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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

With the 12th annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival taking over the Roxie for the next two weeks and The Last Station making its regional debut at the Embarcadero, it's an exciting time for Bay Area cinephiles. Here's a list of some of the finest films currently in rotation at an indie theater near you.

1. The Last Station
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Michael Hoffman's bittersweet story of Leo and Sofya Tolstoy, whose tempestuous marriage of nearly 50 years unraveled shortly before the author's death, is worth it for the performances alone. Christopher Plummer plays Leo as a troubled patriarch, bemused by his celebrity and wary of his wife's mercurial ravings; Helen Mirren, as Sofya, is his greatest love and most strident critic. Both earned Oscar nominations, and deservedly so, in Hoffman's exhilirating adaptation of Jay Parini's historically based novel.

2. Sita Sings the Blues
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Feb. 9-11
Why: Alternative cartoonist and onetime San Francisco resident Nina Paley is officially on a roll. Following the abrupt dissolution of her marriage – her ex ended it via e-mail – she began exorcizing her frustrations through a series of animated shorts inspired by the Indian tale of Ramayana and set to the vocals of 1920s jazz legend Annette Hanshaw. Now comes the feature-length fruit of her labors – Sita Sings the Blues, a profoundly personal work of visual brilliance that returns this week to the Red Vic.

3. 44 Inch Chest
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: Ray Winstone, Tom Wilkinson and Ian McShane (HBO's Deadwood) star in a brooding, dialogue-heavy meditation on the male ego, written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, authors of the bruising 2000 gangster drama Sexy Beast. Need I say more?

4. Fish Tank
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: Winner of the Cannes Jury Prize and bolstered by the stunning arrival of newcomer Katie Jarvis, writer-director Andrea Arnold’s follow-up to her acclaimed Red Road (2006) follows the misadventures of 15-year-old Mia, who feels flattered by the attentions of her mother’s new boyfriend. Could Connor, played by Michael Fassbender of Inglourious Basterds, rescue her from an unfulfilling home life or prove to be the latest in an escalating series of disappointments?

5. Me and Orson Welles
Where: Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: Christian McKay, who previously starred in a one-man stage show as the Citizen Kane director both in his prime and his declining years, is a revelation in Richard Linklater's new comedy, with a performance both fearless and mesmerizing. This is a man who has done his homework. He captures Welles’ mannerisms, including his incomparable rumbling baritone, with uncanny precision. But to describe McKay as a master impersonator would be an injustice. He is channeling a prodigious spirit here, and his work should have put him in the first rank of Oscar contenders.

6. Creation
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Real-life married couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly don't have a catchy nickname – Jennany? Bettifer? P. B. & J.? – but they have a new movie: Creation, in which Bettany (Wimbledon) plays Charles Darwin as a man obsessed with the origin of the species and constantly butting heads with his religious wife (Connelly). Director Jon Amiel, who describes the film as "part ghost story, part psychological thriller, part heart-wrenching love story," seems strangely dispassionate in his approach to Darwin's journey, but Bettany's performance is a winner.

7. The White Ribbon
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Michael Haneke's latest assault, nominated this week for Best Foreign Film, comes billed as a children’s story, in the same way that Children of the Corn was a movie for farmers. Set in Germany on the eve of the First World War, his story takes place within the suffocating confines of the director’s own village of the damned, where a series of suspicious accidents threatens the harmony of a seemingly tight-knit Protestant community. As always, he bombards us with images ranging from the vaguely unsettling to the downright appalling, and our discomfort is his reward.