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Staff Picks

  The Best of Knoxville

Best Museum
Knoxville Museum of Art
What can we say about the KMA? Their shows are incredible and, this year, have included a visual journey to India, an excursion through both the new masters and the avant garde set, and, soon, a trip through the luminous works of Tiffany. But KMA is about more than hanging stuff on bare white walls. The museum just opened Delicious Mosquitoes, an interactive, multi-sensory treat for kids. Alive After Five, the perennial Friday night fun fest that features hot jazz bands still draws dancers to the museum's Great Hall. KMA is a true East Tennessee treasure.
Runners Up: McClung Museum, Museum of Appalachia

Best Art Gallery
Bennett Galleries
We might just as well retire this category and declare Bennett the best gallery Knoxville has ever seen. It has won, hands down, six years in a row now. Sure, Bennett is in this to make a little money, but since opening in 1974 the gallery has always shown a dedication to and love of the arts—nurturing talented local artists, showcasing national exhibits, and offering non-profits like Side-by-Side and Wellness Community a place for shows (at no cost).
Runners Up: Hanson, Tomato Head

Best Local Theatre Group
Clarence Brown Theatre
Last year, Theatre Central squeaked the crown off of the head of the reigning champ Clarence Brown. This year, CBT reclaims its hold on the readers' poll, squeaking (but just barely) past Theatre Central and Actors Co-op. In a way, it's not a surprise, given that this had been one of the stronger CBT seasons in recent memory, with the heartfelt Dance in Time opening their season and a remarkable Cabaret closing out the school year. Next up is Always, Patsy Cline, a show about the legendary singer that has won the hearts of audiences everywhere. And Knoxville, home to some of country music's greatest, should be no different.
Runners Up: Theatre Central, Actors Co-op

Best Local Dance Company
Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble
This crown just keeps getting passed around Knoxville's diverse dance community. Two years ago City Ballet walk away with the prize; last year it was Circle Modern Dance. And this year, the kids over at the Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble pirouetted ahead of the pack. TCDE has been around for over 18 years, founded by artistic director Dorothy Floyd to give young dancers a chance to hone their skills. The company has performed all over the country, as well as traveled to more exotic locales, like China. Any Tennessee child between the ages of 8 and 14 can audition, and can stay in the company through the age of 17.
Runners Up: Circle Modern Dance, City Ballet

Best Movie Theater
Regal West Town 9
Stadium seating and quality sound are the only way to see a movie. Thanks to this newly built mega-plex, you can catch a flick in style, without having to worry about a basketball player or a lady in a big ol' hat sitting in front of you. 'Course, the Regal West Town also has a prime location, wedged between Banana Republic and Sears in the sumptuous West Town Mall, so you can feed both your shopping and movie joneses without ever having to move your car. And while its faux city block architecture might not fool you into believing you're in Times Square (or even Market Square), it's at least got some panache—which is more than you can say about most multiplexes.
Runners Up: Regal Downtown West/Cinema Art, Tennessee Theatre

Best Local Actress
Jayne Morgan
Perennial winner Patricia Neal actually scored slightly more votes, but with due respect bordering on idolatry, we again disqualified her over the little technicality that she doesn't live here and hasn't been a regular on the Knoxville stage in over 50 years. We nearly relented, maybe because she was in town last month and we encountered her on a downtown sidewalk, and maybe because when she smiled at us we felt a little like Gary Cooper and Paul Newman and all the other guys she has smiled at over the years.
But heck, we feel the same way when truly local actress Jayne Morgan smiles at us, and she has a strong supporting role in the new independent film The Good Baby, and got good reviews of her performance last month at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival. Amy Hubbard, the young genie behind the prodigious Actors Co-op, polled next. We'll call her our best supporting actress.
Runners Up: Amy Hubbard, Katie Norwood

Best Local Actor
Brad Renfro
It's the kind of life story Hollywood publicists drool over: Brad Renfro, small-town boy straight from the trailer park, is plucked from obscurity to co-star in the John Grisham thriller, The Client. Despite his sudden fame and fortune, the young man insists on staying in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. to live with his grandmother. Such storybook humility! Wellll... there have been all those interviews he's been giving ("F—-k America. I could care less what it thinks," he told Detour, for instance), and then there's that run-in he had with the police last year when he was discovered to have marijuana and cocaine in his possession. And did we mention that motorcycle accident he had not long ago? Nevertheless, Renfro did have another showy role this year in the Stephen King adaptation Apt Pupil, and he's managed to extend his flavor-of-the-month status to several years and counting. (Note to David Keith and John Collum fans—sorry, but the actors have to live here 'round the clock to qualify as "local.")
Runners Up: Steve Dupree, Bill Householder & Mark Hatmaker (tie)

Best Local Artist
Jim Gray
We at Metro Pulse believe in populism. Democracy. The common woman and man. And so if our readers' poll dictates that the finest talent on the diverse and moderately energetic Knoxville art scene is none other than Jim Gray—he of the carefully rendered Smoky Mountain spring scenes, he of the misty mornings, he of the multiple galleries bearing his name—well, if the poll dictates that, then we at Metro Pulse would have to be pretty damn snobbish and elitist, wouldn't we, to suggest that maybe the defining aesthetic at play in Mr. Gray's work is a certain craftsy kitschiness, a certain sentimental simplification, a certain mushy romanticization of the natural world. Yes we would. The people have spoken.
Runners Up: Richard Jolley & Ryan Collins (tie)

Best Kids Fun Place
With foam spheres whizzing by every few seconds amid a din of childish squealing, Regal's FunScape at West Town Mall is the kind of place parents might dread at first—because their kids will never want to leave. But once the action starts, the inner child is unleashed and fully grown adults are soon acting more immature than their offspring. The main attraction at FunScape is the Fun Machine Family Interactive Play Area, a padded chamber filled with air-powered Willy Wonka machines dedicated to flinging thousands of foam balls—strangely combative, but pretty darn fun.
Runners Up: Celebration Station, Fort Kid