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Best Of 2010

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Jazz Jam
Jazz Expo

When guitarist Cole Rudy started his every-other-Monday Jazz Expo nights at the Meadowlark, he was looking to re-create the backyard jams he'd enjoyed with his music-school friends. Some of those friends are now part of a rotating cast that includes gypsy-jazz guitarist M'hamed El Menjra, trumpeter Gabe Mervine and alto saxophonist Matt Pitts. Whether they're burning through standards or collectively improvising, these Jazz Expo musicians make some of the most exciting music you'll find in town — especially on a Monday night.

2701 Larimer St., Denver, 80205
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303-293-0251
Best Free Entertainment

The zombie zeitgeist is in full swing, spawning hit movies, best-selling novels and immensely profitable video games. Every city worth its salt has an annual zombie crawl, where zombie fans dress up as the undead and walk, en masse, among the unsuspecting populace. Denver, being particularly salty, has one of the biggest zombie crawls in the nation. The event celebrated its fourth year with a huge turnout — some reports put attendance at more than 4,000 zombies — and even those who didn't want to dress up as the walking dead could participate by marking themselves as allowable victims via duct-taped Xs on their clothes. Whether the eaters or the eaten, everyone had a good time, and word is that 2010 is a go for the fifth iteration. Watch your brains.

Best Film Festival

Documentaries seem to always get the short end of the reel in the film world: Nobody wants to see Food, Inc. when they can see Avatar instead. But docs do make a difference in our world, and although most major film festivals include a documentary segment, there are just a handful of documentary-only film festivals in the country. We have one of them. Last year, the Denver Film Society and Foothills Art Center joined forces to produce the DocuWest Fest, for which festival executive director Reilly Sanborn pulled together short, essay-form and feature-length documentaries. The festival might not have boasted the level of star power and glamour of some other film festivals we could name, but when movies are this intimate, educational and entertaining, who needs Hollywood? Lights, camera, more action!

Best Adult Spelling Bees

As bee champs get older, do they keep their fine sense of spell? Find out for yourself at the monthly adult spelling bees hosted as fundraisers by Metro Denver Promotion of Letters, a non-profit teaching organization that provides free writing workshops for kids. Staged every third Thursday at the British Bulldog, 2052 Stout street,these beer-friendly bees are strictly for grownups, and each first-prize winner pockets a Bulldog gift certificate. Stop by and sit for a spell; it costs only five bucks to join in.

Best Gallery Show ? Solo
Halim Alkarim: The Witness Archive

Iraqi-born Colorado artist Halim Alkarim is a true virtuoso. He's done gorgeous abstract paintings, stunning installations and, for his Robischon solo, The Witness Archive, hauntingly beautiful portraits in lambda prints on aluminum that are imbued with political content. The son of a critic of Saddam Hussein, Alkarim and his family (including his brother Sami, another gifted Colorado artist) suffered under the regime until they escaped to the United States a few years ago. Although the works in The Witness Archive were based on photos of real people, the resulting pieces look more like examples of digital animation. This is because Alkarim put his models in elaborate latex masks and took the photos using scrims — then retouched the resulting shots. As befits the show's title, these pieces all resonate with the piercing, unblinking eyes of the sitters.

1740 Wazee St., Denver, 80202
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303-298-7788
Best Abstract Show by a Denver Artist
Big Lots, Wendi Harford

In Big Lots, a powerful — and beautiful — show, Denver artist Wendi Harford presented a range of stylistic approaches, with works anchored by everything from graffiti-like looping lines to rigid stripes. In fact, the only unifying factor was the size of the pieces, since Harford favored monumental over intimate; her taste in color was notable, too. Harford was a protegé of the late Bev Rosen, her mentor at the University of Denver back in the 1970s, and these pieces very subtly referred to Rosen's work. A longtime artist who's kept a fairly low profile, Harford has typically not shown her work in commercial galleries, but that changed when she recently joined the stable at Robischon. We look forward to seeing more.

3636 Chestnut Place, Denver, 80216
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303-297-8626
Best Design Show
Streams of Modernism
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Guest curators Katherine and Michael McCoy took over the two main exhibition spaces on the first floor of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, transforming them into a history lesson on the development of modern design. Using some spectacular pieces from the Kirkland's permanent collection, the McCoys walked visitors through the twentieth-century. The show began with the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, then moved on to the Bauhaus masters, continuing with their American heirs, such as Charles Eames, and then finally arrived at the Italian geniuses, including Gio Ponti. The entire show was stunningly smart and very sharp-looking, especially the installation that included a graphic design incorporating photo blow-ups of the designers.

1311 Pearl St., Denver, 80203
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303-832-8576
Best Actress in a Musical

To the character of Aldonza, the tavern maid whom Don Quixote mistakes for the Lady Dulcinea, Regan Linton brought a lovely voice and strong acting chops, all animated by an incandescent fire. The scene in which Aldonza is raped by the regulars at the tavern is always ugly, but the way Linton — who's wheelchair-bound — played it will be permanently etched in the memory of those who saw her. Torn from her wheelchair and left limp on the floor, Linton dragged herself back across the stage, inch by painful inch, powered by a terrible rage and an unquenchable instinct to survive.

Best Directorial Achievement

With last spring's Radio Golf at the Denver Center Theatre Company, director Israel Hicks completed August Wilson's magnificent ten-play cycle, which took audiences on a decade-by-decade journey through the black experience in the United States during the twentieth century. Over the years, Hicks had assembled an extraordinary array of acting talent for these rich, multi-textured productions, and Radio Golf was no exception: The powerful Terrence Riggins played an ambitious, Ivy League-educated real-estate developer; Kim Staunton was his upwardly mobile wife; and the production also featured Charles Weldon and Harvy Blanks. The show was a triumph for Hicks and the Denver Center, and a fitting farewell to one of our greatest playwrights.

Best Unsung Arts Series
Newman Center for the Performing Arts

Not only is the Newman Center a jewel box of a venue, with its three intimate performance spaces and elegant balconied plaza, but it also plays host to one of the finest college concert series nobody ever heard of, thanks to the often adventurous programming of center director Stephen Seifert. In a world where such arts mainstays as dance and baroque music remain hard sells, Seifert fights back by bringing in Pilobolus or the thoroughly different Mile High Voltage Festival, featuring world and avant-garde artists on the Cantaloupe Music label. It's a crapshoot for DU — some acts sell out, while others play to empty houses — but give Seifert a hand for putting a beautiful facility to worthy use. Better yet, buy a ticket and see what it's all about.

2344 E. Iliff Ave., Denver, 80208
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303-871-7720
Best Side Trip by a Pop Band
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In the public realm, they go by the names Jonny 5, Brer Rabbit and Andy Rok, but off stage, Flobots Jamie Laurie, Stephen Brackett and Andy Guerrero are looking for ways to put their ideas to work on a more human level. Through their non-profit Flobots.org, the local-rock-band-made-good brings some of the power back to the people by offering at-risk youth a second chance through music therapy; by supporting grassroots activism through workshops and actions instigated by their Fight With Tools Institute; and by providing a physical space in which to get all that good work done, at the Flobots.org headquarters. Like the song goes: "We need heroes/Build them. Don't put your fist up/Fill them/Fight with our hopes and our hearts and our hands/We're the architects of our last stand."

2705 Larimer St., Denver, 80205
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303-596-7624
Best Audio-Visual Performer

On the audio side, CacheFlowe produces dense, intelligent and profoundly weird music. His style incorporates IDM, glitch, dubstep and hip-hop to create a beat-driven, brain-warping and brilliantly creative sound. Then he adds custom, real-time-generated visuals, synced to and driven by his music via custom software he wrote himself. The result is an incredible audio-visual synthesis that will make you wonder if someone slipped one of those drugs that's known by just initials into your drink when you weren't looking. As it turns out, though, you'll be enjoying yourself so much you won't even care. This simply has to be seen — and heard — to be believed.

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Best Jazz Jam: Jazz Expo

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