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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

For those seeking an alternative to the Super Bowl this weekend, here's a list of some of the finest films currently in rotation at an indie theater near you.

1. 12 Monkeys
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Feb. 5
Why: Terry Gilliam’s bizarre tale of a tormented time-traveler (Bruce Willis, rarely better) on a mission to rescue mankind from viral destruction remains the former Python’s finest cinematic achievement – a visual feast of a thriller, brilliantly conceived and brimming with an unrestrained lust for life.

2. Frozen River
Where: Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: Melissa Leo, onetime star of NBC’s acclaimed cop drama Homicide, delivers a blistering performance as a blue-collar mother of two whose grim determination to stay afloat drives her to smuggle immigrants into upstate New York for cash. It is a haunting turn, rich in deep-rooted despair but nary a shred of self-pity, and well worth a look as Frozen River returns to theaters for the awards-season stretch run.

3. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man
Where: Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: If you’ve never heard of Scott Walker, there’s a reason. The erstwhile lead singer of the Walker Brothers, a pop trio whose mid-’60s hits inspired a much larger following in Britain than in their native U.S., Walker shrugged off the life of a burgeoning teen idol to embrace his passion for moody, discordant ballads. His second career as an experimental composer effectively removed him from mainstream consciousness, but earned him an impressive roster of fans, including Brian Eno, Thom Yorke, Jarvis Cocker and David Bowie, who helped produce Stephen Kijak’s riveting documentary.

3. Religulous
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Feb. 3-4
Why: For those familiar with Real Time, his late-night HBO talk show, Bill Maher's pointed attacks on organized religion (and the Catholic church in particular) are nothing new. Here, his Michael Moore-style ambushes, though staged with less panache than the master’s, are clever and often laugh-out-loud funny, even if his targets tend to be kooks and dimwits rather than serious theologians.

4. Wendy and Lucy
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: A disarmingly intimate portrait of a drifter wandering through the Pacific Northwest in search of her beloved mutt, director Kelly Reichardt’s sophomore effort (after 2006’s Old Joy) is leisurely paced and quietly moving, a portrait of solitude and devotion carried by star Michelle Williams.

5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Where: Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week

Why: Woody Allen’s finest offering since Deconstructing Harry arrives at a bittersweet conclusion – that our most passionate desires are almost invariably trumped by life’s mundane imperatives – but along the way, it serves notice that the Brooklyn-born director has, at 72, lost none of his talent for thrusting his characters into slyly comical binds without hitting a single false note. Catch it on the big screen while you still have the chance.

6. The Wrestler
Where: Bridge Theatre, 3010 Geary Blvd., 415-751-3213
When: All Week
Why: After nearly two decades spent disfiguring his once-pretty face, suffering embarrassing run-ins with the law and starring sporadically in straight-to-DVD clunkers, Mickey Rourke is suddenly in contention for the first Oscar of his curious career. Here’s your chance to find out the reason.

7. Milk
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Gus Van Sant treats Harvey Milk’s story like a traditional biopic, but, as with his recent efforts Elephant and Paranoid Park, there is neither any concession to melodrama nor a moment wasted. Van Sant casts an unflinching eye on of Milk’s San Francisco odyssey, right down to the instant of pointless violence that ended his life. This is a movie that could have been maudlin or hagiographic in the hands of a lesser director, but Van Sant’s minimalist approach serves Dustin Lance Black’s Oscar-nominated screenplay well.