Smile Politely

BEST of Smile Politely

We spent a lot of time this week highlighting what makes our twin cities so fantastic. On this, the final day of BEST week, our publisher and managing team decided to pass on some love to our incredible staff of editors and writers. We couldn’t do this without them.


Jeremiah Stanley’s Local Film Coverage

For information, reviews, and opinions regarding all things film in our community, it doesn’t get any better than Jeremiah Stanley. His knowledge, enthusiasm, and almost poetic way of writing about film make Smile Politely the best publication for movie reviews in Champaign-Urbana.

And when he’s not writing his own reviews, editing the reviews of other writers, or contributing delicious recipes to the Food & Drink section (granted, nothing to do with film, but damn they look good), he’s interviewing local filmmakers and either promoting various festivals throughout C-U himself or helping me out with them. And he did it for most of the year without any help (until October, Jeremiah was the sole editor for the Arts Section).

A perfect example of Jeremiah’s stellar work is last month’s preview of the Roger Ebert Film Festival. Yes, he had help, but the lion’s share of the credit for this comprehensive and informative preview goes to Jeremiah. He didn’t simply read other reviews and reword them for his article. He watched every film that he previewed. And he organized the rest of us who’d volunteered to review a film as well (and trust me, that isn’t easy). And then, when the festival was over, he fucking recapped it. Again, yes, with help, but the imbalance of effort is clear to see.

Nowhere else in Champaign-Urbana does the Roger Ebert Film Festival get as good, as professional, and as thorough coverage as it does at Smile Politely. Nowhere else in Champaign-Urbana does any film festival get as good, as professional, and as thorough coverage as they do at Smile Politely. And that’s because we have Jeremiah Stanley on staff. (TN)


The best hot dog in town, hands down, bar none…

There’s something about a true winner. No matter how hard you try to cut it in half, the end result is there. It’s the best. No questions asked. We’re talking Jordan. We’re talking Lebron. Fuck it. We’re talking Pele. Ali. Whatever.

Vienna Beef hot dogs rise above the rest.

Last Summer, Wonderdogs was inducted to the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame, and Grant Deam was there to report on it. And he did so with grace, and a perspective filled with wonderment and precision.

There are only two places in town, by my calculations, that serve it up. Meatheads is one. But why waste a trip there to get a dog when their griddle burgers are so damned good?

No, just head on over to Wonderdogs: Campustown’s journeyman closer that’s worthy of a Hall of Fame vote. They are located on Wright St., having been displaced in the ’90s from 6th St.

Jay, the owner, is there every day. He makes these dogs the right way. And he deserves your respect and attention. 

Apologies to the vegetarians and vegans among you. But this place is perfect.  (SF)



We need it more than they do: John Steinbacher

In preparation for their last minute performance at Pygmalion last year, John sat down with Matt Talbott of HUM for this spectacular interview. It was an interview without gimmicks, just an incredibly worthwhile read through and through. No nonsense is what HUM was, and still is, all about.

No need for flashiness when you can pack a serious punch into a record like You’d Prefer an Astronaut. Even though the record came out so long ago and had been discussed at length time and time again, this piece is undeniably refreshing and doesn’t feel dated. That was a key part of what made the interview so great. The whole process of creating the beast, and the success that followed its release and critical reception. Even today, 250,000 units sold is astounding from any record, let alone a release from a local band. Sure, the music industry was a bit different back in the nineties, but still, impressive.

Steinbacher captures perspectives from Talbott, as well as local promoter/then HUM tour manager Ward Gollings, and meshes them together to elaborate on the dynamics of the scene back in the mid-nineties, the status of the band, what it meant to be opening and performing in front of thousands of people, and all that remained afterwards.

The piece paints a picture of what life was like before, during, and after their landmark release, which is what makes reading it memorable. It’s what most writers (including myself) shoot for, but frequently fall short of. There’s nothing wrong with writing for the here and now, but just like Astronaut, this piece of writing sticks around for a bit. Well done. (PS)


Smile Politely Radio

Our News & Culture Section is consistently outstanding. We have many writers who contribute amazing work that covers local people, events, projects, businesses, organizations, and sometimes even politics. This section also has interesting, informative, and entertaining categories like Queer Notions, If You’re Bored, Then You’re Boring, and the wonderful Science Politely (I’m particularly proud of this one).

Picking just one article to praise as “best” this past year … well, it was possible, sure, but if I did that, I’d have had to leave out one of the best things about our Culture Section. So I’m cheating. I’m not picking just one article. I’m picking a category: SPodcast, which is where you can access Smile Politely Radio.

Every Friday, John Steinbacher and Jason Brown broadcast their radio show from WEFT 90.1, and the following week a podcast of the show is hosted in SP’s Culture Section. Smile Politely Radio, the brainchild of Steinbacher and Brown, sometimes enhances and further explores an article that we’ve previously published on the site. But they often branch out on their own, speaking with local community leaders, musicians, authors, actors, performance artists, comedians, and political candidates, giving them a platform and a way to communicate with C-U that they might not have through our magazine alone.

My favorite show from last year, if I must choose, would be their live broadcast in Mike ‘n’ Molly’s beer garden, when they made us editors justify our own BEST choices for 2011. That show was a hell of a lot of fun for everyone involved. We had trivia contests, the mayor joined in the fun, we editors didn’t embarrass ourselves too badly, and The Self-Righteous Brothers played.

If you haven’t tuned into this show yet, please do. Or download the podcast from our site every Tuesday (or Wednesday, depending on how busy our hosts are). (TN)


C-U, you suck at Unofficial: Caleb Curtiss

We like to stir things up in the community sometimes, and with such a ridiculous topic Unofficial can be at times, this was something awesome we hadn’t really done before. Caleb Curtiss took to the section and in a mock letter to Champaign-Urbana, put some thoughts on the table about ways to embrace the holiday that people both love and hate (and love to hate). It is a hilarious debacle in many ways.

Caleb made the most of the Unofficial debate through this piece, and it was pretty polarizing, which is what the Opinions section is all about. Whether you strongly agree or disagree, or take an indifferent stance, with Unofficial, creating a discourse around a hot topic is good for the Opinion section because that’s what it is there for. When it comes to Unofficial, there are plenty of pros and cons to the event, what it means to the people in C-U (good or bad), and what it reflects to the rest of the state. Hell, people from out of state come to see what all the fuss is about.

This article points out how kids are going to do basically anything they want, whether the rest of the community or the world wants them to or not. It’s an interesting conversation that warranted some space in our Opinion section back on that dreaded/embraced “holiday” in March.

Sure, the column is ridiculous at times, but that was the point of the whole thing. It was a good method of expressing one side of the argument in a way that would create laughter, while lighting a fire under some people’s asses. A job well done in the Opinion section if you ask me, no matter which side you’re on. (PS)


The article where Jerry Hester finally gets his due since the ’90s

Rob McColley isn’t interested in whether or not you like him. He doesn’t like me, or anybody, really.

He’s self-indulgent. Crass. Brilliant.

I will defend him and his writing until the end of time. I don’t really give two shits who he pisses off, or whether the writers or editors at the magazine, or those who live in the rest of this silly little world, have anything negative to say about him.

I have to defend him all the time. And I wish that he sometimes didn’t piss so many people off, and that the writers and editors at the magazine, or those who live in town, didn’t have anything against him.

No matter. He’s the best sports writer around, with regards to Illinois basketball. And yes, I think Loren Tate deserves his street sign. He’s really good, too.

In this article, we get to know Jerry Hester. I won’t tell you much about it here, because, well, you should read it.

But more than anything, for me, this was Rob showcasing his best. He gets it. And he’s more interested than anyone else who writes about the game, and in particular, this team that plays its home games at the State Farm Center.

Or whatever.

If you love Illini basketball the way so many do, you’d be a fool to not read Rob’s musings. This story in particular was perfect. (SF)


This list compiled by Seth Fein, Patrick Singer, and Tracy Nectoux.

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