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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

Tippi Hedren takes a beak to the forehead in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, playing Friday at the Castro Theatre.

What better way to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas than with two blood-curdling chillers – The Birds and The Shining – playing this weekend at the Castro? Elsewhere, Paul McCartney: The Love We Make, which follows the onetime Beatle around New York in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, arrives Friday at the Roxie Theater.

1. The Birds

Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., 415-621-6120
When: Dec. 16
Why: Some have dismissed it as minor Hitchcock, but The Birds (1963) is a lean, brutally effective thriller, and one of the master's best. Filmed against the picturesque backdrop of Bodega Bay, it soars on the strength of an almost laughably simple concept – that one day, our feathered friends might descend from the sky and tear us to shreds. (A proposed remake, rumored to be starring Naomi Watts, has mercifully stalled in pre-production.)

2. The Shining
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., 415-621-6120
When: Dec. 17
Why: "Anyone can relate to the holiday horror of being stuck someplace with your family in the dead of winter. It can drive you crazy!" So says Peaches Christ, who desecrates the spirit of the season this Saturday with an interactive presentation of Stanley Kubrick's cold-blooded 1980 classic. Featuring the Midnight Mass Players and a rare appearance by jolly alter ego Peaches Claus, the "Torrance Family Christmas Revue" begins promptly at 8 p.m., with early admission, complimentary cocktails and special seating reserved for VIP ticketholders.

3. A Dangerous Method
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: David Cronenberg’s analysis of the increasingly tenuous bond that linked “talking cure” forefathers Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is fascinating but frustratingly clinical, despite Keira Knightley’s animated turn as an aspiring therapist unhinged. The performances are stellar – Mortensen, in particular, stands out – and Freud and Jung’s ongoing debate about the conflict between science and mysticism is engrossing. Yet the movie rarely resonates on an emotional level; it’s like an exceptionally thorough term paper, intellectually absorbing but otherwise cold.

4. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
Where:
Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When:
All Week
Why: The Special Jury Prize winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Constance Marks and Philip Shane's moving documentary reveals the puppeteer behind Sesame Street's latest international icon, Elmo. As a boy, creator Kevin Clash aspired to work alongside his idol, Muppet master Jim Henson; Clash (whose other characters include Baby Sinclair, Clifford and Hoots the Owl) went on to enjoy success beyond his most audacious fantasies, but not without compromising his duties as a husband and father.

5
. 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.

6. 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.

7. The Tree of Life
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., 415-621-6120
When: Dec. 22
Why: Winner of the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle's Best Picture award, Terrence Malick's latest traces the spiritual journey of a disillusioned son (played as a restless adult by Sean Penn) struggling to reconcile a troubled relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). In trying to arrive at some deeper understanding of the existential, the director's visual poetry is striking, his narrative as insightful (at times) as it is frustratingly oblique.