distributed to all attendees, who can compete in a costume contest by dressing up as their favorite character. Each showing will be preceded by a pre-screening performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites by Castro organist David Hegarty, a.k.a. The Mighty Wurlitzer.

5. My Week with Marilyn
Where: Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St., 415-346-1124
When: All Week
Why: Michelle Williams delivers an impressively convincing, Oscar-caliber performance in Simon Curtis' directorial debut, about the week Marilyn Monroe spent acclimating to the simpler pleasures of British life with Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), an assistant on the set of her 1957 romantic comedy The Prince and the Showgirl. Clark – then 23 and, like so many of the men who gravitated toward the sweet, almost childlike starlet, hopelessly smitten with her charms – published his diary of the experience 40 years later. This is his story, slight but skillfully told.

6. The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father,
CIA Spymaster William Colby

Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: The Man Nobody Knew uncovers the secret world of William Colby, who rose through the ranks of the CIA and eventually became embroiled in covert operations in Vietnam and other hot spots around the globe. But after decades of taking on the White House's dirtiest assignments, Colby came clean. Braving intense controversy, he opened up to Congress some of the agency's darkest, most tightly held secrets and extralegal operations. Now, his son Carl investigates the father who was a ghost-like presence in the family home, and the intelligence officer who paved the way for today's debates about security and secrecy vs. liberty and morality.

7. Melancholia
Where: Bridge Theatre, 3010 Geary Blvd., 415-751-3213
When: All Week
Why: Lars von Trier’s latest sounds like an experiment in self-parody for the Danish director, who, after wallowing in the unrelenting despair of Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves, has exhausted all his options save one: obliterating earth altogether. Yet Melancholia, powered by Kirsten Dunst’s startling, career-best performance as a disaffected bride-to-be who welcomes the world’s end, is never so sentimental as to seem mawkish. More invigorating as a spectacle than a story, von Trier’s melodrama is crisp, engaging, even darkly comical, just never quite transcendent enough.