The Best of New York City

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07/30/2008 12:00 AM |

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POLITICS

BEST DECISION AMERICANS EVER MADE. EVER.

Denying Giuliani
   Recall if you will the brief but terrifying period in our nation’s great history when it appeared not unlikely that our beloved and malignantly hunched former mayor/dictator would receive his party’s nomination for president of these United States.

BEST RECORDED MOMENT OF RAGING MISGUIDED INDIGNATION

Harriet Christian Hates Obama
   Frustrated by the fairly sensible decision of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee regarding the seating of Michigan and Florida’s delegates, Ms. Christian (Clinton supporter, New Yorker and “proud older American”) proceeded to bemoan the unfairness of it all and capped the crazy off by calling Obama an “inadequate black male.” Every time we watch it we are reminded of the time our landlord’s aunt was found yelling in the street. Shudder.

LEAST CREEPY (AND THEREFORE BEST) VAN USED BY A PUBLIC FIGURE TO LURE IN SMALL CHILDREN

Betsy Gotbaum’s Public Advocate-mobile   Yeah, no one really knows what the Public Advocate does, but at least Ms. Gotbaum has a cool, graffiti-styled superhero van to ride around in. Apparently she’s trying to convince little kids to not be so fat, which is good.
Best Headline About the Eliot Spitzer Hooker Scandalganza That We Didn’t Actually See Anywhere
Spitzer Swallows! (Pride, Resigns) Get it? Ha. Haha. Meh.

BEST NEWS OUT OF ALBANY, ALMOST

Joe Bruno to Retire    The silver-maned “working-class” Republican old boy has had enough — this would be the best news ever if he somehow managed to convince fellow insider power broker Sheldon Silver to retire with him. Dare to dream.

BEST PREEMPTIVE PRESS REVEAL

David Paterson Admits to Affairs, Incest, Alien Abduction, Stealing Kitten Souls   Very shortly after taking over for shamed former Governor Spitzer, Paterson copped to cheating on his wife. Embarrassing, but shrewd. We also kind of like him for getting down with the Pride Parade in such a big way.

BEST AGITPROP PUBLIC PERFORMANCE ART

Iraq Veterans Against the War Raid Lower Manhattan   Dressed in full battle gear, actual Iraq vets engaged in a series of lifelike military maneuvers around Manhattan, mimicking the everyday actions of life in Baghdad. Eerie+a little sad=effective.

BEST OR POSSIBLY ONLY CONGRUENCY BETWEEN REALITY TV AND, YOU KNOW, REALITY

In 1992, at the retrospectively shockingly old age of 26, hot-tempered activist and writer Kevin Powell was “the black guy” on the first season of The Real World; now he’s running in the 10th Congressional District’s Democratic Primary against representative-for-life Ed Towns. For this reason — and, really, those of us who live in the 10th would like to emphasize, no other reason — it’s a shame that Real World: Brooklyn is going to shoot in Red Hook, rather than in Fort Greene or Bed-Stuy: they could all work as canvassers for Powell’s campaign, in between body shots.

MEDIA

BEST NEW BLOGS  (TIE)

Videogum.com, the Stereogum spawn that’s “for the front of your head” (as in, it’s about movies, TV, internet videos and other things that move), handily eclipses its parent in hilarity and workday-ruining. Thank you, co-editors Gabe Delahaye (formerly of Gawker and 23/6.com) and Lindsay Robertson (formerly of Comedy Central). 

Try to look away from PhotoshopDisasters.blogspot.com. No seriously. It’s like the opposite of taking candy from a baby. As in, it is hard.

MOST CANDID (AND THEREFORE BEST) INTERVIEW WITH A FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT ON THE TEEVEE

Lara Logan Speaks Truth to Apathy on Jon Stewart   As the Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent for CBS News, Logan has made a habit of getting herself in the most dangerous places imaginable in search of a story (the mountains of Afghanistan, non-Green Zone Baghdad). And not that we subscribe to that old “experience confers moral authority” chestnut, but when Logan told Stewart we were all guilty of ignoring the daily suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan it really hit home. Also she is pretty and has an accent.

BEST ONLINE COMMENTATOR BLOODLETTING

The Jezebel Incident
   Beloved Jezebel writers Moe Tkacik and Slut Machine (Tracie Egan) appeared on Lizz Winstead’s Thinking & Drinking program on June 30th. They took the title very, very seriously, and went on to say some of the wince-worthiest words in the history of recorded, drunken, largely unwatched talk show history (Tracie on why she hasn’t been raped: “I think it has to do with the fact that I’m, like, smart”). When Jezebel eventually acknowledged the debacle, savvy commenters went to town. To 1,200 Comments-Town. A few weeks later, Moe switches to Radar Gawker.

LAST BEST GAWKER EDITOR

Pareene
 
  We loved the shockingly young, bespectacled NYU dropout when he was at political blog Wonkette and were actually a little disappointed when he returned to very slowly sinking ship/inside-joke-that-is-neither-inside-nor-funny Gawker. We still read his posts, though.

BEST NEW-ISH MAGAZINE YOU MIGHT NOT READ ALL THE TIME

Edible Brooklyn   The first issue of this fantastic quarterly we ever saw had a cover photo of a giant squash in the subway (or something like that, we were drunk) and a feature on what the guy from Yo La Tengo had in his fridge (we think… remember, drunk at the time). Since then we’ve been hooked on its beautiful design and non-irritating food writing, non-irritation being as close to bliss as we can get these days.

BEST NON-PROFIT INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING THINK TANG

Pro Publica   As struggling newspapers slash budgets, and media conglomerates grow ever larger, the money (and the desire) to commit to long-term investigative journalism — the kind of slow-burning, deep-cover stories that define a healthy fourth estate — doesn’t seem to be there. Enter Pro Publica, an open-source, public-interest investigative newsroom founded by former Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger, that generates content for outside distribution points (e.g. 60 Minutes, WNYC, etc.). In its own words, Pro Publica will produce “journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.” Fuck yeah.

FIVE WORST ALT-WEEKLY COVERS OF THE PAST 12 MONTHS

New York Press: The Cool Nerd
   “How can we use the cover to play up the fact that this issue contains three feature articles centered around a book that clearly started out as a trend piece killed by New York?”

New York Press: Busted   Extra! Extra! Read all about it! “Edgy”, “irreverent” satirical alt-weekly analysis of sexual undercurrents in political media derailed by puerile mindset, perplexing lack of nipples.

New York Press: Pretty Stupid
   See what they did there?

New York Press: Armond White Trashes Sex and the City
   See what they did there?

Village Voice: Looking for a good read?
   In which New Times hired gun Tony Ortega invokes the legendary underground newspaper’s disreputable legacy. Where have all the junkies gone?

BEST NEW ONLINE MAGAZINES (BEST REASON TO NOT MOCK NEW MEDIA)

Triple Canopy 
  A website so clean it’s like visual Mentos. Whip-smart writing, art and video e-published quarterly by editors Sam Frank and Alexander Provan. Issue 1 came out March 17th of this year, Issue 2 followed a few months later, and we can only imagine the thoughtful e-jewels that Issue 3 will bring us shortly. Plus their fundraiser parties not only don’t suck, they’re great (next one is Aug. 7 at Light Industry). (canopycanopycanopy.com)

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LETTERS

FOUR BEST INDEPENDENT WORKS OF FICTION 2008 (SO FAR)

All Over by Roy Kesey (Dzanc Books)
  Short stories: we love ’em, and Dzanc Books, a small press out of Michigan that shot out of the gate with Kesey’s All Over, is going to be publishing a lot of them. This is a book that combines the wiliness of George Saunders and the wisdom of Ron Carlson. Put simply: this is a great collection.

Monsieur by Jean Philippe Toussaint (Dalkey Archive Press)  
If you can imagine a book that indicts materialism and corporate culture while being free of easy cynicism and ennui, this is it. We don’t use the word “refreshing” to describe works of literature, but if we did, in this case we would.  

On a Day Like This by Peter Stamm, translated by Michael Hoffman (Other Press)
 
In this stark novel, Stamm explores the nature of personal tragedy, and whether our ability to endure shock and pain necessarily leads to solipsism or, alternatively, renewal. Maybe it’s both?

How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet (Soft Skull)
  Millet’s latest is the story of T., a wealthy real estate developer whose concern for endangered animals compels him to break into zoos at night so he can sleep near the animals, even while paving over vast tracts of land during his waking hours. The first in a trilogy, this novel gets the project out of the gate with impressive momentum and ethical seriousness.

BEST SHORT STORIES PUBLISHED BY NYC PUBLICATIONS

“What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us” by Larua van den Berg   One Story #102

“The Reptile Garden” by Louise Erdrich   The New Yorker, January 28, 2008

“The Case of the Severed Hand” by Robert Coover   Harper’s, July 2008

“Cattle Haul” by Jesmyn Ward
  A Public Space, #5

MOST INFURIATING COMEBACK

James Frey
   Yes, sadly and somewhat bafflingly, Frey wasn’t consigned to the dustbin of history for hoodwinking Oprah — and everyone else — with his fake confessional memoir A Million Little Pieces, which, even if it had been true, would still have sucked. Though things looked good (by which we mean bad) for Bright Shiny Morning early on when the LA Times’ David Ulin opened his review with “Bright Shiny Morning is a terrible book. One of the worst I’ve ever read.” Janet Maslin of the New York Times had to go and call it a “captivating urban kaleidoscope.” Damn it, Janet! 

BEST NEW YORK-BASED LITERARY FEUD THAT SHOULD RESOLVE ITSELF IN SOME SORT OF CONTEST OF PHYSICAL STRENGTH

Hey Franzen and Kakutani: take it off the page already! How can a feud really be any sort of feud if it’s relegated to the inviolable pages of the Times and the auditoriums of Harvard? We know, we know, she shredded your book in a way that made it doubtful that she actually read it. And, ok, Michiko, he called you the stupidest person in New York in front of an audience of really smart people. But the word-slinging is getting pretty tired. If this spat’s going to stay interesting, we suggest the next escalation be an arm wrestling contest, or perhaps some sort of multi-day dance marathon. You decide.

BEST INNOVATION IN THE WIDE AND CONFUSING WORLD OF GUIDEBOOKS TO NEW YORK

Not for Tourists will help you find a laundromat, and Zagat will help you locate a restaurant your out-of-town friends will approve of, but how are we to distinguish a real, Earth-friendly retail venture from the many fakers who are looking to cash in on our eco anxieties and good intentions? Greenopia’s guidebook to New York lists over 1,000 green retailers, but they take things a step further by giving them a green rating of one to four leaves, with four being the highest rating. Think of it as a green-themed Zagat guide for day-to-day urban living that actually distinguishes among “uh, sorta green,” “greenish” and “honest to God verdant.”

FIVE BEST LIVE READING EVENTS

Clearly, our own Literary Upstart Competition tops the list. You beg to differ? Write a letter to the editor. Ha!

Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match: Take the contest to a variety of odd locations, add an urban sack race, and whammo: you’ve got instant literary entertainment. Proceeds benefit Opium Magazine, and we’re big enough to admit that this is a good thing.

The Cringe Reading Series   Surely you’ve heard of this monthly display of teen angst and “insight” at Freddy’s Bar and Backroom, where every month adults read diary entries and “poems” that they wrote in their formative years. While other readings may leave you feeling inadequate, this one will leverage feelings of deep confidence. Like, really, really, for-real, serious, confidence. Seriously.

The Earshot Reading Series
 
  Held in Williamsburg at The Lucky Cat, Earshot brings MFA students to the world outside of the MFA bubble. Yeah, there’s a cover, but it’s only five bucks, which is only about 1/6,600th of one year’s tuition at Columbia’s MFA program. Plus you get a free drink once you’re inside. Beat that, Columbia.

The St. Mark’s Reading Series   Held at Solas bar on 9th Street, this is a big mixed bag of a series, with readers who run the gamut from “oldie but goodie” to “That guy was born in 1987? Shit.”

BEST UNDER-THE-RADAR NOVEL

The Ministry of Special Cases, Nathan Englander    The long-awaited follow-up to Englander’s 2000 collection of short stories, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, is a great book. Set in Buenos Aires during Argentina’s “Dirty War” it is at times funny, despairing, brutal and innocent. You should get this book and read it. Ok?

BEST INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES IN NEW YORK

Freebird Books, Red Hook
   When we saw the Craigslist ad announcing that Freebird was for sale, we figured it’d be purchased, gutted and turned into a frozen yogurt shop. Much to our relief, it’s still a bookstore, and a damned good one at that.

192 Books, Chelsea 
  Being in Chelsea, 192 Books has a good number of art titles (critical texts as well as exhibition publications), in addition to the literary standards you’d expect and some rare titles you might not. 192 Books also hosts a number of events in a space that’s comfortable and welcoming, which is a feat for any Chelsea business.

Bluestockings, Lower East Side  
Even if you’re not into gender studies or Bread and Puppet theater or guerrilla-anything, Bluestockings is a favorite not because they have a lofty and pious public mission (which they certainly do), but because it’s clear that the employees who own the place work hard to reach those goals. That means they hold a ton of events and have on-hand a lot of books you’re not going to find elsewhere.

MOST HYPED, LEAST READ BOOKS OF 2008

Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen   She is a Medical Doctor, and likes the Borges, and this Intricate Postmodern Work uses Playful Narrative Devices to Address The Nature of Identity and Intimate Human Relationships with Playful Narrative Devices, and it couldn’t sound more like something you’ve Been Meaning to Get Around to Reading.

Beautiful Children by Charles Bock   Panoramic, yearning novel About America, set in Los Vegas — we’d say “not to be confused with James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning” (panoramic, yearning novel About America, set in Los Angeles), but we’re not so sure that that’s true.

Netherland  by Joseph O’Neill   Seriously, why aren’t readers flocking to a beautifully written post-9/11 rumination on personal identity in an interconnected globe praised by James Wood in the pages of the New Yorker? Oh, never mind.

Beijing Coma by Ma Jian
   Wait, have people been reading this, or these in general? Mostly we’ve been basing this list off our perception of the most hyped books of 2008, and the assumption that nobody reads them because, you know, literacy is dead. So yeah, Beijing Coma.

Keith Gessen’s Tumblr 
  We actually read this now and then. You?

FOOD AND DRINK

BEST PROHIBITION-ERA BAR (AND WORST)

They descended upon the city in droves this past year, playing their fuzzy jazz, swinging their carefully tailored petticoats, pouring, stirring, drizzling their old-school cocktails over mint and home-brewed apricot something or other. They’re the Prohibition-era bars, and they stretch from the “god damn this is a good drink” best (Clover Club) to the “help, I’m trapped in a costume party!” worst (also Clover Club). Honorable mentions on the positive side to Jake Walk, Weather Up and Hotel Delmano. V good work all around.

BEST RESULTS OF THE HIGH-END BEER BAR SURGE

Maybe it was the influx of new wine bars, but this year beer aficionados created a mini-empire of hoppy palaces, the best of which are Beer Table, Bar Great Harry, 124 Rabbit Club and Radegast Hall and Biergarten. Maybe even Back Forty, if you could call that a beer bar. Also Smith Ales & Lagers, that squeaky clean beer church in Williamsburg.

BEST BAR TO TAKE YOUR PARENTS TOO

Against the Grain, 620 E 6th St   The ideal bar to bring your parents to is low-key enough to be inviting, classy enough to convince them you’re a grown-up, and out-of-the-way and funky enough to remind them how much cooler you are than them. Thus, this cozy artisanal beer-and-small-plates bar on a sleepy block in Alphabet City.

BEST CHEAP SANDWICH IN MIDTOWN THAT’S REALLY A MEAL

Leave it to a culinary tradition NOT known for its forays into ‘wichery to create a sandwich that eats like a very satisfying meal. We’re speaking, of course, of the miracle that is the Paneer Tikka Naan sandwich, product of the geniuses at Indus Café (48 W. 48th St). Just across from the side entrance to Rockefeller Center, Indus’ immaculate quarters are home to the Srinivasa Ramanujan of sandwiches: tandoori-grilled homemade fresh cheese is cubed, sauteed with peppers and veggies and a slightly sweet, slightly spicy sauce, and is tucked into a fresh, fluffy naan bread with a little lettuce and cucumber. That would be plenty to earn top sandwich marks, but the Indus crew plates this baby (or, more properly, boxes) with a smidgen of chickpea/lettuce/mango/red onion salad and a couple handfuls of homemade potato chips. That’s right, homemade potato chips. All for less than seven bucks.

BEST ALTERNATIVE TO MOMOFUKU KO

Persimmon, 277 E 10th St   Four courses of gorgeous, innovative Korean food (fluke sashimi! Pork belly kimchi stew! Pickled garlic!) and as much B as you care to B on YO — all served on a warm and woodsy communal table in a tiny splinter of a restaurant in an otherwise shadowy stretch of East 10th Street. All for a measly $37.

BEST RECORD STORE/LOCAVORE RESTAURANT

Eat Records, 124 Meserole Ave  
Sure, there aren’t a ton of places competing for this particular accolade, but so what, this place rules. Chef and part-owner Jordan Colon is obsessed with fresh, local ingredients and takes as much care turning them into nearly perfect dishes as he does ascertaining their provenance (we’re looking at you, Avocado Eggs Benedict). Also, we bought a Bryan Ferry record there for, like, three bucks.

BEST LEGALIZATION OF AN ALLEGEDLY HALLUCINATORY LIQUOR

Absinthe 
  Oh, our beloved Green Fairy, the Puritans have captured you and made you less exotic by legalizing you, so now frat boys across the nation can drink you and have honest reasons for hallucinating their way to “totally non-gay” homoerotic moments with their burly confreres. We give it six months until they release an alcoholic energy drink called “The Green Zone.”

BEST REFILLABLE BEER STORE

Whole Foods, Bowery Beer Room, 95 Houston St 
  Yeah, we rag a lot on anti-union monolith Whole Foods and its Randian overlord John Mackey, but holy shit they now have a refillable beer station! Yup, right there at the corner of Houston and Chrystie Streets, you can choose from a bunch of delicious microbrews and take your brew home in a refillable growler (that’s a kind of bottle). Now, if they’d just set up a still on the roof…

BEST EXAMPLE OF FUSION RESTAURANTS NOT BEING INHERENTLY WRETCHED

Red Egg, 202 Center St   Take everything good about Chinatown restaurants — the food, the liveliness, the… food — wash it in bright colors and a design-y get-up (white faux-snakeskin, a ceiling embedded with 88 light bulbs, circular leather banquettes), add an appetizer section of Peruvian goodies, wrap it in duck skin, and then put it back in Chinatown to serve as its queen.

BEST RESULT OF APPLE-STORE-MEETS-ASIAN-BARBEQUE DECOR


Bar Q, 308-310 Bleecker St  
Mmm, barbeque. Mmm, crunchy and fatty. This time from the East, with tea-smoked duck, spit-roasted pork belly, fried eel and Hitachino beer. Followed by (we prefer, at least) walnut soup with malted Rice Krispies. Trust. And we feel like a clown for ordering it, but a round of pickle-tinis for the table, please.

FILM

FOUR BEST THINGS ABOUT NYC CINEPHILIA THAT WERE NOT HERE LAST YEAR

The Film Desk   Because one can’t just sit back and wait for someone else to carve out projector time for one’s favorite films, BAM programmer and critic Jake Perlin started his own distribution company, which debuted by wrangling a much-belated American theatrical premiere run for Philippe Garrel’s intimate I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar, and followed up by inducing a new round of discussion about Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux. (See thefilmdesk.com)

Light Industry 
  In some disused warehouse in Sunset Park, Thomas Beard and Ed Halter, longtime men-about-the-city’s-experimental-film-community, oversee weekly guest-curated screenings, “illustrated lectures”, performance and installation pieces, and whatever else anyone can make a case for belonging in the same space as all this other stuff. (See lightindustry.org)

Maysles Cinema   So the foundation and production company of venerable verite documentarian Albert Maysles started up a new venue, in their Harlem offices, with an exclusive focus on documentary films — both canonical works and, one assumes, grassroots attempts at diffusing control over the narrative. (See mayslesfilms.com)

Moving Image Source 
  The Museum of the Moving Image’s new online presence features a calendar highlighting repertory film programs worldwide and a wide-ranging research guide, but mostly — thanks to the connections of editor Dennis Lim — it features a steady supply of eclectic, mind-expanding articles by an impressive roster of prominent critics, and also your film editor. (See movingimagesource.us)

WORST AUDIENCES, ARTHOUSE DIVISION

Film Forum
   You’d think that the only people who’d come out to, say, an obscure Japanese gangster melodrama from the early 80s would be people with a particular interest in niche film genres, and thus fairly attentive moviegoers respectful of the viewing experiences of their fellow patrons — but often, old people see movies for no reason other than to get out of the house, and are so suprised by what they see that they can’t help but narrate, breathlessly, the entire movie as it unspools before their eyes. You are so old, how do you not know how to act in a movie theater, surely you have been in one before tonight?

WORST AUDIENCES, MULTIPLEX DIVISION

UA Court Street So you’re part of a sold-out opening weekend crowd for the biggest movie of the season, and… really? You’re going to be on your phone the whole time? Sending flirtatious text messages to the person sitting on the other end of the row from you? Ok, then. Also, confidential to the young couple who brought their four-year-old to a deserted Tuesday night screening of The Brave One last summer: there’s a scene in that movie where a young man asks Jodie Foster if “[she’s] ever been fucked by a knife”, and then she shoots him, blam blam, blood everywhere. But of course, you know that now, and so does your four-year-old child. Although at least you were too busy tending to his alternating frightened bawling fits and bloodthirsty exclamations to talk on your phone as much as most other people who see movies at the UA Court Street.
 
BEST ON-SCREEN NEW YORK

Process-oriented stories built out of lived-in milieus, Rahmin Bahrani’s slices of NYC neorealism are compelling for their attention to the details of city lives most people mostly ignore. His Chop Shop, about a 12-year-old scrapping his way through the cash economy of Willets Point auto body shops, the dim roar of the Shea Stadium crowd in the background, makes unmanipulative high drama out of a quintessentially New York ecosystem.

WORST ON-SCREEN NEW YORK

The longest fucking I Love the 90s episode we’ve ever seen, The Wackness is an aggressively banal coming-of-age scripted by an inarticulate and thoroughly self-aggrandizing writer-director (and enacted by a mumbling meathead), but its tone-deaf checklist of early Giuliani-era signifiers (tagging! Starbucks! O.J.!) is what really grates. A 15-year-old piano prodigy from Iowa using nothing but his parents’ back issues of Newsweek could offer a more natural depiction of how the cultural, political and personal cohere in a humid urban environment.

BEST REVIEWS OF 2008

J. Hoberman, Rambo (Village Voice)
   We liked 30th Anniversary Man’s rhapsody to the film of the year, Flight of the Red Balloon, and appreciate the clip-and-save educational value of his brief Cine Phile repertory round-ups, but our favorite Hobereview of the year is the one where the dean of alt-weekly film writing plumbs the deep, dank depths of the McCain and Iraq-era resurrection of the Reagan-era resurrection of the Vietnam War, in illuminating, frequently hilarious detail. “Kill One for the Gipper” also prefigured a year of reviews — Chicago 10, The President’s Analyst, Get Smart — bringing art theory, pop anthropology and radical political history to bear on the living ghost of the 60s. Do we get to win this time?

Michael Koresky, Diary of the Dead (Indiewire.com) 
  Fair and balanced and entertainingly comprehensive, but this is really more of a lifetime achievement award, for an approachably forward critical sensibility, both in his own writing and as the co-founder of our perpetual critical crush object Reverse Shot, something like an ideal for the kind of web-based film writing community that, or so we tell ourselves, will keep cinephilia thriving long after the last print media company buys out its last critic’s contract.

Manohla Dargis, Reprise and A.O. Scott, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (New York Times) 
  Sharp overwriters doing what they do best: The Dargis’s affectedly breezy prose Trojan Horsing academic theory into the Grey Lady via poppy allusion; ever-sensible Tony using cocktail party bon mots to talk about adolescent raunch and somehow seeming eager to please and be pleased, rather than condescending.

Armond White, Before I Forget (NY Press)   There are times when Armond White is actually so involved with the movie he’s reviewing that he’s too busy grappling with its themes, scrambling for illuminating parallels and advocating for its relevance that he forgets to take potshots at the battered straw men (“hipsters” and variations thereof) he has lined up outside his window. So it is with Jacques Nolot’s latest installment in his ongoing autobiographical project — a film so emotionally specific in its treatment of the writer-director-star’s aging gigolo alter ego that it takes someone as attuned as White to bring it to us.

WORST REVIEWS OF 2008

David Denby, Still Life (The New Yorker) 
  “And I wonder if Jia, a master filmmaker without a motor, doesn’t need to find a setting where there’s some vibrant, messy life going on. As with all poets of desolation, he seems to deplore what he creates, but it’s just possible that he feels comfortable in the beautiful, strange, blank spaces.” What does that even mean? We think it means “I, David Denby, wish Jia Zhang-ke would make movies that are easier for me, David Denby, to talk about in my default critical vocabulary of gallant humanist dilettantism, because I am way out of my depth discussing East Asian long-take minimalism, formalist construction and socioeconomic agendas.” God, he’s so befuddled, like your grandfather who clings to his inappropriate sayings because he doesn’t understand the world today.

Andrew O’Hehir, Funny Games (Salon.com)  
Any positive review of Funny Games would have fit the bill here, but we’ll go with Salon’s usually reliable “Beyond the Multiple” columnist, for explaining what Haneke’s pedagogic anti-thriller does and how, and then stopping just short of a conversation with the worth or implications of the movie’s project — either because he honestly doesn’t have an opinion on the subject, or because he’d rather self-censor than call bullshit on a limited-release movie by a foreign auteur. This is what happens when an outlet ghettoizes arthouse releases: people start to believe that what they’re writing about occupies such a precarious cultural position that it’ll die if not handled with extreme care.

Kyle Smith, Standard Operating Procedure (New York Post) 
  Has his aesthetic compass ever not aligned with his employer’s political agenda? It’s not enough to disagree; he has to deny the eloquence with which the point is made, lest his readers get the idea that there’s anything at all to the other side. But we’ll single out this one, not just for its blatant unfamiliarity with Errol Morris’s work but also for such loathsome partisan-hack rationalizations as “[the image of] the hooded man standing on a box with wires wrapped around his fingertips… becomes less appalling when you learn all of the facts” and “[Lynndie] England embarrassed the Army, but there’s a difference between frat-boy degradation and actual torture.”

Armond White, Juno (NY Press)  
Armond didn’t actually review Juno, he just went out of his way to rail against it in every review he wrote in the first half of this year, using it as a club with which to beat people who, as often as not, hated it. It’s not that Armond White is always wrong, necessarily, it’s just that it’s often more frustrating to agree with him, when he contorts every bad movie’s badness into a reflection of the bankruptcy of some contrived amalgamation of his many, many cultural and political enemies. Oh, also, A-Dubs: Snow Angels doesn’t fucking take place in Canada. It’s sometimes hard to take you as seriously as you demand to be taken.

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THEATER

BEST DANGEROUS PHYSICAL COMEDY ON STAGE

During the course of Boeing Boeing, Mark Rylance gets himself caught on the edge of a chair, where he teeters for at least ten seconds before falling straight backwards, Mary McCormack humps the floor to within an inch of its life, and Christine Baranski tosses what seems like a lit cigarette into the audience every night during the curtain call. There hasn’t been this much slapstick commitment to sex farce since the days of Jack Tripper.

BEST BROADWAY TROOPER

Eighty-year old Estelle Parsons bruises her way through the epic August: Osage County eight times a week. And you can bet that Marian Seldes has spies backstage to report any sign of fatigue on Parsons’ part; it’s a little-known fact that La Seldes has committed every role in every play on Broadway and Off to memory, and is ready to go on in any of them at a moment’s notice.

BEST PLACES TO GET MORE FOR YOUR THEATER MONEY

National Theater of the United States of America  
 
Tickets to these shows, regardless of the venue, typically range from $1 to $20. There’s strip-teasing, candy, popcorn, wine, beer, dance parties (with tunes spun by the Vintage DJ) and piping hot burritos (made fresh on the spot for all takers by none other than the burrito man himself, Raul Vincent Enriquez). These kids know how to put on a show, and then some. And it looks like next year will be no less than the usual.

Ontological-Hysteric Theater 
  For those interested primarily in food and beverage to accompany their whacked-out theater, here’s an insider’s tip — catch the opening night of any of the many Ontological-Hysteric Theater’s Summer Residency shows and you’ll be treated post-show to wine and prim little finger sandwiches served up by classily clad cater waiters (who no doubt would do anything to put down their trays and get up on that stage). In fact, at one of the latest OHT residency shows this summer we would have gotten a free fake-blood and glitter paint job while sitting in the front row, had we not also been offered a handy plastic sheet for protection—we’re sure you can take those home too, if you don’t mind the dripping.

Ars Nova   And of course, a great many of the artists performing at Ars Nova are happy to give you more for your money than the typical performance types, but a particular stand out this year was the 4th annual installment of the Jollyship the Whiz-Bang’s ongoing epic, which received high marks from this rag as well as a few of the lesser ones in town. It’s a rock show, it’s a puppet show, it’s theater. They’ve got classy little round tables for sitting and stretching your legs at if you manage to get one of those chairs. You can even drink while you watch, though you will have to cough up a little extra for the booze, but not too much. And we’re sure they wouldn’t stop you if you wanted to get up and have an impromptu dance party before, during or after the show.

BEST NEW MUSICAL THAT INVOLVES DRINKING FREE BOOZE

Opa!, TGB Theater, Midtown Int’l Theater Festival
   Opa!’s goofy and shiny and fun and doesn’t ask you to take it seriously. Plus they gave out free samples of this Greek brandy called Metaxa which was not too tasty but had alcohol in it, which is what counts.

BEST ONE-MAN SHOW

Life In A Marital Institution   James Braly’s 70-minute oration on his bizarre marriage touches on home birth, the ingestion of human placenta and shamans named Rainbow Feather who take American Express. Big laughs.

BEST PUPPET SHOW

Jollyship the Whiz-Bang   The rock show-cum-pirate booze cruise makes Avenue Q look like the Children’s Television Workshop.

BEST USE OF AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION

My First Time   Putting those clumsy, fumbling, pretty-funny-in-retrospect-now-that-I’m-a-sexually-capable-adult stories to good use.

ART

BEST PUBLIC ART PROJECT THAT WAS ACTUALLY KIND OF DISAPPOINTING

Olafur Eliasson’s Waterfalls   They sounded pretty cool in their original conception, but when we went to have lunch in DUMBO between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, well, they looked a little bit like discarded props from a 1988 Whitesnake tour. Maybe it was just the angle… but meh.

BEST ILLEGAL PUBLIC ART

The Tall Bench   Move over graffiti, impromptu street welding is the new mode of rebellion for disenfranchised urban youth. Manhattan got its first taste in the form of inaccessible public seating — a bench installed with risers eight feet off the ground on an East Houston median. The Tall Bench lasted a week and its creators never came forth — a cryptic YouTube video records its creation and installation — but its moment in the bloglight made us reflect on the fleeting nature of public space in the churning city, and height-based discrimination.

BEST LEGAL PUBLIC ART

P.F. 1   Environmentalism is in, so P.S.1’s self-referential summer courtyard-straddling urban farm P.F.1, the wacky work of WORK Architecture, is a natural choice. It’s made with sustainable materials, softens the hard concrete edges and gravel grounds of P.S.1’s front yard, and yields actual crops! Badges for participation go to MoMA’s pre-fab housing and the Spring’s weird drill/realtime London linkup on the Brooklyn waterfront.

BEST INTRODUCTION TO AN ASIA-CENTRIC ART WORLD

Cai Guo-Qiang   We all need to get used to Asia running things, and the Guggenheim’s Cai Guo-Qiang retrospective was a good crash course on the Chinese art star’s pyrotechnic performances and grandiose installations. Even the Murakami blockbuster at the Brooklyn Museum couldn’t outdo Cai’s neon-billowing flying cars, cascading wolf wave and log ride-reappropriating water circuit.

BEST NEW MUSEUM

The New Museum   Being the only new museum, and also named the “New Museum,” The New Museum must be the best new museum in addition to actually being a great new museum (follow?). Its sleek stack of shimmering silver boxes on The Bowery is a great destination for time-strapped art fans, a well-curated “best of” from the global gallery scene — and with its free Thursday nights still not too crowded, it’s affordable, too.

BEST GALLERY SHOW

Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?   Survey shows can be spotty, often a gallery-owner’s excuse to gloat over his or her accumulated art wealth. Not so with this spring’s Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns? at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, a postmodernist quilting from dealer Gavin Brown and artist Urs Fisher. Overlapping artworks and painted-over murals mashed up Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat with Francis Bacon, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons and Robert Morris. Beyond the envelope-pushing presentation, the jarring arrangements actually made for insightful comparisons.

BEST NEW BUILDING

Thom Mayne’s Cooper Union   Even though the now-dissipated building frenzy gave us lots of all-glass uglies, there were also some great additions to our built environment. The most remarkable structure that will definitely be completed — currently growing its mesh skin on Cooper Square — is Thom Mayne’s Cooper Union building, a spectacular cascading collage of metal layers and impossibly contorted interior atriums.

BEST ART IN RESTAURANTS AND BARS

Café des Artistes, 1 W. 67th St  
We don’t have 50 to 60 bucks to throw down on dinner at Café des Artistes, but for the art on their walls, we’d pay six bucks at their bar for a Budweiser: their Renoir-esque nudes in landscapes are masterfully executed, and not to be missed.

Angel’s Share, 8 Stuyvesant St   On the other end of the food spectrum, just adjacent to Village Yokochoof — the Japanese equivalent of an all-night diner — lies Angel’s Share, legendary quiet cocktail bar ruled by discretion and good taste. Hanging over the bar, a strange, captivating mural, complete with a watchful Japanese devil cherub, along with a few stock Raphael-like cherubs, makes martini consumption all the more fun.

Mama’s Food Shop/Mama’s Bar, 200 E. 3rd St   Speaking to the art connoisseur of found object memorabilia, the salon-style hanging of amateur portraits at Mama’s Food Shop offers a great selection of work — provided you don’t mind eating while flanked by the heads of countless women.

BEST UNINTENDED ARTWORKS

Mars Bar, 25 E. 1st St
   “It’s all bad here,” the bartender told a patron asking for a good drink. One of the few bars remaining on the Lower East Side that’s an actual dive as opposed to an elaborately constructed simulacra of same, Mars Bar’s encrusted walls of graffiti and various unsavory materials represent years of drunken debauchery and poor behavior. Just as painter Jose Lerma once removed portions of institutional gallery walls to literally expose layers of art history, bar regulars and visitors reveal a different sort of chronology. And yes, it smells a little bit like pee.

iPhone 3G release   Last year, in an impromptu citywide performance, lines formed outside Apple stores across New York as eager consumers lined up to purchase the iPhone. Many anticipated a reenactment of the piece this year, and while the lines weren’t always as long — a typical wait ranged from 2-5 hours — they did last for seven days. This reference to the Bible was an obvious strategy by the artist to reflect the paradox of the awe inspired by the existence of such lines and the irritation on the part of waiting consumers. 

S.I.R. Entertainment   It appears there are several “This is not a gallery” signs in Chelsea, though we spotted by far the best just this past week on 26th Street at what we mistook to be a gentleman’s call service agency (happens all the time). A couple days later we ran into someone on the street wearing their shirt, and realized they actually specialize in studio instrument rentals. He was not able to illuminate the kind of art showcased in this venue — obviously he claimed none — though we’re betting performance of some kind occurs.

Yellow Tape Box 
  Minimalist guerilla performance is back in the New York! Spotted at the corner of 11th Street and Third Avenue, a block of textured sidewalk cement was recently outlined with yellow tape, the artist adding a few additional lines to create the illusion of a three dimensional box. Clearly, this work is an effort to engage and transform the slip-resistant grooves placed in the sidewalk, and to meditate on the way art permeates day-to-day existence.

MUSIC

BEST NEW COUNTER-ARGUMENT TO USE AGAINST PEOPLE WHO TRY CONVINCING YOU TO MOVE TO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

KEXP   “I would have, but now that KEXP is being simulcast each day in New York, it doesn’t really seem like I’m missing anything. I mean, I know there’s supposed to be lots of good coffee, and lots of peace and quiet and lots of affordable housing, but that other stuff isn’t really my bag. Thanks, though. What? I can’t hear you… I’m listening to John in the Morning.”

FIVE BEST READER COMMENTS ON THE BROOKLYN VEGAN POST ABOUT OUR ‘8 NYC BANDS YOU NEED TO HEAR" FEATURE (OUT OF APPROXIMATELY 115)

God, i was listening to High Places so long ago.
They were cool when they played my Grandmother’s wake.
– Anonymous 2:41

WHERE THE FUCK IS DAFT PUNK?!?!?!
– Anonymous 2:45

This year, everyone hates Vampire Weekend.
Last year, they were the only good band on the list by what most comments said.
I’m confused. Fuck.
– Anonymous 5:19

I can tell you who’s missing in 2 words: Billy Joel. – Greg, 2:55pm

This year’s retarded whining about the L magazine is way less interesting than last year’s retarded whining about L magazine. – Anonymous 2:53 PM

MOST STALKERIFFIC ACT OF 21ST CENTURY CITIZEN ACTIVISM

In April, M.I.A. posted direct to YouTube a video, taken from the window of her Bed-Stuy apartment, of a couple of NYPD officers roughing up a young black dude, who may or may not have been being particularly uncooperative. (The vid’s marvelous description, misinterpreted as straightfaced by idiot Brooklyn Vegan commenters, read: “THIS WAS GOING ON OUTSIDE MY WINDOW TODAY IN BEDSTUY, WHERE IS OBAMA AT? HURRY UP!”) We were all set to talk about how this raises all the same culture-clashing urban issues of political agitation and gentrification that M.I.A.’s music does, but then we mostly just spent the whole video looking out her window trying to figure out where she lives, so that we can stand outside her building and wait for her to come downstairs so that we can talk to her and be her friend and maybe go with her over to Tiny Cup to share a milkshake.

BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO NYC RECORD NERDS EVER

Brooklyn Record Riot   Despite our very, very mixed emotions about Record Store Day, which was kicked off with a performance by none other than regular-people-hating Metallica, we think record stores are important, and we think you should buy from them, often. And anyone who showed up at Warsaw on June 29th for the first installment of the Brookly Record Riot now agrees. On hand were over 30 independent retailers selling new records, used records, rare records, not-so-rare records, all on vinyl, and all at very good prices. There was beer, there were DJs, and there was a sense of community that we’ve yet to find in iTunes. Stay tuned for announcements regarding more dates.

BROOKLYN BAR WITH A SOUNDTRACK SO GOOD WE REMEMBER THE EXTENT TO WHICH WE ACTUALLY HATE JUKEBOXES AND WOULD RATHER LEAVE THE MUSIC SELECTION TO EXPERTS, KINDA LIKE HOW EVERYONE HATES THE INTERNET AND CITIZEN JOURNALISM

Union Hall   We have almost no use for the bocce ball courts, and we have even less use for the mixed crowd of People Who Aren’t Like Us who always seem to show up around Happy Hour, but we’ve got to say, whoever’s choosing the music in this place is doing a real bang-up job. On a recent visit, we heard Versus. Versus, people. When was the last time you heard Versus in a bar?

BEST NYC-BASED ALTERNATIVE TO AMAZON OR, GOD HELP US, ITUNES

Insound   We understand. Sometimes it’s late at night and record stores are closed, or sometimes you’re stuck at work and just can’t get to one. In these cases, it’s ok to shop online, as long as you don’t use any of the giant, scary retailers. And there’s no reason to, really — not with Insound just a click away. They’ve been in business since the late 90s, stocking every obscure indie record you could imagine, and shipping ‘em to you quickly and on the cheap.

BEST NEW RECORD FROM A LOCAL BAND THAT DOESN’T SOUND ANYTHING LIKE HOW THEY USED TO SOUND


Takka Takka’s Migration
   As you might remember, we were quite fond of the first record by Brooklyn’s Takka Takka. It was full of stylish, jangly rock songs that always made us feel like we were walking around NYC in the 70s. Part Dylan, part Velvets, it was a massive feat, and the band took off, touring with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, playing shows with the National and winning fans all over the place. Then they made a record that sounds exactly nothing like the first one, but is somehow just as good. 

FASHION

MOST EMBARRASSING FASHION COVERAGE BY A LOCAL PAPER

The New York Times   Cathy Horyn’s blog may be mildly funny (and her honey-toned narration of those fashion week slideshows is weirdly hypnotic), but the fashion pieces at large here are over-written, under-thought and ridiculously out-of-date. Like, really, Eric Wilson? A 1,200-word article on how Madonna’s style isn’t as radical anymore? Didn’t we cover that over a year ago? In fact, didn’t, like, VH1?

BEST EXAMPLE OF 90S STYLE DONE RIGHT

Alexander Wang   We didn’t think it was possible either, but while everyone else was trying to show plaid, Wang’s Spring and Fall 2008 collections managed to resurrect that grunge-y, badass, Kate-Moss-when-she-was-stick-thin-and-wearing-a-sheer-white-undershirt-and-men’s-jeans style that, dammit, we’ll say it, really is pretty hot.

BEST/WORST THING TO HAPPEN TO NEW YORK FASHION

The Sex and the City Movie   The good: Who cares if Patricia Fields makes crazy fashion decisions sometimes, it still feels good to see four women wearing $50,000 worth of clothes step over good old-fashioned city street grime. The bad: Hordes of tourists skulking the city doing a bad impression of four women wearing $50,000 worth of clothes and walking (too damn slowly!) through the city. Oh, and that Louis Vuitton bag Carrie gave her assistant at the end of the movie was heinous, right? We’re not crazy?

BIGGEST STORE OPENING RUMOR THAT IS ACTUALLY TRUE

Topshop   It’s really happening! The international I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-expensive obsession of literally every fashion editor on the planet is, at long last, opening a location in (of course) Soho. Yes, you have to wait until October. And yes, it’ll probably be more expensive than it is in our dreams, considering how crap the American dollar is right now.

PEOPLE AND PLACES

BEST PLACE TO DRINK (ILLEGALLY) IN PUBLIC

The NYC Subway   No, technically  you are not allowed to, but answer us this: If you were to walk onto the subway platform with, say, a tall-boy or three of individually brown-bagged, say, Budweisers, and then, upon boarding the train, take one out and stealthily begin to drink it while reading or staring at attractive people around you or talking to your friend (who should have brought his or her own tall-boys), who would ever say anything about it? No one. And it’s air-conditioned. Drink up.

BEST HOSTILE TAKEOVER OF … THE AIR, WE GUESS?

Starbucks and T-Mobile
   Sit in your car or on a bench across the street from any Starbucks. Take out your laptop. Tons of wireless networks available, right? Yeah. Now go inside Starbucks. None, right? Right, because they’ve somehow made it so that all networks are blocked inside the scary walls of their scary establishments, leaving you with no choice but to cough up $9.99 for a T-Mobile Day Pass, even if you’re only going to be there for a half hour. Nice job, Starbucks, making it even more difficult for those of us who love your Iced Venti Vanilla Lattes to defend you to all our friends who tell us how evil you are.

FOUR BEST IMAGINARY BASEBALL PLAYLER-POP ICON PAIRINGS IN HONOR OF ALEX RODRIGUES AND MADONNA’S GLORIOUS LOVE, DEREK JETER NOT INCLUDED BECAUSE WE WOULDN’T PUT IT PAST NEW YORK’S MOST ELIGIBLE BACHELOR TO GET HIS HANDS ON ANYTHING HIS HART DESIRES, UNLESS OF COURSE SHE IS HIT FIVE FEET TO HIS RIGHT

Pedro Martinez and Dolly Parton   One is a surgically reconstructed and deliberately anachronistic diva, self-preserving by dint of the guile and sense of craft once obscured by white-hot superstar talent, to the delight of an undiminished fanatically devoted niche following. The other one sang “Jolene.”

Roger Clemens and Miley Cyrus   Or whoever else has recently been on the cover of Barely Legal Tabloid-Trainwreck-In-Waiting Country-Fried Pop Singer Monthly.

Jason Giambi and Daryl Hall   If, god forbid, anything should happen to John Oates, the glorious porn ‘stache of the Great Giambino seems more than up to the task.

Dazzy Vance and Annette Hanshaw Pssst: WE HEAR that the Brooklyn Robins hurler and the cracker jack songbird have been spotted around the horn, jiving and jazzing at juke and gin joints from Harlem to Hell’s Kitchen — and we sure bet they don’t care if they ever get back. Play ball, Dazzy!

BEST PET STORE

NYC Pets does all the things a good pet store should, but not only is Park Slope manager Carlos Leon a friend to his customers and their four-footed charges, he also works tirelessly gathering donations from them, and his suppliers, for the underfunded NYC shelter system. Woof!

MOST EXCITING PLANS FOR A PARK THAT MIGHT ACTUALLY HAPPEN

The High Line   We’ve never been able to resist gently mocking the earnest enthusiasm of the High Line cult, but we must admit the prospective plans for the greening of the former elevated railway on the far west side look pretty incredible: tons of native plants, glassed-in observation decks, cool little ponds, a raised walkway through a Sumac forest, uhh, ramps…

WORST NEW NEIGHBORHOOD NAME

CHUMBO   It stands for “Chinatown Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” and it just sounds gross. We’re pretty sure the next hot nabe is going to be D.A.L.T.O.N. T.R.U.M.B.O. (Down Across Lower Thompson’s Obviously Not Totally Renovated Underwhelming and Mediocre Building Obsolescence).