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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Cannes Report: Timothy Spall Gives the Performance of His Career in Mr. Turner

If you’ve ever loved a terrible person, Mike Leigh’s quietly sensational Cannes competition entry, Mr. Turner -- a biopic, of sorts, covering the last 25 years of the life of the great nineteenth-century British painter J.M.W. Turner – is the movie for you. In his seascapes and landscapes, Turner found the perfect visual language for every possible combination of weather atmospherics, from soft swirls of ochre sunlight to the powdery whites and grays of treacherous ocean storms. Human beings don’t figure largely in Turner’s work, particularly in the later years of his career; when they appear at all, they’re often small, blurred figures at the mercy of the sky above and the sea below. You can read that as a lack of interest in human nature, or as a kind of personal humility in the face of the vast range of colors and textures – and, by extension, sounds and smells and feelings – that make up the world around us.

As a person, Turner tended toward eccentricity and solitude. And as played in Mr. Turner by Timothy Spall, he isn’t the sort you’d necessarily want to cuddle up to. Only occasionally does he use actual words to communicate. More often, he makes his feelings known using a vast vocabulary of growls that emerge from the depths of his throat. Presented with a visitor he doesn’t wish to see, Turner makes the sound of a bear snuffling through garbage and finding nothing of worth; admiring the thousands of shades of brown and gray in a piece of driftwood, he’s like a contented pig who has located a particularly tasty truffle in the forest.

Turner appears, especially at first, to care little for human beings except on those rare occasions when he needs them: His housekeeper, Hannah (played, with guarded tenderness, by the British stage and theater actress Dorothy Atkinson), welcomes his gruff sexual advances, even though he treats her thoughtlessly. A mysterious and rather angry woman (Ruth Sheen) appears at his door with her two daughters – who, it turns out, are also his daughters – to show him his first grandchild. He grunts at the little cherub in her white bonnet, wanting nothing to do with her.

But only at first: A few minutes later, he comes around to admire the infant in all her powder-pink glory, albeit in a rather businesslike way. Yet it’s the first moment in Mr. Turner when we realize that maybe we’re not as expert at reading this man’s heart as we think. He’s intractable, uncommunicative, dismissive. But he is also, as Spall and Leigh show us, capable of delicate gradations of emotion. This is less your standard-issue biopic than a foray into the mystery of human feeling.

Mr. Turner, majestic in its stubbornness, may be Leigh’s finest picture, or, at the very least, a picture different from any other he’s made. Leigh, Spall, and cinematographer Dick Pope – who borrows lots of lighting tricks from Vermeer and Ingres and even Turner himself, to glorious effect – have gently atomized Turner’s character, breaking it into small, potent fragments that affect us in ways we don’t see coming. We see how he reserves his affection only for a worthy few: For his father (played, wonderfully, by Paul Jesson), a gregarious man who has somehow failed to pass that quality on to his son; and for a widow he meets late in life, Mrs. Booth (the marvelous Marion Bailey) -- when she first meets the already famous painter, she doesn’t even know who he is, though despite his gruff manner, she takes to him immediately.

Spall has always been a terrific actor, but this is the performance of his career. He’s wholly without vanity: As Turner, he has a chin that doesn’t know where his neck begins; he carries his somewhat portly frame like he's more preoccupied with light than with grace of movement. This Mr. Turner is no one we’d go out of our way to know; he may be historically significant, but he’s anti-charismatic, a walking negative charge. And yet somehow, we come to love a man we don’t even like. As Mrs. Booth says of him, with perceptiveness that has nothing to do with flattery or even with mere kindness, “I believe you to be a man of great spirit and fine feeling.” She’s heard the heartbeat beneath the growl.

More Cannes: Cannes Report: Grace of Monaco at Least Has Clothes

Best 24/7 Restaurant
Breakfast King

It's good to be king. It's even better to be at Breakfast King when everyone else is asleep and you're looking for a home away from home, a home where the friendly, wisecracking servers know not just your name, but your regular order. That's likely to be chicken-fried steak smothered in country gravy — the best chicken-fried steak in the city at any time of the day — sided with endless cups of coffee. But the kitchen is cooking up that huge menu at all hours, so you can also get eggs any way imaginable, comfort-food dinners, or just a big slice of pie to soak up some of the coffee. No matter what you order, it will be a feast fit for a king.

300 W. Mississippi Ave., Denver, 80223
Best Alternative Chicken and Waffles
Session Kitchen

People love chicken. People love waffles. Why, then, is chicken and waffles so polarizing, one of those dishes you either love or hate? At Session Kitchen, chef Scott Parker has created a version so good, and yet so different, we can all agree to like it. Called "chicken-liver mousse," his alternative is every bit as rich as the original, yet it comes off much lighter and more contemporary, a perfect fit for the dynamic street art and murals inside the stunning two-level space. Rather than fried chicken, Parker offers a jar of chicken-liver mousse accented with a dollop of seasonal, housemade jam. Sharing the plate are airy, crisp Belgian waffles, scented with orange and made from almond flour. The combination of smooth, earthy mousse, sweet jam and waffle is not a traditional chicken and waffles, but no one's quibbling when it tastes this good.

1518 S. Pearl St., Denver, 80210
Best Bar Snacks
Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar

At a time when nearly anything can be eaten at the bar, it's hard to say just what counts as bar snacks. Is it a small plate of rillette on toast? Wings? Housemade trail mix? Yes to all. But when you want a classic snack, something with crunch and salt to nibble while unwinding from the day over a drink, nothing beats the mariquitas Cubana at Cuba Cuba. With a hint of sweetness and none of the oily residue of freshly fried potato chips, these long, thin strips of fried green plantains are just what you want with your coconut mojito. Although also available at the Sandwicherias in Boulder and Glendale, they're at their best at the flagship, full-service restaurant, where they're paired not just with garlicky mojo, but with mango-habanero mojo and guacamole. The platter is large enough for everyone to have some, but not so big that it will ruin the very good dinner to come.

1173 Delaware St., Denver, 80204
Best Barbecue Restaurant
Boney's Smokehouse BBQ
Ariel Fried

The best just got better last year, when Boney's Smokehouse — Lamont and Trina Lynch's downtown, down-home restaurant — moved into a bigger space just a few doors away. Tucked in the basement, the new Boney's can be hard to find, but it's definitely worth the search...and some advance planning, since the hours are limited. But there's no limit to the load of barbecue you'll want to order — brisket, chopped chicken, pulled pork, hot links and ribs that have so much flavor from their dry rub and long tenure over low heat that they don't need sauce. Still, you won't want to miss the three versions at Boney's: a tangy basic sauce also offered hot, a sweet jalapeño and an excellent, mustardy gold. And give Boney's extra points for sides ranging from great collard greens and barbecue beans to lip-smacking mac and cheese. Lamont, a native of Florida, has spent years giving a Southern tweak to a repertoire of family recipes imported from the Bahamas; as a result, this barbecue defies categorization. Just call it the best.

1543 Champa St., Denver, 80202
Best Bartender
Marcel Templet

"I think I love you," swooned the woman at the bar, her proclamation intended for the bartender who'd just slid a textbook-perfect Manhattan under her nose. Marcel Templet, the veteran who's been behind the booze at Capital Grille for ten years, is an everyman's bartender, an effortlessly affable guy who's mastered the art of greeting every stain of lipstick and every tint of tie by name while simultaneously commiserating with a just-dumped barfly, announcing game scores, juggling four liquor bottles and reciting the backstory of every spirit he pours. And he does all of it with genuine authenticity and an easy smile. You can teach almost anyone how to make a good cocktail, but it's the personality of the bartender that defines the personality of the bar, and Templet, whose showmanship hits all the right notes, leaves a lovely lasting impression.

1450 Larimer St., Denver, 80202

Cannes Report: Timothy Spall Gives the Performance of His Career in Mr. Turner:


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