Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week


The Oscars may be over, but the big winners – The Hurt Locker, Crazy Heart and Avatar, as well as acclaimed foreign nominees like The White Ribbon and A Prophet – are still playing at an indie theater near you. Elsewhere, Matt Damon returns as a very Bourne-like soldier hunting nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone.

1. 28th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St., 415-346-1124, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., 415-929-4650
When: All Week
Why: Since 1982, the SFIAAFF has been a crucial launching point for Asian-American independent filmmakers, as well as a vital source for new Asian cinema. This year, its selections include The Forbidden Door, Joko Anwar's Freudian thriller about an artist haunted by his own sculptures, and Yonfan's Prince of Tears, a twisted fairy tale inspired by the mass execution of suspected Taiwanese communists that represented Hong Kong at this year's Academy Awards.

2. The Art of the Steal
Where:Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Don Argott (Rock School) asks us to consider the battle raging over the treasures of the Barnes Foundation, and it's an invitation well worth accepting. Founded in 1922 by millionaire art enthusiast Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the Foundation boasts a collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art worth roughly $25 billion. The only problem? Barnes left control of it to a small college, on the condition that the paintings never be exploited for commercial gain. Now, the city of Philadelphia, for one, wants to make them a tourist attraction. Art of the Steal is a powerful meditation on public vs. private rights, and, thanks to Argott, fascinating entertainment.

3. A Prophet
Where:Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Winner of the Grand Prix at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Jacques Audiard’s story of a 19-year-old whose life is redefined by six years in prison has been compared in some quarters to The Godfather, and the comparison makes sense on a superficial level. Malik (Tahar Rahim) goes to prison an innocent and leaves a criminal. We are grateful for his survival, but the violence that becomes second nature to him is nothing to celebrate, something Audiard understands. A Prophet is no fairy tale – there are neither heroes nor villains, merely men married to a desperate career path, fighting to eke out an existence. Malik proves better at it than most, but his tragedy is a depressingly common one: To save his life, he must sacrifice his soul.

4. Green Zone
Where:Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., 415-929-4650
When: All Week
Why: Brian Helgeland’s sometimes shallow but briskly paced story, inspired by Washington Post national editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s critique of America’s reconstruction of Iraq, is the basis for Green Zone, director Paul Greengrass’ second movie about Sept. 11 and its messy aftermath, after the chilling United 93. There's real energy here, a sense of urgency nearly vitiated by one particularly tiresome shootout but invigorated by Matt Damon, who gives his conflicted Army hero the same authoritative presence that made Jason Bourne so appealing. By now, Damon is an old hand at this sort of thing, but his intelligence always shines through.

5. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Where:Bridge Theatre, 3010 Geary Blvd., 415-751-3213
When: All Week
Why: By leaking the contents of the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the media and forever altering America's perception of the Vietnam War, former Marine and military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, now 78, helped bring on the downfall of the Nixon administration. His story is told here concisely and powerfully by documentarians Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, who recall a time when mainstream journalists were less hesitant to challenge White House propaganda.

6. Alice in Wonderland

Where:Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., 415-929-4650
When: All Week
Why: Tim Burton began his career as a Disney animator, and given his flair for strangely evocative images, brilliantly invested in movies like Edward Scissorhands, that makes sense. All of which makes you wonder why Alice in Wonderland, his first live-action feature made specifically for 3-D, looks so ordinary. Burton's Wonderland is hardly the definitive adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s story, but his slyly feminist take on the mythology is sweet and engaging without ever seeming vital. Like its incredibly shrinking heroine, it’s a pleasure, but smaller than you might have expected.

7. The Last Station
Where:Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: Michael Hoffman's bittersweet story of Leo and Sofya Tolstoy, whose tempestuous marriage of nearly 50 years unraveled shortly before the author's death, is worth it for the performances alone. Christopher Plummer plays Leo as a troubled patriarch, bemused by his celebrity and wary of his wife's mercurial ravings; Helen Mirren, as Sofya, is his greatest love and most strident critic. Both earned Oscar nominations, and deservedly so, in Hoffman's exhilirating adaptation of Jay Parini's historically based novel.

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