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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) revives a long-forgotten script by French cinema legend Jacques Tati with The Illusionist, now playing at the Clay Theatre.

With the city's 13th Independent Film Festival set to kick off next week, now is the time to catch up on all the major players in this year's Oscar sweepstakes, including Best Actor favorite Colin Firth (The King's Speech, playing at the Embarcadero) and Best Actress favorite Natalie Portman, whose tour-de-force performance in Black Swan is currently the featured attraction at the Balboa.

1. The Illusionist
Where: Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St., 415-346-1124
When: All Week
Why: Adapted from a never-produced script written by French comedy icon Jacques Tati as a love letter to his daughter, Sylvain Chomet's melancholy, Oscar-nominated Illusionist is the story of an aging magician whose search for a stage leads to a most unexpected discovery: Alice, a teenager who idealizes him, applauds his every trick and ultimately comes to love him as a father.

2. Biutiful
Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., 415-929-4650
When: All Week
Why: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s study of Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a terminal cancer victim subjected to soul-crushing slogs through Barcelona’s impoverished underworld, is rarely upbeat. But the understated grace that drives Bardem's Oscar-nominated performance lends Biutiful poetic resonance to an otherwise agonizing death march.

3. Another Year
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Mike Leigh's latest is drama without a hint of contrivance, the sobering portrait of an aging couple happy enough in their marriage but dismayed to witness the slow, unmistakable decline of their friends. His narrative moves with no discernible momentum, adhering only to the relentless passage of time, and offers no simple solutions to the struggles facing its protagonists. Yet the pain they inflict, on each other and themselves, and the dark humor Leigh extracts from their daily tragedies, are as sharply observed as the brilliant, overlooked performances of stars Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville.

4. Inside Job
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why:
Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) returns with the infuriating, painstakingly researched Inside Job, in which the Oscar-nominated filmmaker uncovers the causes of the 2008 economic collapse. Narrated by Matt Damon, Job traces the rise of a corrupt industry and exposes the troubling relationships that have compromised politics, regulation and academia, ultimately leaving millions on the unemployment line.

5. Barney's Version
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Inspired by Mordecai Richler's 1997 comic novel, Richard J. Lewis' feature debut tells the story of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a romantic everyman who leads an improbably extraordinary  life. With his father (Dustin Hoffman) by his side through four decades of misadventures and failed marriages, he boozes, strays and frequently prioritizes hockey over spending time with his wife and children. Yet Barney, portrayed in a smartly nuanced, Golden Globe-winning performance by Giamatti, is genuine and disarmingly sweet – a schlub, likable in spite of himself, who usually gets the girl even when neither he nor she really understands why.

6. Airplane!
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., 415-621-6120
When: Jan. 31
Why:
Writing and directing duo David and Jerry Zucker, joined as always by longtime creative partner Jim Abrahams, will accompany leading man Robert Hays on the Castro stage for a special screening of Airplane!, their classic 1980 disaster-movie spoof featuring Lloyd Bridges, Julie Hagerty and the late Leslie Nielsen. A question-and-answer session will follow, presented as part of SF Sketchfest, the city's annual comedy festival.

7. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Feb. 1-3
Why: Documentarian D. A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back) captures David Bowie on the final night of 1973’s Ziggy Stardust tour. ’Nuff said.