Best People Watching 2016 | Phoenix Comicon | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Earlier this year, Phoenix Comicon shattered previous attendance records. And while there were plenty of reasons to go nerd out with likeminded people — big-name special guests, thought-provoking panels, an overwhelmingly packed exhibitors' hall — there was one particular reason that we braved the heat and staked out the Phoenix Convention Center: Phoenix Comicon offers the best people-watching the city has to offer. And we're not just talking about ogling the impressive costumes of Deadpool, Harley Quinn, and Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, even though that could be reason enough. Even the non-cosplayer attendees are fascinating, and inspire enough questions to keep us entertained for hours. Why are you here? What could possibly be inside of that mystery box you're clutching so tightly? And where are you planning to put all of those Pop! Vinyl figures? We may never know the answers, but while we're watching this subculture in action, we'll never stop asking.

Yeah, there are quite a few places where you can have a beer with your movie. But do those big chain theaters have Prince movie marathons, Four Peaks on draft, lectures from seasoned screenwriters on why Jaws is still legit, and regular local film showcases spotlighting aspiring Scorseses among us? Um, nope. But downtown indie standby FilmBar sure does. Add to the list indie films and documentaries you won't find anywhere else, DJ nights, art shows, and snacks from the Tamale Store, and you get the picture. The flagstone-adorned little building is ideal for movie nights when you're in the mood to linger at the bar post-screening and compare notes with fellow moviegoers.

Pop quiz: What costs $3? Let's see. Acceptable responses include two sticks of loose gum, a really big bobby pin, or four off-brand crayons. Oh, and also a ticket to see a movie (a real, actual, professionally made film) at Pollack Tempe Cinemas on the south side of the Valley. The lineup at the strip-mall theater delivers — and not just a bunch of big-screen stinkers. Nu-uh. At Pollack, we slackers who kept meaning to see the latest blockbuster in the Avengers franchise are rewarded for such laziness and poor planning with dirt-cheap tickets, eye candy by way of lobby memorabilia displays, and literal candy at prices that won't have you groaning over how you forgot to sneak in Skittles. Pretty sweet.

When Harkins finally shuttered its tiny indie Scottsdale outpost Camelview 5 (the property's owners had announced plans to bulldoze the theater for mall expansion), Phoenicians commiserated with both sadness and rage at the Valley's inability to hang on to anything culturally cool. But then we saw the theater that replaced its cozy, five-screen predecessor. Camelview at Fashion Square includes 14 screens, reclining leather seats, and a dedication to screening the arty flicks the 5 was famed for showing. While the excitement of pairing a cocktail with the big screen is still as real as FOMO, we appreciate the state-of-the-art sound and visual components at the new Camelview, and the fact that they won't interrupt the movie to deliver another basket of fries to the bottomless pit in the back.

The Phoenix Film Festival isn't where you go to see big blockbusters. Instead, it offers films just on the cusp of breaking out, indie comedies, weird horror, documentaries, television programs, and other oddball flicks. In 2016, the festival screened movies like Chad Hartigan's hip-hop coming of age comedy Morris from America, Ricky Kennedy's mockumentary The History of Time Travel, and the pilot of Starz's The Girlfriend Experience. Spread over a week on seven screens, the works are varied and range in quality, but the curation is smart and well-put-together year after year.

The Errl Cup was created by Jim Morrison to help promote cannabis in Arizona while simultaneously holding dispensaries and caregivers accountable for delivering high-quality medicine to patients. The events — The Errl Cup, the 710 Degree Cup, and Errl Camp — all offer the opportunity for Arizona medical marijuana patients to enjoy consuming cannabis in a fun, festival-style environment. Dispensaries and caregivers submit products to be tested by a third-party laboratory, C4 Laboratories, as well as a panel of judges. In addition to the voluntary samples, the Errl Cup team secret-shops additional dispensaries. Test results are publicly available at the event, and winners are chosen at the judge's discretion. A unique combination of fun and education make these events a must for any patient looking to learn more about the Arizona medical cannabis landscape.

Every big city needs its signature festival that people from all over the country (and if it's good enough, the world) flock to. Los Angeles has FYF Fest. Denver has the Great American Beer Festival. Chicago has Taste of Chicago. And while Phoenix does have the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, the Strong Beer Festival, and the Devoured Culinary Classic, we think Bird City Comedy Festival could be the one to really put Phoenix on the map. You know, in the festival world, at least. Sure, this hilarious fest just debuted this year, but with national headliners like Emily Heller of the Baby Geniuses podcast and Beth Stelling of @midnight and Jimmy Kimmel Live, plus plenty of spotlight for local talent, we can't wait to see what comes next.

Atop concrete floors and divided into rooms without ceilings by bright white walls often tacked with notes and works in progress are the studios for select graduate arts students at Arizona State University. Despite the sliding metal doors conjuring a jail-cell-like look, we imagine Grant Street Studios is a great spot to hole up while prepping for a thesis exhibition and bouncing ideas off other student artists. What's more? The studios are open once a year during Phoenix's annual artwalk blowout called Art Detour, during which anyone can tour the spaces, peek in on artists at work, discuss what they're up to, and see someone who very well might be the next big thing.

Andrew Pielage

Designed by Midcentury Modern architect Al Beadle, this semi-subterranean gallery wrapped in a white scrim beautifully backlit at night, is itself a work of art. Lisa Sette, a gallerist for more than three decades, presents visual art in various media, as well as installation and performance pieces from emerging and established artists for local and international art aficionados. Recently, the gallery has featured new works by local artists including Rachel Bess and Carrie Marill, and presented the first gallery exhibition of works by British artist Bruce Munro, whose primary medium is light. The gallery represents its artists at renowned international art fairs, and works with new and experienced collectors, as well as collecting museums, to build and enhance their assemblages. In doing so, it inspires local artists to pursue exceptional artistry and technique, while setting the Arizona arts scene on the world stage.

Empty space in a bustling city can be such a drag. But Isaac and Gabriel Fortoul, the brothers and artists who've adopted the moniker 40Owls, are making sure one beautiful space in downtown Phoenix doesn't sit completely unused. Their pop-up gallery inside an office space along the Central Corridor has great bones — exposed ceiling rafters, red brick walls, and concrete floors. During a March exhibition titled "Fortoul Brothers Phoenix," the brothers transformed the space into an immersive art experience. Visitors walked through an installation of giant teardrop sculptures suspended from the rafters as they arrived, then explored paintings and sculptural works — including a pair of pieces connected by a winding path of moist sand. Live DJ music and a bar with Fortoul Brothers art as a backdrop is always part of the pop-up gallery experience here, and there's always at least a small sampling of merchandise with iconic Fortoul Brothers images, which include nude women, pineapples, and water drops. People who go know they'll get the full package, making the 40Owls pop-up gallery a place to not just see art, but to experience it.

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