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Happy New Year: the best and worst of 2013

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It’s new year’s day—a time to review the past year.

April Fools! It’s actually April 1, not January 1, yet that doesn’t mean it's not a good, albeit belated, time to list the culturally high and low points covered in this column throughout 2013.

Art

Best: During the summer of 2013, MCA Chicago presented Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes. The artist's first museum retrospective displayed more than 125 original pieces in a wonderful and welcoming way.

Worst: Patronizing in every sense of the word, the Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity exhibition displayed costumes alongside great works of art because they all featured clothes. What’s next? Grouping still life paintings next to actual fruit to help the viewer connect the dots?

Books

Best: Author Shane Portman assembled short stories and interesting images in Allister Cromley's Fairweather Belle (Bedtime Stories For Grownups To Tell) because everyone needs a quick dip into the imagination before gliding into dreams.

Worst: NaNoWriMo, the nationwide program that encourages non-writers to take on the near impossible task of drafting a novel within the busy month of November by promoting quantity of words over quality of work so they can flood the market with subpar publications—not to mention insulting real authors who actually take years to develop their skill and pen their novels.

Dance

Best: With Elliot Goldenthal’s exceptional score performed by the Chicago Philharmonic and the gravity-defying performances by Dylan Gutierrez and Victoria Jaiani, the Joffrey Ballet’s final performance of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello at the Auditorium Theatre in May put the grand in grand finale in May. Runner up: Also at the Auditorium was the hauntingly beautiful Chicago premiere of Rodin performed by the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg.

Worst: Forget the year, in probably the worst dance performance of the decade, Ballet West traveled to the Auditorium in October with such a limited treatment of The Sleeping Beauty, they proved it's best to let sleeping dogs lie.

Film
Best: Before its release in December, Southport’s Music Box Theatre via The New York Film CriticsSeries® showed an advance screening of American Hustle with a pre-taped Q&A with director David O. Russell. Runner up: Music Box also screened The Ghosts in Our Machine (a documentary on how animals are exploited by man in the food, fashion, entertainment, and research industries) in December of 2013.

Worst: In July, the Chicago French Film Festival opened with the unintentionally laughable comedy Fly Me To The Moon which perhaps is to be expected from a country that considers Jerry Lewis a comic genius.

Music

Best: The 30th anniversary reunion of Chicago’s punk rock staple Naked Raygun at Metro in June gave new meaning to the term “all ages show.” Runners up: Metro’s one-night performances by Wax Tailor & the Dusty Rainbow Experience in September; and Kate Nash in November; as well as Pokey LaFarge at Lincoln Hall in December.

Worst: The generically-bland third-rate cover bands that StarEvents continues to push on city and suburban festivals from Chicago's Summer on Southport to Rosemont’s Rockin' in the Park.

Theater
Best: Goodman Theatre’s magical staging and Larry Yando brilliant portrayal of Scrooge brought the spirit of the Charles Dickens masterpiece A Christmas Carol to life during the holiday season.

Worst: February of 2013 was made particularly bleak by Steppenwolf Theatre’s sloppy adaptation of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party which warranted no presence.

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