Armond White’s Best Picks
Best TV: Soul Food
Roger Mooking’s new show Man Fire Food on the Cooking Channel has solved the soul-food riddle that has perplexed television’s new foodie culture. Mooking, a Canadian with an inviting grin, takes his culinary skill and infectious humor on the road, searching for new ways that assorted cooks use to express their individuality and different backgrounds.
The Cooking Channel had previously tried placing G. Garvin into this Masterpiece Kitchen-on-the-road slot via Roadtrip with G. Garvin, launching the former TV One cooking host to national prominence among the Cooking Channel’s roster of chefs (curiously light on American soul-food flavor). Garvin’s peripatetic duties missed the camaraderie of Patrick and Gina Neely of the Food Network. Garvin’s bluster was like beer-based sauce, a tad overbearing.
But Mooking finds a good balance of casual friendliness, observing his guests’ methods with genuine interest and demonstrating taste that testified to his own skills. Just bring back Mooking’s old habit of playing kitchen DJ once his meals have plated, and the Cooking Channel might have another hit.
Best Film School
The Bronx-based Ghetto Film School—an ideal introduction to the practicalities of filmmaking, film history and movie aesthetic—continues to move forward.
With film noteworthies like directors David O. Russell and Spike Jonze on its board, GFS has become one of the leading film schools in the country by steering clear of the snobbery and careerism that taint film education at the university and now festival-circuit level, where students are taught to bow down to the entrenched system of commercial and egghead formulas.
AT GFS, students are encouraged to follow the unbeatable educator’s dictum: Film What You Know. The GFS movies are about the students’ lives; their experiences translated through film communication methods. GFS puts young cineastes on the right path.
Best Indiana Jones movie
The recently issued Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures on Blu-Ray comes at the right moment—with enough time having passed—that a reasonable assessment can be made of the entire series. Despite the impact that Raiders of the Lost Ark made in 1981, each sequel has surpassed it. The original now looks rather stodgy (even with the vivid Blu-Ray transfer) because Spielberg’s momentum improved—astonishingly—with each sequel.
Now it can told: Raiders is the least of the quartet, despite its early-’80s novelty, coming at the tail end of the ’70s American Renaissance, when filmmakers brought modernist revisionism to Hollywood genres. The widely disliked Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is in fact richer, though it lacks the gorgeous lighting by Douglas Slocombe of the first three films. Kingdom builds on Raiders’ ideas and complicates them. Arriving two decades later, it is the series’ true sequel—refined and elegant.
The other films stand alone: Temple of Doom is a rambunctious comedy with some of the greatest action directing (that roller-coaster ride through the mines) that one can ever see. And The Last Crusade is the series’ masterpiece. Harrison Ford’s Indy finds his best ally in his dad (Sean Connery) and his perfect foil (Adolf Hitler giving his autograph). The overture sequence detailing Indy’s boyhood (played by the late River Phoenix) is a perfect example of relay-race ingenuity as well as a condensed history of cinema kinetics. It’s in The Last Crusade that Spielberg comes to grips with imperialism and the politics and ethics behind the anthropological urge. Manifest colonialism meets its spiritual destiny.
Read more about this in my book The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook the World.
Best Arts and Culture Guide
You love arts and culture, want to take advantage of the best deals and don’t have a ton of time. Sound familiar? Culturadar (pronounced “culture radar”) aggregates critics’ picks and event listings/reviews from publications including The New York Times, New York magazine, the New Yorker, the L and the Village Voice. It is a one-stop to explore what’s happening, share info, make plans and get discounts to institutions and events. A single click even retrieves all free events citywide, making it easy to experience arts and culture in NYC completely free of charge.
Best Big Movie Theater
Loews Lincoln Square
(1998 Broadway, amctheatres.com)
This Upper West Side multiplex bridges old and new, with Old Hollywood photos and theaters named after the screen palaces of yore as well as Manhattan’s best IMAX screen. This AMC theater boasts blockbusters and smaller art-house indies all at the same time. And its prime Broadway location, near the 1 train and across the street from Ollie’s? Now that’s a happy ending.
167 Orchard St., betw. Allen & Essex Sts., slipperroom.com
Long the undisputed home for burlesque in New York—you can also sometimes catch comedy or a concert—the Slipper Room hosts the best performers in town, like Julie Atlas Muse, Dirty Martini and Billy the Blue Bunny. Now, it’s emerging with a facelift, with two floors, purple banquettes and improved sight lines for you to take in your tassels in style. It’s scheduled to be unveiled to the public in October.
Best Cast on Broadway
You get four powerhouse actors for the price of one ticket in Grace, Craig Wright’s seriocomic look at four lives colliding in Florida: Oscar-nominee Michael Shannon; his wife, Kate Arrington, a Chicago staple; film star Paul Rudd, returning to Broadway after 2006’s Three Days of Rain; and seven-time Emmy champ (a record for men) Ed Asner. With a show tackling themes as heavy and polarizing as religion, faith and destiny, you need a cast this strong to bolster the material.
Best Classical Music for Kids
The Little Orchestra Society
The Little Orchestra Society takes you inside the music with spectacles of music and theater—beloved and new, classic and cutting edge. From the iconic rock musician and poet Patti Smith narrating her childhood favorite, “Tubby the Tuba,” to the indelible animation of Disney performed with our orchestra in “Disney Fantasia Live in Concert, to Victor Herbert’s holiday extravaganza “Babes in Toyland,” there is something for every member of your family. Also, young children can begin a lifelong love of music with the Lolli-Pops series, where colorful characters educate and entertain. Discover your inner musician!
Best Fall Show at a Museum
New York Historical Society’s WWII exhibit
170 Central Park West, nyhistory.org
Starting Oct. 5, New York Historical Society will house the exhibit WWII & NYC, which demonstrates the impact that the Great War had on the Big Apple. Aspects covered will include the mobilization of workers, shipbuilding, Civil Rights struggles and the ripple effect on the arts back home. The exhibit will also display more than 300 real artifacts, including documents pertaining to the Japanese surrender.
Best Indie Movie Theater
Elinor Bunim Monroe Film
Center at Lincoln Center
165 W. 65th St., filmlinc.com
The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s new state-of-the-art cinema just celebrated its first birthday, but it has already made a name for itself as a home for mature movies and serious watchers. The venue has a 150-seat and a 90-seat theater, ensuring intimate viewing experiences of small features and documentaries. EBM also plays host to special lectures, panels and educational programs.
Best Jazz Bar
75 Christopher St., fatcatmusic.org
Tucked just below ground in the Village, Fat Cat is a massive, grungy live jazz lounge, bar and game hall with cheap drinks and game tables for miles. Be forewarned: On most nights, it’s near impossible to find a place to sit, let alone the pieces to the Scrabble sets.
Best Jukebox Selection
99 Avenue B, manitobas.com
While it’s true there are now internet jukeboxes that allow you to find almost any song ever produced—for extra money, of course—that’s still no substitute for a good jukebox of the old-fashioned kind. So leave it to “Handsome Dick” Manitoba, formerly of The Dictators and now owner of this great Ave. B dive, and his staff to select a range of picks—from obscure ’60s garage à la Nuggets to proto-punk and punk classics to newer indie gems—that can satisfy rock nerds of all stripes.
various locations, karaokesingson.com
It’s still hard to beat this old Avenue A (with another location now on St. Mark’s) favorite, with its small rooms and eclectic song collection, where even the most jaded hipster can find something to belt out to his group of friends without feeling uncool. The small rooms may be spartan, but they are private and encourage disinhibition (necessary when you need to do a David Johansen rendition) as only an East Village dive can. Book in advance on a weekend.
Best Live Music Venue
Rockwood Music Hall
196 Allen St. near E. Houston,
This intimate and hip LES space has two stages, both of which allow you to get up close to your favorite performers. With cheap admission and multiple bands (virtually every hour on the hour), it’s a great venue to discover a new act without dropping a lot of cash; tickets are typically around $5. Plenty of folky singer-songwriter acts along with a solid mix representing other genres including indie, alt-country and even bebop.
Best New Bookstore
190 10th Ave., 192books.com
192 Books is a general-interest bookstore located at Tenth Avenue and 21st Street, which hosts regular readings, exhibitions and a vast selection of contemporary literature. The clean, bright Chelsea bookstore also boasts rare and out-of-print texts.
Best New Art Gallery
Recession Art at CultureFix
9 Clinton St. near E. Houston
CultureFix gallery on the Lower East Side has partnered with Recession Art to create a gallery featuring exhibitions specifically by emerging artists. RAC features truly unique exhibitions, regular events and performances, and an affordable storefront.
Best New York Art Fair
The Affordable Art Fair
The Affordable Art Fair, which takes place in April on West 34th Street, lives up to its name. It sees 10,000 visitors every year, according to its website, and provides a wide variety of unique art for affordable prices. The fair also offers art classes and events for visitors of all ages.
Best NYC Film Festival
Big Apple Film Festival
Many of the “indie” film festivals have gradually shape-shifted into showcases for artsy Hollywood projects or weeklong marketing sprees for Miramax. But Big Apple Film Festival, which this year runs Nov. 14-19 at Tribeca Cinema, remains dedicated to self-financed projects produced outside the mainstream. Now in its ninth year, it serves especially as an outlet for small films that take place in the five boroughs or are made by New Yorkers.
Best Off-Off Broadway Show
Red Dog Howls
Alexander Dinelaris’ new show marks the return of acclaimed Manhattan actress Kathleen Chalfant (Angels in America, Wit) to New York Theatre Workshop. She plays, Rose, a mysterious Armenian woman who leads Michael (Alfredo Narciso, star of The Ugly One and one of New York’s greatest talents) to unearth a buried family history. Florencia Lozano (Last Easter) also stars. Given NYTW’s recent history—their homegrown children Once and Peter and the Starcatcher swept this year’s Tonys—Howls may just have plenty to sing about.
Best Outside-the-Box Classical Music
American Symphony Orchestra
Whether they’re telling you the story behind your favorite piece of classical music or performing a rarity that you’ve never enjoyed before, the American Symphony Orchestra is never just giving you the same old orchestra concert. The ASO is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season with concerts unlike any other. At Symphony Space, Music Director Leon Botstein will explain a series of works with a Mahler connection. And the concerts-on-a-theme at Carnegie Hall will explore everything from vampires to John Cage to whipped cream. Best of all, most seats are just $25 or $35.
Best Performance Venue
ABC No Rio
156 Rivington St., betw. Clinton & Suffolk Sts., abcnorio.org
When ABC No Rio was redesigned in 2007 with help from the city, there were some that feared this former Lower East Side squat would drop its dedication to promoting radically hip collaborative arts and readings. But it didn’t. So whether it’s hosting a noise-punk outfit or an avant-garde poetry reading, the space is now just about the last bastion of old-school bohemia.
Best Place for Comedy
(That’s Not Upright Citizens Brigade)
123 E. 24th St. near Park Avenue, 212-563-7488
According to comics fed up with the stale stand-up circuit, this is the venue to check out. From such acts as the deadpan Stone Brothers—two twins who look like buttoned-up lawyers and finish each other’s stories and talk over each other to Shakespeare send-up Jester’s Dead—this is the place to experience some new laughs.
Best Place to Write a Novel
35 W. 14th St., paragraphny.com
Paragraph NY, open 24/7, 365 days a year, was created “by writers for writers,” according to the organization’s website. Located near Union Square—but removed from the hustle and bustle—the quiet, eclectic and comfortable writing space “away from the hurry and obligation of urban life” is a member organization that takes applications from those wishing to access the space. Paragraph NY has everything from wifi to cozy couches and coffee makers for members.
Best Reading Series
85 E. Fourth St. near Second Avenue,
This cozy Soviet-themed bar tucked away in the East Village has been the home to Monday-night poetry readings for over a decade. The renowned series, which features free evening readings by major contemporary poets throughout the fall and spring, is joined by readings of other genres most nights of the week. Get there early to snag a seat for the popular readings.
Best Tabletop Sport at a Bar
531 E. Fifth St. near Avenue A,
While not quite a dive or yuppie bar, you can definitely peg this watering hole as a great place to play a host of tabletop games. Two cool pinball machines, pool tables, darts and, best of all, skeet ball! Not to mention a great selection of tap beers. If you get bored playing pinball or skeet ball, you can always lose some time examining their nonpareil vintage lunch-box collection or a game of Big Buck Hunter.
Best Under-the-Radar Museum
NY Transit Museum
130 Livingston St. at Boerum Place,
Sure, you could catch a Kandinsky or de Kooning at your pick of local museums. But where else can you find out how New York’s rail system is powered? NYTM, housed in a historic Brooklyn Heights subway station, is the largest museum in the United States devoted to urban public transportation history. Visitors can learn about the history of the subway system as well as enjoy a look at New York City’s trolleys and buses. The museum also includes an after-school program for students on the autism spectrum.
Best Used Bookstore
multiple locations, strandbooks.com
The Strand bookstore near Union Square is well-known among local and far-reaching offbeat literature-lovers for its quaintness, book selection, decent prices and eager employees. The Strand is not for the faint of heart, though—at peak hours it’s all about survival of the fittest on the store’s crowded main floor. While the second floor is spacious and labyrinthine, the basement (nonfiction section) could use a little work.
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