Best Indie Movie Theater 2015 | Valley Art Theater | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Seventy-seven years after it first opened, the former College Theatre continues to kick cinematic ass. Valley Art's consistently interesting roster of foreign films, independent movies, and arty flicks appeals to ASU jocks and cineasts alike. Despite its hipness quotient and a 15-year-old $1 million renovation that modernized the old-fashioned theater, it still retains its vintage charm. The only single-screen theater in the Valley, the venue is one of dozens in the Harkins chain, which spans five states and includes more than 400 screens, and it's the one where the whole chain began. Owner and CEO Dan Harkins is wise enough to let his programmers slot rare fare at Valley Art, which in recent years has shown us Kuchar Brothers festivals and animation extravaganzas, as well as small movies getting notice in New York or L.A. that other commercial houses won't risk showing. Valley Art is a beautiful thing.

The weird thing about Pollack Tempe Cinemas is that it's better than most theaters — so why is it "discount?" The answer, of course, is in its last-chance movie selection. If you just have to see it on the big screen but missed it, then realize it's playing at Pollack, that's serendipity. Three bucks for the flick ($2 on Tuesdays), plus a visit to a museum-like theater that shows how it cares about film and the people who watch it. What's not to love about a place with a cabinet full of life-size presidents? Other mannequins, standees, and various Hollywood-related items that owner Michael Pollack's collected over the years decorate shelves above the lobby. It's got a hometown feel and several old-school video games to go along with its 1980s prices. The comfy seats and good sound system make for a two-thumbs-up experience — depending on the movie, of course. But then, if it sucks, you didn't waste much cash. If possible, we'll wait till it gets to Pollack.

The concept still seems unreal: Drinking a glass of beer or a cocktail while watching a tasty flick on the big screen was something only Europeans could do for most of our lives. Americans were stuck with soda, candy, and popcorn until someone came up with the simple idea to offer quality seats, quality food, and — of course — quality booze. Several luxury theaters have been open in the Valley for a few years now, but we keep returning to the AMC Dine-In Theatres Esplanade 14 for that upscale moviegoing comfort. Tucked in the Esplanade development's citified compact strip mall with a parking garage, it's a far more peaceful experience to see a movie there than, say, Arizona Mills Mall. The recliners alone make the higher ticket price worth it. If the movie's boring, watch out — it's easy to fall into a deep sleep as you lay nearly prone, legs stretched out just like at home. Good or bad movie, we love using the call button between the seats at least a couple of times during the flick to summon our next drink. We can get used to this.

Readers choice: AMC Esplanade 14

Forget the Oscars and Sundance. What local filmmakers and cinephiles really get excited about is the annual Phoenix Film Festival. Bringing in nationally known titles, directors, and heartthrobs — er, talent — is obviously cool and exciting, but it's the spotlight this festival shines on the Valley's own talent that makes us swoon. Plus, PFF is all about allowing audience members to interact with filmmakers, scheduling in-theater Q&A sessions right after the screenings. So go for it and ask the director of the quirky indie rom-com you just watched what exactly that little blue car was supposed to mean. We're sure the filmmakers involved with PFF would be happy to explain.


Readers Choice: Phoenix Film Festival

One of the main forces that drove Stateside Presents' head honcho, Charlie Levy, to create Viva PHX in 2014 was the fact that he simply doesn't like traditional music festivals very much. Who can blame him? Giant crowds of people in exposed, enormous fields, listening to bands amplified from 500 feet away? Yuck. So Levy created Viva PHX, a festival based on the urban model of South by Southwest. (Disclosure: New Times is a sponsor.)

Instead of one or two giant stages, Viva PHX takes over dozens of stages throughout downtown Phoenix. For one magical night, giant crowds of music lovers fill spaces of downtown usually devoid of people, even on a Saturday night. This year, Jimmy Eat World singer Jim Adkins' solo set was just a few steps away from kickass rock band Thee Oh Sees, who played just blocks away from Valley locals Gospel Claws. No event better showcases the potential of Phoenix as a music city. If Viva PHX proves anything, it's that we're more like Austin than we thought.

Readers Choice: McDowell Mountain Music Festival

Usually when we hear the words "arts festival," we think of ceramic tissue boxes and metal wine racks — and not in a good way. But Grand Avenue has stamped its own brand of quirky onto the concept of an arts festival and come up with a much better way for you to spend a Saturday afternoon. Past festivals on Phoenix's infamous diagonal drag have included sculpture shows hanging from trees, a recycled fashion show, neighborhood tours, open artist studios, and, yes, plenty of art for sale. We can't wait to see what's on the agenda this year.

Readers Choice: Tempe Arts Festival

Georganne Bryant has the best taste in town, and she's kind enough to share it with the patrons of her boutique, Frances. She commandeers the parking lot at Medlock Plaza, where Frances is located, for Crafeteria on the first Friday in December. For us, it marks the beginning of the holiday season in Phoenix. With live music, food trucks, and the best craft purveyors in town, you're sure to make a dent in your shopping — and run into just about everyone you know.

For people who are really into beer, the problem with beer festivals is that the offerings are usually a bit pedestrian. Sure, an event can boast a selection of 500 different ales, but if it's all stuff you can buy at Safeway, what's the point? Real, Wild and Woody is a beer geek's beer fest — every single beer poured by the 65-plus invited breweries is either cask-fermented (real), sour (wild), or aged in barrels that once held bourbon, tequila, or some other tasty spirit (woody), and many are so rare they're only available at the event. Admission ain't cheap — $57 for 20 tasting tickets — but it's a small price to pay for any beer connoisseur looking to spend four hours ticking rarities, meeting brewers, and throwing around terms like "horse-blanket aroma" and "creamy mouthfeel" with people who actually understand what the hell you're talking about.

Readers Choice: Tour de Fat

Cocktail pilgrimages. They're a real thing. Booze enthusiasts have been known to squeeze them into two-day business trips or sneak away from family vacations to pay homage at whatever can't-miss bar they might be within reasonable distance of. This insatiable need to experience the hottest cocktail offerings from around the country is what makes Top Bars of America so appealing. For this annual event, part of Arizona Cocktail Week, some of the best bars in the country and world come to Phoenix to pour drinks. This year, we got to sample cocktails from bars including the Dead Rabbit and Death and Co. from New York City and Herbs and Rye in Las Vegas. It's not exactly the same as visiting the destination, but it does cost significantly less.

The Devoured Culinary Classic has been the hottest food event in the Valley for some time, but the organizers aren't sitting back on their laurels and enjoying the ride. This year, they expanded the festivities to include four events over several weeks. In addition to the two-day Devoured Culinary Classic on Saturday and Sunday, the celebration of local food and drink included the Devoured Bartending Competition and Palette to Palate, an evening that brought together local artists and their culinary counterparts. The weekend tasting events are still the centerpiece of the shebang with tickets selling out months in advance, and once you've attended it's easy to see why. Many of the top local chefs and restaurants pull out all the stops for the Devoured Culinary Classic, splurging on ingredients such as oysters and foie gras and even serving their fare in photo-worthy style — think, miniature milk bottles and faux wooden plates. Every year, we eat so much we think we'll burst, but as soon as we leave, we start counting down to next year's gluttony.

Readers Choice: Scottsdale Culinary Festival

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of