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Best Of 2010

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Small-Town Big Screen (1947)
Gardena Cinema

If you ever wondered what going to the movies was like before the world got gummed up with wasteful, endless cracker-box theaters, the Gardena Cinema is a window on a simpler time — even if it is a window made of increasingly cracked glass. The Gardena is the last independent cinema operating in the South Bay area of Los Angeles — not counting the secret cinema at Alpine Village in Torrance — and its 800 seats face a single 37-foot screen. Opened in 1947 as the Park Theatre, the Gardena Cinema has entertained the South Bay, run by the same family for more almost 35 years and offering a distinctly family affair of family fare brought to you by the letter G. Yes, the single screen seems inconvenient with the googolplex of multiplexes available out there. But once upon a time, theaters were sweltering, creaky, majestic things that served merely as delivery devices for the magic of the film on the screen. The movie was the whole point — and it was the movie that riveted you rather than reminded you of the creature comforts waiting for you at home. Movies, no matter how advanced they become, are an escape — and the Gardena is, too, even if the seats in the escape pod are bright, bright orange. 14948 Crenshaw Blvd., Gardena. (310) 217-0404, gardenacinema.com —David Cotner

14948 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Gardena, 90249
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310-217-0505
BEST HOLE IN THE HILLS

If the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre is the nephew to the Hollywood Bowl, then TreePeople's S. Mark Taper Amphitheater is its toddler sister. It's a fancy endowment-sounding name for what is surely the cutest outdoor venue in town (sorry, Will S. Geer Amphitheater). Set among eucalyptus trees in Coldwater Canyon Park, the woodsy location feels a world away from anything citified. Every summer, TreePeople presents its "Once Upon a Canyon Night" performance series, an eclectic lineup of theater, comedy, film and music offerings. Everybody brings a picnic and wine, and people share their delectables with their neighbors. (Maybe keep the spray-cheese-in-a-can at home.) The vibe is super-friendly, like those small towns you've heard of. Even the parking lot is pretty charming. It must be the wood chips. 12601 Mulholland Drive, Beverly Hills. (818) 623-4877. --Libby Molyneaux

12601 Mulholland Dr., Beverly Hills, 90210
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818-623-4877
BEST PLACE TO LEARN TO DO-IT-YOURSELF
Machine Project

To call Machine Project a gallery would be a massive oversimplification. While it has been home to extensive art installations of all kinds since it opened in 2003, the real heart of this exemplary alternative storefront, run by Vermont native and CalArts graduate Mark Allen, is the classes, workshops, lectures and performance series it beckons you to become a part of. Machine has become best known for its array of investigations into science, technology and the human soul with courses that range from electronics and sound design to sewing and natural medicine. Machine seeds a movement away from mass consumer culture, in which anyone can participate simply by becoming a member and showing up. It’s currently home to a full-scale shipwreck; make sure to check out the wildly popular annual Fry-B-Q. 1200-D N. Alvarado St., Echo Park. (213) 483-8761, machineproject.com. —Anna Jones

1200-D N. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, 90026
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213-483-8761
Read Any Good Laughs Lately?
Last Bookstore

It may not be the last used bookstore in L.A., but the Last Bookstore is certainly the best. And business? “Never better,” according to owner Josh Spencer. On Thursdays, the store features a comedy show called Literally Funny, a variation of regular stand-up where the participants read material in front of an audience. Material has included an erotic story written from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy, and “an episode of The Cosby Show explained in such a way to show how much of a sadistic son-of-a-bitch Cliff Huxtable really was,” says Nickelodeon computer programmer Erik Mann, talking about shtick he heard from another performer. NPR contributor Taylor Orci is a regular. “Last time I read a story about having panic attacks,” she told us. “I’ve also got a huge collection of notes I passed during junior high that are dying to be read aloud.” Show producer and host Dan Bialek says, “Stand-up comedy is really, really hard to do. It’s a lot easier to get laughs and to not feel uncomfortable in front of a small crowd when you’re reading something.” And if you just want to come and watch? “The show is 100 percent free,” he notes. “If you’re broke, love comedy and need something to do on a Thursday night at 8 p.m., look no further.” 400 S. Main St., dwntwn. (213) 617-0308, lastbookstorela.com. —Todd David Schwartz

453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, 90013
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213-488-0599
Best Place to Rock In Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock Center for the Arts

There’s no denying the magic of Eagle Rock Center for the Arts. The gorgeous, cavernous, Mission-style queen is all gleaming wood floors, arched beams and leaded windows — a whitewashed architectural wonder sitting proudly near the busy intersection of Eagle Rock and Colorado boulevards. Built in 1914, the space became the Center for the Arts in 1998 and in recent years, a bustling hub of hipster activity. FYF Fest hosts regular events there — from dreamy folk shows to sunny daytime ice-cream socials. Walk in on a Saturday afternoon and you might find an exhibition of local artists or a grinning Roky Erickson serenading hundreds of little kids on an ice-cream sugar high (yup, that actually happened a few weeks ago). With a capacity of 225, occasional booze offerings and a lovely, succulent garden, this is pretty much the most pleasant place in town to watch a band, see a play, peruse some art or dance with your 2-year-old to a live version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” 2225 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 226-1617, center artseaglerock.org. —Jessica Hundley

2225 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, 90041
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323-561-3044
Best Art Space to Meet the Next Mike Kelley
workspace

workspace — coming atcha in lowercase, like bell hooks — defines itself by what it isn’t: It isn’t “the Man.” A venue for queer, alternative and feminist discourse, the gallery doesn’t literally say “no BIG ART, white male bureaucratic BS allowed,” but it really doesn’t have to. The space caters to its friends, fellow students in the USC, UCLA, CalArts, Art Center, UC San Diego, Irvine, etc., grind, giving them a place to work it out before tackling the big time. It plays host to a flurry of visiting curators who are encouraged to take over the small Lincoln Heights storefront, run by couple Daniel Ingroff and Paul Pescador, both artists in their own right (the space doubles as Ingroff’s studio in the daytime). workspace has featured everything from Darin Klein’s release of San Francisco’s trans male magazine Original Plumbing — which attracted the likes of James Cameron Mitchell and featured artists such as Zachary Drucker and Rhys Ernst — to the semi-regular Five Points reading series, which has featured readers as diverse as the L.A. Weekly’s very own Jonathan Gold and By Hook or by Crook filmmaker and Whitney Biennial participant Harry Dodge. It also hosts an annual Homoerotic Valentine’s Day reading, which was curated this year by artist Eve Fowler. Fellow Lincoln Heights DIY space Night Gallery, run by Columbia grad Davida Nemeroff, often teams with workspace for group shows and events. Perhaps the most exciting reason to visit workspace, though, is the many young, hungry artists on the brink of breaking out who regularly show there: Katie Herzog, Lia Lowenthal, David Gilbert, Kelly Sears and Cayetano Ferrer, to name a few. 2601 Pasadena Ave., Lincoln Heights. (323) 223-8086, workspace2601.com. —Nikki Darling

2601 Pasadena Ave., Los Angeles, 90031
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323-344-1934
Best Gallery to Laugh at the Art

Today it’s the Fake Gallery, but “apparently in the ’50s and ’60s, it was called Mother Neptune’s,” explains current owner Paul Kozlowski. “It was a coffeehouse where Ray Manzarek says he met Jim Morrison. And then in the ’90s, it was a punk-rock club. When we walked in, the place was gutted. I started filling it with paintings to distract people from the kicked-in walls.” A comedy writer and performer, Kozlowski’s sense of humor is evident in most of the art, which he describes as “post-post-modern.” The names of a few of his paintings: Chunky Canary, Wheel of Judgment, Visit Scenic Provolonia, Crazy Person Magazine. There are innovative comedy presentations here every month, such as The Fake Show (“1984 meets Ed Sullivan”), The David Feldman Podcast (“A modern-day Jack Benny Show”) and The Heliotrope Dramatic Society (“overly dramatic original productions”). Kozlowski sells a lot of the art when the space is open during comedy shows. (Robin Williams and Bill Maher own pieces of his work.) You can call to make an appointment if you want to see the artwork; the place doesn’t have regular hours. The website lists dates and admission prices for comedy shows. 4319 Melrose Ave., Hlywd. (323) 644-4946, fakedotcom.com. —Todd David Schwartz

4319 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 90029
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323-644-4946
Best Throwback to the ’60s
The Bob Cowsill Band

It’s one thing if you don’t take cover bands seriously. After a few beers, the fact that they’ve wreaked havoc on your ’60s faves matters little. But if you want to hear precise re-creations of tunes as they were recorded, take in the Bob Cowsill Band at the Fox & Hounds. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Bob is part of the original Cowsills family group famous for “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” “Hair” and other hits. “We’re not reinventing songs,” he says. “We play them the way they were recorded.” For Cowsill, who’s been honing his musical chops for 50 years, that means doing so with technical accuracy and dead-on delivery. Along with pros Robby Scharf (once a teen heartthrob himself) on bass, Timmy Bryson on lead guitar and brother John Cowsill on drums, Bob knocks hits like “Bus Stop” by the Hollies and “Lies” by the Knickerbockers out of the park. “The music we sing connected an entire generation,” he says. “It bonded all of us to this day.” Ask real nice, and you may even get to hear “Indian Lake.” 11100 Ventura Blvd, Studio City. (818) 763-7837. Cowsill also sings solo at Pickwick’s Pub, 21010 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. cowsill.com. —Heidi Dvorak

11100 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 91604
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818-763-7837
Best Underground Improv Show

Hidden in the midst of larger, more well-established venues like IOWest, the Groundlings and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre lies the weekly comedy show Crashbar Improv. The show originally began as a way to raise money for the waitstaff at Hollywood’s IOWest Theatre after a car crashed through their front entrance, destroying the bar. For more than two years, Crashbar has been the place to see some of the funniest improv groups and comics in the city. Every Sunday night around 7 at the Impro Theatre in Los Feliz, improvisers ranging from young ensembles to seasoned pros deliver laughs to the audience. The improvisers are joined by a local stand-up. There is also an “improv jam” at the end of the night where audience members get to jump onstage. Though Crashbar is free, the organizers encourage donations to help pay the rent. 1727 N. Vermont, Suite 208 & 211, Los Feliz. (323) 401-6162. —Steve La

She Scares Because She Cares

 If Denise Gossett has made you cringe, bite your lower lip, sweat profusely, hyperventilate or scream, than she’s done her job. No, she doesn’t work for the IRS. With help from her husband, she runs L.A.’s most successful and entertaining horror film festival, Shriekfest. For a solid decade, not only has Shriekfest enthralled multitudes, it’s been responsible for kickstarting a huge number of careers. Denise has been on the other side of that fence as a professional actress herself. She started this festival “after starring in a horror film 11 years ago, and I wanted the producers to put it in festivals,” she explains. “I was told that there weren’t any horror festivals. So I told my sister-in-law and she said let’s do it.” Shriekfest attracts a growing number of filmmakers and audience members each year. “We cater to the independent film, not the studio films.” Alas, this year’s festival has already passed. Check the website for 2011 details. shriekfest.com. —Todd David Schwartz

BEST NEW ART WALK

The relatively young Second Saturday Gallery Night, a Highland Park art walk put on by the North East Los Angeles Arts Organization, is one of the most vivacious and promising in L.A. It features more than 20 officially participating galleries, along with dozens of other less formally affiliated spaces, none of which are much more than 3 years old or funded by much more than the personal passion of the owners and curators. The terrain of the gallery route retains much of the grittiness of a small town after a boom. What makes it so compelling is the purity of vision, charm and intrepid approaches to expression contained in the content of a community art scene that has easy freeway access to one of the biggest cultural capitals anywhere in the country or world. Spilling eastward over the landscape, it offers the most thoughtful, progressively experimental and subtly beautiful visual and performance art the City of Angels has had to offer up-and-coming art aficionados in some time. atnelaart.com. —Anna Jones

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Best Small-Town Big Screen (1947): Gardena Cinema

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