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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

Once you're finished scouring the city for the season's best Black Friday bargains, settle into a darkened theater to catch this year's Oscar hopefuls, including Fantastic Mr. Fox, which should give Pixar's Up fierce competition for Best Animated Feature. To help you on your way, here's a list of the finest films now playing at your local indie theaters.

1. Shaun of the Dead
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Dec. 3
Why: The gleefully macabre zombie comedy that propelled Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to international stardom doesn't rely on in-jokes aimed to tickle the horror crowd, nor does it lazily fall back on cheap, CGI-driven terror tactics. Instead, director Edgar Wright's feature-length debut takes the high road, seamlessly combines satire and gore, all to rousing effect.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Red Cliff
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: John Woo's Chinese-language historical epic finds the Hong Kong auteur at the top of his game, staging a third-century battle royale that's as breathlessly paced as it is artfully choreographed. At two-and-a-half hours – roughly half the length of the version Woo released in his homeland more than a year ago – Red Cliff may seem like a hefty undertaking to some, but the director, whose gift for grand spectacle remains undiminished, makes every minute count.

5. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
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.

6. The Men Who Stare at Goats
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: All Week
Why: Whether The Men Who Stare at Goats is based in reality is ultimately irrelevant. It’s highly entertaining, however improbable, and very funny. Its characters behave ludicrously, trying to walk through walls (literally) because they’ve been trained to believe they can. When they fail, as so frequently they do, it doesn’t deter them. They’re Jedis, or so they think, and even when the Force eludes them, their belief in it remains amusingly unshaken.

7. The House of the Devil
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: The House of the Devil plays like an homage – Rosemary’s Baby is an obvious influence – but the irony here is that director Ti West’s latest, about a babysitter selected for ritual sacrifice by a clan of Satan worshippers, is so superior to many of the movies whose spirit he channels, including 1979’s When a Stranger Calls and countless damsel-in-distress flicks from the ’80s. From his era-appropriate soundtrack (featuring Thomas Dolby, Greg Kihn and The Fixx) to the visual style of his opening credits and his slyly reverential camerawork, West gives his movie the look and feel of a 25-year-old relic, yet nothing about Devil seems stale.