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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

Spring and March Madness have arrived, splashing the city with invigorating rays of glorious sunshine and enticing college basketball enthusiasts to patronize the closest sports bar. Where better to celebrate than a dark, air-conditioned theater? As always, here's a list of some of the finest films currently in rotation at an indie theater near you.

1. The Ghost Writer
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Roman Polanski's paranoid political thriller, based on a 2007 novel by Robert Harris, is the controversial director’s most compelling work since Chinatown (1974), starring Pierce Brosnan as a disgraced former British prime minister and Ewan McGregor as the writer of his loaded memoirs.

2. The Runaways
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: The story of The Runaways – a band of young, born-to-be-wild girls packaged and sold to a world hungry for sexpot rockers – would be compelling enough even if one of them, leather-clad guitarist Joan Jett, didn’t prove herself a star with real staying power. Here, Kristen Stewart plays Jett as the catlike outsider, silently observing but waiting for her moment to pounce. It’s a performance that’s right for the role, understandably deferential to the mesmerizing fury Michael Shannon brings to his role as Kim Fowley, the tyrannical producer behind the music.

3. The Art of the Steal
Where: Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: Don Argott (Rock School) asks us to consider the battle raging over the treasures of the Barnes Foundation, and it's an invitation well worth accepting. Founded in 1922 by millionaire art enthusiast Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the Foundation boasts a collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art worth roughly $25 billion. The only problem? Barnes left control of it to a small college, on the condition that the paintings never be exploited for commercial gain. Now, the city of Philadelphia, for one, wants to make them a tourist attraction. Art of the Steal is a powerful meditation on public vs. private rights, and, thanks to Argott, fascinating entertainment.

4. A Prophet
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Winner of the Grand Prix at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Jacques Audiard’s story of a 19-year-old whose life is redefined by six years in prison has been compared in some quarters to The Godfather, and the comparison makes sense on a superficial level. Malik (Tahar Rahim) goes to prison an innocent and leaves a criminal. We are grateful for his survival, but the violence that becomes second nature to him is nothing to celebrate, something Audiard understands. A Prophet is no fairy tale – there are neither heroes nor villains, merely men married to a desperate career path, fighting to eke out an existence. Malik proves better at it than most, but his tragedy is a depressingly common one: To save his life, he must sacrifice his soul.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: March 19-22
Why: Rather than indulging in endless flights of whimsy, as he did to distracting effect in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Wes Anderson returns to spectacular form with Fox, his delightfully exhilarating adaptation of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s book. Here, he eschews muddled melodrama for wryly self-mocking humor that never condescends to its audience. It’s a gas from the get-go, and welcome proof that Anderson hasn’t lost his flair for comedy that people actually laugh at.

6. Alice in Wonderland
Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., 415-929-4650
When: All Week
Why: Tim Burton began his career as a Disney animator, and given his flair for strangely evocative images, brilliantly invested in movies like Edward Scissorhands, that makes sense. All of which makes you wonder why Alice in Wonderland, his first live-action feature made specifically for 3-D, looks so ordinary. Burton's Wonderland is hardly the definitive adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s story, but his slyly feminist take on the mythology is sweet and engaging without ever seeming vital. Like its incredibly shrinking heroine, it’s a pleasure, but smaller than you might have expected.

7. The Road
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: March 23-25
Why: Whether a movie could be made of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a father and son braving the ruins of post-apocalyptic America was once the subject of spirited debate, and with good reason: John Hillcoat's reverent adaptation may prove too bleak for those seeking tidings of great joy this holiday season, but it is moving, intelligently crafted and perfectly cast. Humanity is depressingly scarce in McCarthy's dismal future, but in the man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) we find spirits that refuse to be broken, even in a world God has forsaken.