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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

With the Dec. 31 deadline for 2009 Academy Award consideration fast approaching and at least one surefire Best Picture contender – Jason Reitman's Up in the Air – arriving at theaters this weekend, it's a perfect time to catch a movie. As always, here's a list of the finest films now playing at your local indie theaters.

1. Everything Strange and New
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: All Week
Why: Winner of the San Francisco International Film Festival's FIPRESCI award – that's short for Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique, since you asked – Frazer Bradshaw's Everything Strange and New is a funny and ultimately haunting portrait of midlife malaise, beautifully photographed and shot on location in Oakland.

2. Brothers
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
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 It is about Sam (Tobey Maguire), a Marine whose experiences as a Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan leave him bitterly withdrawn from his family, and his struggle to reconnect.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.

3. Zombieland
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Dec. 4-7
Why: There is no social satire to be gleaned from Zombieland, and not much in the way of serious horror. Yet first-time feature director Ruben Fleischer's post-apocalyptic comedy boasts plenty of kick: His opening-credits sequence, set to the thrashing strains of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and shot in comically melodramatic slo-mo, introduces us to the flesh-chewing zombies whose natural habitat is movies like this. What follows is a standard tale of survival, highlighted by Woody Harrelson’s turn as a laconic road warrior and by one of the year’s most unexpected and delightful cameos. (Those eager to learn the mystery guest's identity are free to consult the Internet Movie Database.)

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., 415-929-4650
When: All Week
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.

5. The Road

Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
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.

6. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: We’ve seen Nicolas Cage slumming in disposable thrillers like Bangkok Dangerous (2008) and Neil LaBute’s misguided remake of The Wicker Man (2006), but his spirited performance in Werner Herzog's Port of Call New Orleans ranks among his very best. Here, Cage is a lunatic force, a one-man Katrina wreaking havoc on a city already in shambles, and he rises to the occasion with a fearless, man-on-a-tightrope showing. He lets himself go to stunning effect, much as he did in 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas (for which he won an Oscar) and all too infrequently since then. You won’t want to take your eyes off him.

7. The Shining
Where: Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St., 415-346-1124
When: Dec. 4-5
Why: Heeeeeeeeere's Johnny! ('Nuff said.)