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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

With Christmas, Kwanzaa and Festivus just a week away, the holiday season is in full swing, the malls are packed with last-minute shoppers, and the city's indie theaters are playing host to some of the year's most satisfying films.

Witness Colin Firth's Oscar-worthy turn in A Single Man! See Christian McKay capture the larger-than-life spirit of cinema's foremost auteur in Me and Orson Welles! And if you don't feel like leaving your living room, the annual Christmas Story marathon on TBS, scheduled to begin Thursday at 8 p.m., is always an option.

1. Broken Embraces

Where:
Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St., 415-346-1124
When:
All Week
Why: Penélope Cruz, who earned an Oscar nomination for her fiery performance in director Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver (2006) and took home the statuette for her supporting role in last year’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, commands the screen here with a presence both authoritative and graceful. Lena, the sought-after beauty she plays in Broken Embraces, may be more vulnerable than some of her most memorable characters – Lena is battered, emotionally and physically – but thanks to Cruz, who projects strength effortlessly, there is no doubting her fortitude.

2. Scrooged
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Dec. 22
Why: Bill Murray's twisted take on Ebenezer Scrooge (reimagined as Frank Cross, soulless TV exec) remains a rare holiday treat, savory but hardly saccharine. The role is perfectly suited to Murray's wry comic temperament – he owns it as much as any contemporary actor has – and the resulting farce is sharp and oddly uplifting.

3. Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!
Where:
Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When:
Dec. 18-19
Why:
Featuring an all-star cast of enthusiastic commentators (including Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dennis Hopper and George Miller), Not Quite Hollywood is a loving tribute to Australian cinema of the '70s and '80s – in particular, genre exercises like Mad Max, Alvin Purple and The Man from Hong Kong. Filled with trashy clips and cheerfully vulgar anecdotes about the people who made them, it's the ultimate guilty pleasure for cinephiles with a passion for low-rent schlock.

4. A Single Man
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: An official selection of the Toronto, Tokyo and London film festivals, former fashion designer Tom Ford's directorial debut, about a homosexual English professor contemplating suicide after the death of his lover, gives Colin Firth (BBC's Pride and Prejudice) what he has long deserved: a richly conceived starring role worthy of his talents.

5. The Messenger
Where: Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: Oren Moverman's gripping drama about Army officers charged with breaking bad news to the families of fallen soldiers is essential viewing. With a sharply observant script co-written by Moverman, a veteran of the Israeli army, and career-best performances from Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster, it handles a touchy subject – the emotional impact of the Iraq war on combatants and the loved ones left behind – with intelligence and considerable grace.

6. Me and Orson Welles
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
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 put him in the first rank of Oscar contenders.

7. Brothers
Where: Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: Jim Sheridan’s sure-handed remake of Danish director Susanne Bier’s 2004 drama is not about a torrid love triangle, as the film’s ad campaign provocatively suggests. It is about Sam (Tobey Maguire), a Marine whose experiences as a Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan leave him bitterly withdrawn from his family, and his struggle to reconnect. His wayward brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) reaches out to him, but are their fraternal ties strong enough to survive Sam’s postwar meltdown?
 Sheridan (My Left Foot) tells their story with intelligence and restraint, astutely recognizing that Sam and Tommy's problems run deeper than mere jealousy.