Best of Dallas®

Best Of 2004

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Best Of :: People & Places

On-Screen Stumping

Tearlach Hutcheson doesn't vote. Hasn't in 14 years. Actually, he's not allowed to vote, at least not in this country. You see, the man who runs the Magnolia and Inwood theaters, which are part of the Landmark Theatre chain of art houses, is Australian, and though he's eligible to be a U.S citizen, he simply hasn't filled out the necessary paperwork. "And I like to say there's a little Charlie Chaplin in me," he says, not referring to the filmmaker's penchant for young girls. "Being an Australian is such a large part of my identity I just couldn't give it up."

So it's been with an outsider's bemused perspective that Hutcheson has seen myriad movies with political themes parading in and out of his theaters all year. His favorite? Well, probably Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11--but that opinion doesn't count, since it made the Magnolia a small fortune this summer and since it was the only one of many Hutcheson actually saw. "And like I said, it doesn't matter since I can't vote."

But it has been the Year of the Political Movie, a cinematic season of celluloid campaigning by the likes of Michael Moore, Robert Greenwald, George Butler, John Sayles and other filmmakers raking in moviegoers' spare change by calling for a regime change. Control Room, a vivid peek at the lives (and deaths) of journalists working for the Al-Jazeera network, came early and stayed longer than anyone imagined; documentarian Jehane Noujaim's movie debuted in late May and had pocketed some $2.5 million by late September, when it was still on some screens around the country. Released by Magnolia Pictures, the big sister of the Magnolia Theatre, Control Room proved not even negative reviews from Donald Rumsfeld could keep people out of the theater.

But the proselytizing began in earnest in June, when Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 stormed the cineplex after months of controversy surrounding just who would release it (Disney, which paid for it, or Miramax, which commissioned it) and who would see it (the fence-sitters or the True Believers) and how much impact it would have on the election (we shall see). It opened June 23 and made some $70,000 its opening week at the Magnolia, where $20,000 is considered stellar box office for a first-week gross. Nearly every screening was sold out for weeks, and early on theater employees witnessed a rare sight--audiences standing and applauding at movie's end. So much for reaching the undecided voter. "That doesn't happen at all," Hutcheson says.

Then, in short succession, marching into theaters were Harry Thomason's The Hunting of the President, which documented the right wing's attempts to oust Thomason's best buddy Bill Clinton; Robert Greenwald's Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, which laid out the case that the Fox News Channel is staffed by Republican talking heads pushing the Bush administration's talking points; George Butler's Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, in which the Pumping Iron maker told of Kerry's Vietnam War service and his decision to protest the war upon his return; and Greenwald's Uncovered: The Truth About Iraq, in which former government officials unravel the president's case for invading and occupying that country.

But the agenda pushing wasn't limited to the documentary. Though Jonathan Demme insisted his remake of The Manchurian Candidate was apolitical, its villains supported legislation that sounded like the Patriot Act and worked for companies that looked a lot like Halliburton. And John Sayles' Silver City starred Chris Cooper as a Colorado gubernatorial candidate whose failure to speak in complete and coherent sentences made him look like an indie-film version of Will Ferrell's Saturday Night Live Dubya double.

"The simple reason so many of these films came out this year is because this war had divided so many people, and most of these movies go after the person responsible for it, Bush," Hutcheson says. "And when you have a film that goes after Bush overtly, like Fahrenheit 9/11, the movie becomes their rallying cry, and they circle up the troops. What I find interesting is there have been a lot of films that have come out that are pro-Democrat--or, actually, anti-Bush or anti-Republican--so where are the films that come from the other side and give us a balanced viewpoint?"

There have been a few of those as well: In September, Dallas was host to the first conservative film festival ever held in the country, where such movies as George W. Bush: Faith in the White House, Michael Moore Hates America and Confronting Iraq were screened. And In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed opened here two weeks ago, trying to make the case that the Gipper was a commander in chief elected by a much higher power than the people.

But only Fahrenheit 9/11, which pocketed more than $100 million on its way to video-store shelves last week, could be considered a success among all these releases--and even then, its rep as the Magnolia's highest-grossing film in the theater's short history was eclipsed by the surprise success of geek comedy Napoleon Dynamite. Most of these movies ran in the Magnolia and other art houses only a few weeks; Silver City and Going Upriver were gone within 14 days of opening. If viewers were undecided about whom to vote for, they made up their minds about one thing: Enough's enough.

"These movies aren't going to bring in the undecided voter," Hutcheson says. "They're for people who want their viewpoints reinforced. I mean, Going Upriver to me is like the Democratic National Convention being shown in our theater. Ultimately, what makes a good film is a good story. You go back to Fahrenheit, and it's a good story. These other ones aren't entertaining people. But every single year we play big films and small films, and the political film has the flavor of this year. Next year it might be Italian films. But let me say this: People should get out and vote regardless of who they're voting for. You know, in my country if you don't vote, you get fined. To live in a democracy you have a responsibility, even if you don't see the movies. " --Robert Wilonsky

Best Alternative Club
Black Forest Theater

Two words: Prince afterparty. Two more words: Snoop afterparty. Get the idea? When the baddest muthas come to Dallas, the real happening is at Erykah Badu's South Dallas club. A 1960s movie house that had fallen into disrepair, the Black Forest has been reimagined as a thriving cultural spot, with hand-painted murals, checkerboard floors, lush green walls, and good sound and lighting. This is all thanks to Ms. Badu, who uses the space as ground zero for a South Dallas revitalization project called Beautiful Love Incorporated Non Profit Development (or BLIND). Semi-regular entertainment comes from Mizz B herself, along with soul, R&B, hip-hop and rock acts from around the community. Notice that word: community. 'Cause even though Black Forest may host some of the biggest names in music, ain't no question whose home this really is. Prince may be on the marquee and Erykah Badu may be on the lease, but this place belongs to South Dallas.

Readers' Pick

Velvet Curtain

www.velvetcurtain.net

1920 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd., Dallas, 75215
MAP
214-421-0677
Best Blues Club

It wasn't so long ago that Dallas blues had fallen on hard times. Once the signature sound of Deep Ellum, back when Blind Lemon Jefferson busked the streets and the blues poured out of every bar and brothel, by early 2004 the blues had all but disappeared from the downtown area. That changed with the February opening of Deep Ellum Blues. With a central location (painted all in blue) and an expansive seating area, the club can accommodate both intimate local shows and national touring acts. In its six months, Deep Ellum Blues has played host to such acts as George Thorogood, hometown hero Hash Brown and Austin heartthrob Guy Forsyth. But the club's real coup is owner Jim Suhler, longtime guitarist for Thorogood and nominee for Best Blues in the 2004 Dallas Observer Music Awards for Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat. He not only knows the blues; he plays them just as well.

Readers' Pick

Deep Ellum Blues

Best Place to Smoke
Sambuca Uptown

We smoke cigars about twice a year or so. The last time was during a fancy birthday dinner for a friend at Sambuca Uptown (which is actually between Uptown and downtown). We retired to the smoking room there, which is a glass-walled patio complete with all manner of plush seating options. It was the middle of summer, but the area was cool, the stars were bright, and the rich, hot blasting pleasure of sweet cancerous tobacco filled our lungs. Couple this with a glass of vino or a fine cocktail from Sambuca, pipe in some of the best jazz in town (you can see the stage clearly while you smoke it up), and you have a fine place in which to pump your lungs full of the good stuff.

2120 McKinney Ave., Dallas, 75201
MAP
214-744-0820
Best Kids Day Trip
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center

OK, the rabid sheep turned out not to be rabid, all right? Buy a bag of feed pellets and cruise through Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, where you're so close to the animals they drool on you. Or stare menacingly into your car window, occasionally tapping it with a huge beak, like the ostriches and emus. Everybody loves Fossil Rim Wildlife Center--even our friend from Nigeria, who talked on his cell phone the whole time (we didn't even know you could get a signal out here) but admitted he'd never seen any of these animals in his own country. At Fossil Rim, just south of Glen Rose--90 minutes southwest of Dallas down Highway 67--you drive in your own car through 10 miles of habitats that simulate the African savannah and other wildlife-rich regions. Along the way, you see gazelles boinging in the fields; seemingly every species of deer known to man; zebras; giraffes; cheetahs; rare black rhinos and much more. If it doesn't seem too weird to dine on animal flesh, have a delicious Black Angus burger at the cafe halfway through the safari drive and get a penny squished in the gift shop. You won't be out too many bucks, and what you do spend helps support Fossil Rim's internationally recognized breeding and wildlife preservation efforts.

2155 County Road 2008, Glen Rose, 76043
MAP
254-897-2960
Best Place to Meet Someone Else's Best Friend
White Rock Lake Dog Park

Dog park folk are a different breed. Parents who put down a bowl of cool water in a dog park don't expect their dog to be the only one privy to it. They may put it down in front of little Oliver, but they're happy for Skids, Blue and Gracie to partake. Moms and dads of canines who think enough of their pup to take her to the park are flat-out considerate, and at the White Rock Lake park, that consideration is evident as humans watch out for their own pals and everyone else's. We've seen at least seven humans bolt to help keep a dog from sneaking past the first of two gates. The dog park is a more intimate setting than regular parks where kids are on alert for strangers and parents generally cut the conversation with "Hi, is this your sippy cup?" Www.dallasdogparks.org actually has a pet bio section where owners can look up other dogs they meet and find out when they usually go, you know, so Fido can play with his buddy again. Though, it's nice if it helps the parents make human friends, too.

8000 Mockingbird Lanene, Dallas, 75231
MAP
214-671-8001
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