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The Best Films of 2005

By Jeremy Mathews
Chris Bellamy's
Top 10 Films

1. Oldboy – A powerful and intense psychological mystery about a man who, after being imprisoned for 15 years, is let out with five days to discover not just who captured him, but why. A complex and brilliantly told tale from Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park.
2. King Kong – The best film Peter Jackson has ever made is not just a magnificent piece of big-budget entertainment (in particular the amazing climax atop the Empire State Building), but an emotionally gripping tragedy that has more depth than I ever could have expected.
3. Munich – Redemption for Spielberg’s awful "War of the Worlds," this is one of those films that doesn’t take the easy path in its depiction of politically charged vengeance, but instead examines the ethics of vengeance, and what it does to those involved. This is one of Spielberg’s very best.
4. Junebug – Amy Adams's Oscar-caliber performance is not the only reason to see this movie—it’s also a beautiful and honest look at the lives of realistic people, both touching and hilarious in ways that most dramedies never dream.
5. Saraband – Don’t go, Ingmar, don’t go! If this is, indeed, Bergman’s swan song, what a way to go out. No one can capture human pain and anguish, with characters so fully fleshed out, as well as he can, and he proves that once again as he revisits the characters he created in his great "Scenes from a Marriage."
6. Sin City – This movie is about as direct a translation as there can possibly be. It’s a living, breathing coming book—and a flat-out brilliant one, at that. There are too many good performances, and too many unique and wonderful scenes from the mind of Frank Miller, to name.
7. Match Point – Woody Allen’s critics can now kiss his ass. Not only has his work over the last decade-and-a-half been undervalued, but he has now returned with one of his best films, a thrillingly suspenseful tale of moral ambiguity, a la his 1989 classic "Crimes and Misdemeanors."
8. Batman Begins – Possibly the best super hero movie ever made, this is the first Batman film to examine the psychological depths that made the Batman character so fascinating in the first place. Director Christopher Nolan gives us a character study, an exciting action movie and a great ensemble cast, all in one.
9. The Weather Man – The most underrated movie of the year is also one of the most insightful. Steve Conrad’s script paints a brilliant character portrait of a man (Nicolas Cage, in a great performance) at odds with his family, his career and himself. Some call it depressing—and at times, it is—but it’s also hysterical and original.
10. The Squid and the Whale – Noah Baumbach’s study of one family dealing with a divorce isn’t nearly as simple as that description might suggest, as it deals with a plethora of issues and emotions in frank and honest detail. Jeff Daniels deserves an Oscar nomination for one of the best performances of the year.

Films missing the top-10 cut but still well-worthy of recognition include the epic romance "Brokeback Mountain," Paul Haggis’ racially themed parable "Crash," the deeply felt, observant character study "Capote" and George Clooney’s strong sophomore directorial effort "Good Night, and Good Luck." Bruno Ganz gives the performance of the year in "Downfall," chronicling Adolf Hitler’s last days, while Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian anchor the fascinating and poignant "Yes," a daring cinematic poem from Sally Potter. The year’s best documentary, "Murderball," is also the best sports movie of the year, while Stephen Chow’s "Kung-Fu Hustle" may be the most purely entertaining. Andrew Niccol’s flawed but underrated "Lord of War" manages to be both exciting and intelligent, and Jim Jarmusch and Bill Murray provide some of their best work in "Broken Flowers." Then there’s Stephen Gaghan’s fractured, slightly uneven "Syriana," an extremely compelling geopolitical thriller, and the pseudo-romantic comedy "The Upside of Anger," featuring standout acting from Joan Allen and Kevin Costner. Miranda July’s "Me and You and Everyone We Know" is one of the most original movies to come around in a long while, and the same could also be said for the wonderful Hungarian dark comedy "Kontroll." And I would be remiss, as a fan of TV series "Firefly," if I didn’t also mention the superb big-screen version, "Serenity," which, if it is the end of Joss Whedon’s brilliantly realized universe, makes for a hell of a finale.
Brent Sallay's
Top 20 Films


1. Me and You and Everyone We Know - No other film in 2005 better reflected the state of our society today than this one—the lack of interpersonal connection, the obsession with sexuality at younger and younger ages, the universal longing for a kind of happiness with which we seem to have lost touch. (“And then we would sleep like little babies forever”). But unlike, say, “Syriana,” which attempted to address hot button issues with complicated plots and political intrigue, this film makes the wise choice of viewing much of what's going on in the world today through the eyes of children and childlike adults. Which, of course, makes some of the material even more disturbing than it would be otherwise. But surprisingly, “Me and You and Everyone We Know” maintains an innocence throughout that not only makes the whole film a lot easier to swallow, but hopefully our world a little bit too.

2. New York Doll - Call it a palate cleanser after my third and fourth picks, but in my eyes, this portrait of a few months in the life of New York Dolls bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane, who later in life joined the LDS faith, had a better miraculous comeback story than anything Hollywood has concocted in years. Perhaps most touching of all is Kane's reunion with former bandmate David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter), whose, um, interesting artistic choices in the '80s (i.e. “Scrooged”) had driven Kane to a low point in his life. Also, lots of clueless, old church ladies.

3. Mysterious Skin - Not for the squeamish. Here is a tale of two teenage boys who were affected very differently by one young summer with a sexually abusive soccer coach: One is now a gay prostitute and the other is obsessed with UFOs. What follows is a perfectly crafted film that fits snugly among other such invigoratingly disturbing fare as “Happiness,” “Requiem for a Dream,” and “Your Friends and Neighbors.” It features standout performances from all of its leads and a great shoegaze soundtrack (Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, Ride, Sigur Rós) to boot.

4. Sin City - What is it about comic book adaptations that make so many people quick to pronounce them the best of their genre? Remember last year when everyone called “Spiderman 2” the best comic book movie ever? Or the year before when they were saying the same thing about “X2?" Or this year when they said it again about “Batman Begins?" It seems like every damn movie based on a comic book that isn't “Fantastic Four” is better than all the ones that preceded it. My fellow Americans, I beg of you, this has got to stop. Or it won't be long until we start calling movies like “Must Love Dogs” the best John-Cusack-in-a-dog-park movie ever. That being said, “Sin City” is easily the best comic book movie ever made, and is likely to retain that title until the release of “Sin City 2” in 2006 and “Sin City 3” in 2008. Mmmm…sinny.

5. Kings and Queen - Not to be confused with the popular CBS sitcom, “Kings and Queen” is a wonderful, meandering leviathan of a film anchored by its two leads—one a single mother coming to grips with her terminal father, the other her crazy-eyed ex-lover (Mathieu Amalric, who also played Louis in Steven Spielberg's “Munich”) who has just been wrongly commited to a mental hospital. Amalric's performance is the meatiest one of the year, and thankfully, “Kings and Queen” revels in its characters, placing them alternately in hilarious, surreal, and devastating situations.

6. The Squid and the Whale - This was probably the most I laughed at a movie this year, but there's a lot of heavy stuff going on as well. Writer/director Noah Baumbach (who co-wrote last year's “The Life Aquatic” with Wes Anderson) turns an unblinking eye upon two young, intellectually elite brothers who attempt to cope with their parents' recent divorce, as well as the typical teenage boy problems (i.e. horniness) with occasionally cringeworthy but mostly hilarious results.

7. Head-On - Here's a nihilistic love story for the 1980s jet set: Two suicidal Turks meet, instantly hate each other, get married, break things and may or may not eventually fall in love. But how they end up is beside the point. This is a biting satire of modern romance, coming-of-age and hell, even foreign films, executed with all the subtlety of a slit wrist. Tarantino, I think, would be proud. It also features the best use of a Depeche Mode song in a film ever.

8. Grizzly Man - Timothy Treadwell was basically just a cat person who thought that bears were cats. One can enjoy this documentary on two different levels: as a heartbreaking tale of the demise of a man who truly believed in the preservation of wildlife to the point of devoting his life to it, or as a fascinating look into the psyche of a man who was crazy enough to live with the grizzly bears, addressing them lovingly like pets, and for some reason, constantly sticking his finger up to their mouths.

9. Good Night, and Good Luck - I love it in movies when, at a pivotal point in the story, a main character looks directly at the camera and says the name of the movie you're watching. This happens in “Good Night, and Good Luck.” like 20 times. So why isn't this my number one film of the year? Because movie titles with creative punctuation are annoying. Oh yeah, and I guess this movie was relevant and stuff too.

10. A History of Violence - Somewhere in this film is some kind of commentary on how we are forever affected by the violence that we deem necessary to our survival. (A critique on war perhaps?) But at its heart, this is also just an unnerving, palpable thriller about an all-American dad who also just happens to be a complete badass with a gun.

11. Oldboy - What was most surprising about this film wasn't how light the torturous violence was played. It wasn't the lengths to which Oldboy's torturers went to take over his life or even the film's twisted, shocking ending. No, what was most surprsing about “Oldboy” was that Oldboy himself, essentially written as just a goon hellbent on revenge against his captors, proved to be such an endearing character. Oh, and also all that stuff he did with a hammer.

12. Match Point - Woody Allen made this?

13. Millions - I love it when hardcore directors go soft. Enter Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later”) and this charming family film about two British boys who, after chancing upon the titular “millions,” are torn between giving it to the poor and investing it in real estate. Very heartfelt and witty, and often reminiscent of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman at their most fantastical.

14. Serenity - A satisfying conclusion to Joss Whedon's cult series “Firefly,” which was prematurely cancelled by a fledgling FOX network, still learning the ropes of proper TV programming etiquette. Good thing they don't make stupid mistakes like that anymore… Wait a minute, why isn't “Arrested Development” on? Bastards. [P.S. I actually wrote this blurb on a Monday night when “Arrested Development” was supposed to be on but they played a rerun of “House” instead. Just so you don't think I'm making this stuff up.]

15. The 40-Year-Old Virgin - Steve Carell finally gets his due in the film that momentarily elevated the teen sex comedy genre to, well, middle-aged sex comedy heights. Warmer and smarter than anyone could have guessed from that title, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” also had a surprisingly conservative moral: that it's OK to wait.

16. Kung Fu Hustle - Steven Chow takes the ridiculous, scattershot awesomeness of “Shaolin Soccer” and fine tunes it into a taut, smart/stupid kung fu movie that's halfway between “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Looney Tunes.”

17. Downfall - I've always hated it when Hollywood takes great European stories, puts them in our language, and then casts actors with British, German and French accents as if that somehow authenticates it. Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Hitler shakes to the bone, due in no small part to his ability as an actor of course, but witnessing the last throes of the rule of the Third Reich in jagged, glorious German brings a whole new weight to the material.

18. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit - Um, yeah, claymation is awesome.

19. Capote - I'm not usually much for biopics, but this one gets really interesting when the author Capote starts to get emotionally attached to the cold-blooded killers on whom he is basing his novel. Plus, there are stellar performances from Clifton Collins (“Traffic”) and the always great Philip Seymour Hoffman.

20. Murderball - Not the inspirational tearjerker you might expect from a documentary about quadriplegics in wheelchairs playing Olympic level indoor rugby. These guys are crippled for life, and they're pissed about it. They don't want your sympathy, and they don't need your sympathy, but after watching them bowl each other over in their gladiator cars for an hour and a half, they might just win your heart. Or, um, murder you. Either one.


They said that there were record lows in the box office, and that a lack of quality movies was what was wrong with 2005. But compiling a list of the year’s best films calls attention to an overwhelming list of worthy titles. As I write this introduction, my top-10 list still has 12 films on it, and once I knock two off it, I’ll have to take two off of the honorable mention list. It’s sad news for me, but good news for anyone who still hasn’t discovered this year’s gems.

1. Caché (Hidden)
Michael Haneke’s “Caché” opens as a mystery thriller, but spirals into a nightmare of guilty memories and self-destruction. Continuing to work in France, Austrian writer/director Haneke teamed with actors Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche in a tale of a TV personality, his wife and their son who receive video tapes of themselves, at first eerie but explainable shots of the house’s exterior, then increasingly mysterious and disturbing footage.

Auteuil gives one of his finest performances as his character’s pleasant demeanor slowly deteriorates into a mess of anger and paranoia while still inspiring sympathy. And Haneke brilliantly taps that paranoia by deconstructing the cinematic lens so that it’s no longer clear whether the audience is watching real life unfold or another tape.

2. Me and You and Everyone We Know
In her debut film, performance artist Miranda July immediately established herself as an utterly unique voice in cinema. With an amazing ensemble of undiscovered actors—including herself—July navigates seamlessly through all her characters and their inimitable dialogue. Capturing isolation and connection in the digital age, “Me and You and Everyone We Know” is about loneliness, art, underage sex, growing old, chat rooms, longing and the drive to break out of life’s mediocrity.

3. The Squid and the Whale
With “The Squid and the Whale,” writer/director Noah Baumbach turned the personal experience of his New York City literary elite parents’ divorce into a surprisingly sharp coming-of-age story. Baumbach’s painfully funny and observant script receives pitch-perfect interpretation from veterans Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as the parents, as well as strong work by young actors Jesse Eisenberg as Walt, an intellectual who sees no need to read the books he discusses, and Owen Kline as his confrontational younger brother, Frank. As his parents battle, one trying to make everyone feel sorry for him, the other trying to move on with her life, Walt comes to terms with his father’s imperfections, his mother’s positive qualities and the need to make up his own mind about where he is in life and where he wants to go.

4. Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee’s adaptation of E. Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” is fast being recognized as more than simply a “gay cowboy” movie. It’s one of cinema’s great love stories. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllehaal play two men who, in another place and time, under different circumstances, could have had a life together. As Wyoming ranch hands in the early ’60s, however, they’re lucky to rendez-vous a few times a year. Facing potential persecution and the inability to understand their own emotions, the two lovers live through less passionate relationships on their way to a devastating ending brought to life through Ledger’s performance, which may not feature a great deal of words, but creates a bounty of emotion.

5. Mysterious Skin
Following two drastically different lives altered by child molestation, “Mysterious Skin” is an emotionally draining and heartbreaking portrayal of humans forever scarred. Writer/director Gregg Araki’s film follows two young men who haven’t been able to leave the mindset in which the abuse placed them. The film also establishes two talented actors with astounding performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a careless hustler and Brian Lackey as a socially inept young man obsessed with aliens who he believes stole his memories.

6. Match Point
To make his best film of the decade (so far), Woody Allen relocated from New York City to London and abandoned the harmless comedy of his recent work for a snappy and sexy thriller reminiscent of “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Jonathan Rhys-Meyers stars as a former low-level tennis pro who ends up with a tough choice between his high society girlfriend, played by the great Emily Mortimer, and her brother’s crude American fiancée, played by the smokey Scarlett Johansson. With scenes whose sexual undertones are sometimes reminiscent of “Double Indemnity,” Allen’s witty dialogue and solid direction (including a brilliantly simple opening shot) create a work that defies the usual expectations of a Woody Allen film.

7. Capote
If it weren’t for Heath Ledger’s solemn performance in “Brokeback Mountain” grabbing some Oscar buzz, there would be no question that Philip Seymour Hoffman is the best actor of the year for his layered performance in “Capote.” Studying famed writer Truman Capote as he writes and researches his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, Hoffman doesn’t need the standard boost in esteem that usually comes with playing a famous person. He not only creates a character, but communicates his entire past in a film that limits itself to a very specific time in its subject’s life. He and first-time director Bennett Miller create a portrait of a man who is both sincere and manipulative and who will never be able to pay back the mental price of his brilliant work.

8. Broken Flowers
Bill Murray offered another performance of understated perfection as a Don Juan who realizes that his life lacks any long-term accomplishments in Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers.” When he receives an unsigned letter informing him that his 19-year-old son might be looking for him, Murray’s character can barely narrow the possible mothers down to five choices. So his eager-to-help detective-wannabe neighbor, played by the fabulous Jeffrey Wright, arranges a trip to visit all the potential mothers. Vignettes with actresses Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton follow. Jarmusch’s reserved direction and slyly funny dialogue meld perfectly with Murray’s portrayal of a man who discovers that he hasn’t attained everything he wants.

9. The Best of Youth
As it portrays 50 years in the life of a family over six hours, the Italian film directed by Marco Tullio Giordana provides an amazing range of emotions as we come to know and love its characters. Viewing both historical events in Italian history and personal triumphs and tragedies, the film earns such a resonance that it’s impossible not to be moved. You might not think that you want to see a six-hour-long film, but this one will change your mind.

10. Munich
Rather than live comfortably off his past success, Stephen Spielberg made two films this year, and “Munich” is the bravest, most uncomfortable picture he’s ever made. Dealing with the Israeli retaliation after the terrorist assassination of the country’s athletes in the 1972 Olympic games, the film refuses to provide easy answers for either side of the debate. It simply observes paranoia and doubt in the leader of an assassination squad (Eric Bana) whose members come from everyday life rather than spy movies.

Tied For 11th
In a less loaded year, these 20 films might have found a home on my list: With shocking brutality and honest characters, Danish director Susanne Bier studied the psychological ravages of war in “Brothers.” Fernando Meirelles followed up his masterpiece “City of God” with “The Constant Gardener,” a political thriller that turns into a touching love story between Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall,” centered around a chilling performance by Bruno Ganz, who gave a harrowing depiction of the last days of Hitler.
“Freaks and Geeks” writer, producer and director Judd Apatow finally found his long-deserved success with co-star and co-writer Steve Carell in the hilarious and warm “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Werner Herzog’s documentary “Grizzly Man” explored the life and mind of environmentalist and self-documentarian Timothy Treadwell, who lived in the Alaskan wilderness with grizzly bears against all reason.
David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” sported great performances by Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello in his fascinating study of how violence affects a small town, both in perceptions and actions. Nimrod Antal’s “Kontroll” turned Budapest’s subway into a dark, funny and surreal parable.

Actor/director Stephen Chow brought inspired gags and unbridled energy to his zany parody “Kung Fu Hustle.” Agnes Jaoui’s comedy “Comme une image” (“Look at Me”) studied people’s interpretation of and reaction to celebrity.

With great performances by Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis, Richard Shepard’s “The Matador” goes to unexpected but truthful places in its darkly comedic tale of a burnt-out hit man and the ordinary loser whom he befriends.

Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro’s documentary “Murderball” captured the bawdy and heroic quadriplegic athletes who play wheelchair rugby. The great young Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda quietly stunned with his blunt depiction of abandoned children in Tokyo, “Nobody Knows.”

With several great performances, Campbell Scott’s “Off the Map” portrayed youth, depression and isolation in a rural farm with warmth and humor. John Madden’s “Proof,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal and Hope Davis, used its stellar cast to study trust, mental illness and mathematics. Master Swedish director Ingmar Bergman revisited the characters from his 1973 film “Scenes from a Marriage” in the mesmerizing and worthy career-capper “Saraband.”

Joss Whedon’s “Serenity” reminded us that science fiction can have sharp, funny and lively characters and exciting conclusions. With “Sin City,” Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez used digital effects and a stellar cast for the ultimate adaptation of the sexy comic.

Tommy Lee Jones offered a solid, classical directorial debut with “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” about mistakes, prejudices and bonding in a Texas border town. “Turtles Can Fly,” directed by Bahman Ghobadi and starring several talented children, provided an account of the affects of land mines in Iraqui Kurdistan. And Nicolas Cage gave a brilliant deadpan performance in Gore Verbinski’s study of low-level fame, family and anxiety, “The Weather Man.”

Honorable Mention
And don’t forget to put these 30 films on your to-see list: “Batman Begins,” “Cinderella Man,” “Dear Frankie,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Everything is Illuminated,” “In the Realms of the Unreal,” “Good Night, and Good Luck.,” “Junebug,” “King Kong,” “Last Days,” “The Memory of a Killer,” “My Summer of Love,” “Millions,” “The New World,” “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan,” “North Country,” “Oldboy,” “Palindromes,” “Robots,” “Shopgirl,” “Stay,” “Syriana,” “Transamerica,” “The Upside of Anger,” “Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” “Walk on Water,” “The Wedding Crashers,” “The Woodsman,” “The World” and “Yes.”

jeremy [at]

Rory L. Aronsky's
Top 7 Films

2005 was a very good year of movie experiences. Now for an unusual approach, a top seven. Ten weren’t possible because it’s too typical a number and the really touching, funny, and thoughtful moments in movies this year were, for me, only found in seven movies:

1. Nine Lives – Filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia has claimed on many occasions that he writes women better than men and with nine 10-12 minute unbroken takes featuring Sissy Spacek, Amy Brenneman, Dakota Fanning (in her best performance), Glenn Close, Amanda Seyfried (whose star should rise because of this), Kathy Baker, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and others in many stories involving the emotions and events that shape women, from resilience in dealing with family (Seyfried), to encountering a former lover (Robin Wright Penn), Garcia should be the go-to guy for any actress wanting to find in herself a performance previously hidden. He knows his characters just as well as all the actresses, and all of it is moving and extremely cathartic.

2. Broken Flowers – Watch Bill Murray as Don Johnston and you’ll find parts of me, just as reserved and introverted, though Don is pushed by his friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright) to search for the mother of the son he never knew he had. Since Jim Jarmusch directed, Murray has found the perfect partner in his talent for deadpanning, as Jarmusch is extremely laid back in telling the story, and letting Murray, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, and a few others simply perform with excellence.

3. Proof – A famed math professor (Anthony Hopkins) is dead and his daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow) troublingly marches on, in this adaptation of David Auburn’s play, in which Paltrow still has the capacity to surprise and sadden. Hope Davis knows how to make conflict between sisters simmer, and John Madden should now see that Paltrow is his good luck charm, as she was just as excellent in “Shakespeare in Love”, and “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” can now be forgiven and forgotten.

4. Brokeback Mountain – The wide mountains of Wyoming (really Canada, but it doesn’t matter in the film’s context) are host to a love story between two cowboys which is scarred by social expectations as the two (Heath Ledger, who needs that Best Actor Oscar, and Jake Gyllenhaal) live different lives in marriages and careers, but always yearn for each other, that pinnacle of love on Brokeback Mountain. Ang Lee’s newest sweeping masterpiece is quiet and unassuming and it only truly digs into you after you’ve seen it, and never lets go.

5. Crash – Los Angeles is not only a city, but a set of memories, a reputation that reaches from the outskirts of the city to L.A. County and clear across the country. In “Crash”, the city is examined through the racial divides that make L.A. what it is, through a stunning moment of clarity by Sandra Bullock, to others like Don Cheadle as a police detective, Matt Dillon as a racist cop, and a bevy of other actors whom Paul Haggis defines as what it is to be in modern-day America, and creates a powerful message.

6. Walk the Line – When Johnny Cash came on to the music scene, his name was his own brand of music, slow-burning and fast-moving. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the deep-voiced troubadour, and sings unexpectedly well, and Reese Witherspoon has found a new wind in her career, in June Carter Cash, being Johnny’s support system even as she tried to stay away from him for a time. She’s got the voice, and a performance that will last throughout this decade.

7. Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – The joy of claymation became even more joyous as the whimsical Wallace & Gromit bounded through the big screen with no problem, from catching rabbits, to Wallace becoming a huge rabbit himself; from cotton-candy hair, and plenty of cheese, to Lady Tottington’s grounds teeming with rabbits. It’s great fun for kids and makes adults feel like kids again.



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