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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

Newcomer Jeremy Irvine makes a memorable debut in Steven Spielberg's stunning adaptation of War Horse.

Dreaming of a white Christmas? You're probably out of luck. But for those whose holiday celebrations traditionally involve a trip to the movies – as well as those who've lost their taste for the TBS network's annual 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon – San Francisco's indie theaters are serving up a seasonal concoction of time-honored Hollywood classics and contemporary Oscar hopefuls. Among them:

1. War Horse

Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., 415-929-4650; Balboa Theatre, 3630 Balboa St., 415-221-8184
When: All Week
Why: Dismiss it as tear-jerking schmaltz if you must, but War Horse is a rousing achievement, a bold, strikingly cinematic spectacle inspired by the Tony Award-winning theatrical adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s book. Steven Spielberg’s latest – his most captivating since Minority Report (2002) – finds uplift in hope, but remains most poignant at its darkest, as young lives are senselessly sacrificed to a war machine neither we nor Joey, the movie's titular, four-legged hero, can comprehend.

2. It's a Wonderful Life
Where:
SFFS-New People Cinema, 1746 Post St., 415-525-8600
When: Dec. 25
Why: For all the imitations it has inspired since its 1946 debut at New York’s Globe Theater, Frank Capra's yuletide classic remains one of America’s most enduring seasonal staples. The story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), a disillusioned small-town do-gooder whose faith in life is restored by a guardian angel, returns to the big screen this Christmas, for one day only. Screenings begin at noon and continue into the early evening.

3. Moneyball
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When:
All Week
Why: It could have been a classic David vs. Goliath story, a made-for-Hollywood account of the small-market Oakland A’s and their beleaguered general manager, Billy Beane, taking on baseball’s free-spending powerhouses. But Bennett Miller’s sports drama, inspired by Michael Lewis’ 2003 bestseller, is slightly more ambitious. Not just the story of Beane’s struggle to build a winner, Moneyball chronicles his mission to exorcise the bitterness lingering from a pedestrian playing career and an ill-fated rendezvous with a destiny he never achieved. (No screenings Saturday.)

4. Singin' in the Rain
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., 415-621-6120
When: Dec. 28
Why: Gene Kelly co-directs and stars in one of America's most beloved musicals, a riotous satire of Hollywood's rocky transition from silent pictures to talkies. The movie – featuring Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen, in an Oscar-nominated supporting turn – is an exuberant celebration of life and dance, boasting elaborately staged numbers both epic and intimate. Returning to the Castro screen this Wednesday, it's the opening act of a double-feature with another Kelly hit, 1949's On the Town.

5
. 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.

6. 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.

7. Eames: The Architect and the Painter
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
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. (No screenings Saturday.)