Best of Berkeley: Best of the City

Barbara Sullinget/Staff

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Best Place to People Watch: Sproul Plaza

There is nothing like lying on the grass by Sproul Plaza when it’s a sunny day, sipping some Jamba and watching that guy in the shades juggling, while off in the near distance you can hear Yoshua yell, “Kinder, your days are numbered.” Perfect. Conditions are prime for people watching.

You empathize with students who pass by perplexed with their latest graded papers in hand. You feel the awkwardness of the girl trying to tell an ASUC candidate that no, she or he can’t walk her to her Poli Sci class. You watch as that freshman, after having tugged on his lanyard nervously and searched about the GBC with his Naanwich in hand, finally finds his friends by the fountain.

Sproul is a rare place, made a stage for a capella shows, skateboard and fixed-gear bike tricks and controversial bake sales. It has served as a classroom for teach-outs and has been a place of solidarity for countless protests. What’s even more remarkable is how this one section of campus can make your life at UC Berkeley seem so small and familiar and yet continuously new and expansive.

— Dominique Brillon

Best Concert Venue: Zellerbach Hall

Looming gloriously over Lower Sproul, Zellerbach Hall is a campus staple. Offering dazzling concerts and hosting some of the world’s most celebrated artists, this is the prime venue for musical performances. Though sometimes spurned by students for holding mainly classical music events, the concert experience at Zellerbach is unmatched anywhere on campus or in Berkeley.

The arrival at Zellerbach prior to a performance is steeped with vigorous anticipation. As the crowds file into the illustrious building, there is always a sense that something special is about to happen. Somehow Zellerbach brings out the best in people. The venue commands a sense of class, and both artists and audiences dutifully oblige.

Inside Zellerbach, the world transforms into an enchanted hall of auditory pleasure. Musical phrases simply dance around the seats. The space is beautifully accommodating as the audience’s appreciation combines with the music to produce a reciprocal, satiating manifestation of art. For a scintillating live music experience on campus, Zellerbach is the place to go.

— Eytan Schindelhaim

Image: Kira Walker/staff

Best Local Band: POP ETC

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POP ETC, deservedly the best local band, have taken the moods of Berkeley and set them to music. The tingly haze-pop that front man Chris Chu (who graduated from Berkeley with a degree in music) crafted on the band’s second album Big Echo is as capricious as the local weather, with the orchestral brightness of “Excuses” is fogged over by the more sinister tinkling on “Hand Me Downs” and “Stitches.”

The artists formerly known as The Morning Benders have integrated a number of Berkeley-friendly aesthetics into their repertoire, from their D.I.Y. acoustic effort The Bedroom Covers to their convivial concerts (which morph into a jolly sing-alongs by the time the night is over). Also, the now Brooklyn-based band’s recent decisions to change their name to POP ETC — “benders” is a homophobic slur in the U.K. –— may reflect back on the political correctness that permeates the university. And even if their upcoming album fails to change the world via their new Boyz II Men-inspired sound, Chu and company will go down trying. And what else is more Berkeley than that?

— Luca Marzorati

Hate it:

Cute indie bands with soft voices and pop instrumentation are a dime a dozen. That’s why I’m here to preach the gospel of the Based God, or Berkeley rapper Lil B, who deserves to be honored as best local music artist rather than those crooning Cal alums, POP ETC.

A Berkeley High graduate and member of The Pack (remember “Vans” from the hyphy days?), Lil B’s accomplishments shine brighter than the bejeweled bindi on his forehead. Lil B seems to release a new music video every week and has put out three mixtapes in 2012 alone. He has proven to have an undaunted passion for sharing his surrealist visions, releasing the majority of his material for free on the Internet and breaking gender norms with his song lyrics and experimental clothing style.

Lil B is a proponent of positive thinking, which he refers to as being “based.” In addition to his Twitter cult celebrity status, he published a self-help book at the age of 19 and had a sold-out lecture at NYU earlier this month. No other Berkeley artist has ever come close. Thank you, Based God.

— Nastia Voynovskaya

Best Place to Watch a Movie: Shattuck Cinemas

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I’ll be honest with you: If you would like to see a movie on campus or in the surrounding neighborhoods, you will be forced to select one of three venues. To illustrate this choice, I turn to three bears known mostly for their episode with the blonde intruder.

United Artists is Poppa Bear. This theater showcases films with the hottest celebrities and the biggest promotional budgets. These are also the hardest movies to enjoy.

On the other hand, the Pacific Film Archive is Momma Bear. Movie snobs will tell you the coolest movies are screened here, but let’s face it: They attract the smallest audiences. These films are traditionally shot in the softest hues because the PFA only plays movies that are at least 40 years old.

Enter Baby Bear, the family moderate. When he goes to the movies, he goes to Landmark Theatres, because these movies are just right. Shattuck Cinemas, offering the widest selection of films of the Landmark branches, appeases those with minimal standards of taste and an appreciation for contemporary cinematography.

— S.C. Woolf

Hate it:

Two words: no flashbacks. And I’m not talking about my last mushroom trip. That’s between me and the UFOs. Why would I shell out five percent of my monthly income to have my eyeballs violated by the latest Hollywood slop with all the other piglets when I can spend half that down the street at the UA on Thursdays where the real movies are playing?

Shattuck Cinemas doesn’t really stray from the tried-and-true Hollywood rom-coms, CGI epics and 3-D monsterpieces that have become so trite. “Robocop” — now that’s a movie, especially when the whole crowd knows that there will, in fact, be trouble.

Skip the lame Tinsel Town dreck and join your fellow drunkards in a night of movie theater debauchery. Throw popcorn, take that call, tell the guy with the jewfro to get the fuck out of the way.

But most importantly, enjoy the Hollywood of old that gave Harrison Ford a whip and proved his manliness, the Hollywood that made Kevin Costner (shudder) a star.

All you’ll get at Shattuck Cinemas is a sore ass and a sense of guilt.

— True Shields