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Best living Vivian Maier

Art Shay Maybe you’ve heard of Vivian Maier? The “North Shore nanny” who exploded into posthumous fame after thousands of her photos were uncovered virtually by accident? Human empathy shines in Maier’s street photography, the best of which hones in sharply on the eccentric and downtrodden. She’d have had a kindred spirit in Chicago-based photojournalist […]

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Best theatrical mob action

Everybody vs. Chris Jones and Hedy Weiss In February, Steppenwolf Theatre’s young adults program presented This Is Modern Art (Based on True Events), a new play by Chicago-based writers Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval, about young street artists—also Chicago based—who in 2010 decided to tag the Art Institute’s new Modern Wing. Reader critic Albert Williams […]

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Best citizen-thinker

Eula Bliss It was Jeff Shotts, Eula Biss’s editor at Graywolf Press, who came up with the term “citizen-thinker” to describe her, and it’s remarkably apt. Biss isn’t afraid of knotty and complicated subjects—her two most recent books, Notes From No Man’s Land and On Immunity: An Inoculation, consider race and vaccination, respectively—but she’s no […]

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Best exhibit for bashing a Jeff Koons balloon dog

“No Longer Art,” the Salvage Art Institute When art conservation first entered the jurisdiction of insurance companies, “totaled” works were routinely destroyed. Adjusters haven’t grown less depraved of heart, but at least today they consign wrecked art to storage facilities, usually for 30 years, until a condition known as “acceptable degradation” is reached and the […]

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Best theatrical collaboration

Second City and Hubbard Street Dance’s The Art of Falling Dance and comedy don’t inherently go together; one is an art form all about precision and grace while the other finds laughs in bumbling. Yet Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the Second City managed to find common ground for their visually stunning and effortlessly hilarious […]

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Best small museum, Skokie division

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center Over the past 60 years the Holocaust has been discussed and dissected and interpreted and reinterpreted so many times, it’s hard to imagine there’s anything left to say. The tiny Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, however, continues to find new stories to tell. In addition to a permanent exhibit […]

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Best new local production (documentary)

Corner Stores Though only 25 minutes long, this incisive documentary (which screened last year as part of the Chicago Palestine Film Festival) says a good deal about inner-city America in general and Englewood in particular, and it delivers a moving character portrait to boot. Director Amina Waheed, an Indian-Canadian immigrant who’s worked on Frontline and […]

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Best new video installation

The Latest Sun Is Sinking Fast The films of Melika Bass seem to exist eerily out of time. This local artist, best known for her experimental feature Shoals, avoids onscreen details that might tie the action to any particular era, and because she typically shoots on 16-millimeter film, using only minimal lighting, her films even […]

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Best archival discovery

Eastland disaster footage On July 24, 1915, the Western Electric Company chartered the steamship SS Eastland to ferry a few thousand employees from downtown Chicago to a company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. Four stories tall and nearly the length of a football field, the Eastland was as spectacular as the Hindenburg—and just as poorly […]

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Best business counterstrike

Music Box lounge When the Logan Theatre was renovated in 2012, its primary draw wasn’t the new projection equipment or the more focused programming but the new bar and lounge that gave moviegoers a chance to get tanked up before the show. Not content to let a second-run venue steal its thunder, the Music Box […]

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Best conflict of interest

Chicago Critics Film Festival Part of a critic’s job is to tell you about good movies, but with this unique festival, held every spring at Music Box, critics actually show them to you. Members of the Chicago Film Critics Association handpick notable movies from the festival circuit, many of which have yet to secure theatrical […]

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Best secret microcinema

Little House facebook.com/littlehousechicago Somewhere in Pilsen there’s a private residence with a do-it-yourself approach to film exhibition. As commercial theaters increasingly resemble bars and restaurants, Little House proves that the formula for presenting great movies is still a projector, a screen, and an eager crowd. The programmers favor experimental, classic, and underground films, almost everything […]