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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

Happy New Year! As you all know, there is no better way to treat a holiday hangover than with an afternoon matinee. (Actually, that's not true. I recommend water, sports drinks that contain electrolytes, saltine crackers and, if possible, a full-body massage. And don't forget a healthy breakfast. Eating, like reading my columns, is fundamental.)

So once you're back on your feet and ready to venture out into the brave new world of 2010, be sure to check out these fine movies, now playing at an indie theater near you.

1. You, the Living

Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Jan. 3-4
Why: Swedish director Roy Andersson (Songs from the Second Floor) has released just four features in three decades, but time has hardly dulled his instincts. You, the Living is like nothing you've ever seen, a refreshingly unique cinematic experience comprised of 50 vignettes about people leading empty, miserable lives in a bleak, unforgiving city. Yet Andersson, who seems to delight in torturing his sad-sack subjects at every turn, keeps the tone surprisingly light: In failure he finds humor, albeit of the blackest variety, and affirmation that life, for all its bitter disappointments, remains a thing of beauty.

2. Crazy Heart
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Best known as The Dude to Lebowski lovers worldwide, Jeff Bridges delivers one of his most memorable performances as Bad Blake, the hard-living country singer stumbling toward a shot at redemption in writer-director Scott Cooper's promising feature debut. Maggie Gyllenhaal and a very good Colin Farrell co-star.

3. The Informant!

Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Jan. 6-7
Why: Steven Soderbergh's highly stylized farce is never boring, and the humor resonates more often than not, but watching inept corporate whistleblower Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) bury himself in ludicrous deceptions is a chore; at some point, his madness becomes maddening. What makes the movie work is Damon’s inspired performance: His manic, unflagging energy is appealing at first, but seems finally like the last recourse of a man desperate to escape the voices in his head.

4. An Education
Where: Bridge Theatre, 3010 Geary Blvd., 415-751-3213
When: All Week
Why: Written by Nick Hornby, who adapted the screenplay from Lynn Barber’s memoir, An Education is the story of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), an attractive 16-year-old whose conservative parents are dedicated to sending her to Oxford. Their well-laid plans are threatened when Jenny strikes up an alarmingly tight friendship with David (Peter Sarsgaard), a 35-year-old whose decadent lifestyle – he's partial to fancy restaurants, luxury hotels and foreign travel – introduces her to lessons not taught in a traditional classroom.

5. The Road
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
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. Broken Embraces
Where:
Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St., 415-346-1124; Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
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.

7. 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.