Standiford made his reputation as the unofficial godfather of the South Florida crime thriller by way of an intrepid building contractor named John Deal. Deal is a world-weary average-guy protagonist with a knack for getting in and out of bad situations. While the credit for this popular character (appearing in six novels) goes to Standiford's tightly woven, literate prose, the success of the series itself rests at least in part on the setting -- ever-mysterious and unlikely South Florida. But Standiford's yen to pitch the Everyman against the nearly insurmountable forces of this absurd place was turned around on itself when he attempted an ambitious nonfiction book, published last year, about an ambitious man who proved even less tractable than the strange land he conquered. The man: railroad baron Henry Flagler. The book: Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean, in which Flagler extended his railway from the mainland south of Miami to Key West, more than 150 miles away, thereby turning mosquito-infested islands into margarita-sodden tourist traps begging for the next hurricane to wipe their stain from Florida Bay. Standiford pays the bills as an English professor and director of the creative writing program at Florida International University.

Okay, Closer isn't really a 'zine, and it really isn't from Miami (nightclub owner -- Blue, Respectable Street -- Rodney Mayo publishes it out of West Palm Beach), but there's definitely a freewheeling, anything-goes attitude typical of 'zines running through its pages. A recent issue offered the requisite fashion spread, poetry, a story about Miami Beach's Aquabooty club, a reprint of a Salon interview with Camille Paglia, a profile on breakbeat producers Jackyl and Hyde, features on visual artists Jiae Hwang and Alex Barrera, and contributions from long-time New Times scribe Marli Guzzetta. In other words, Closer is all over the place, just like South Florida.

Readers Choice: Ocean Drive

Castillo, a Dominican who's been on the team since 1996, grabbed national attention last year with a 35-game hitting streak and so many stolen bases that state troopers were looking to send him to Starke. He's risen from a kind of low-confidence junior to a second baseman with remarkably few errors and a batting average that climbed from .240 in 1997 to a .304 average over the last three seasons. He can handle outspeed stuff down the zone but tends to struggle a little with fast balls up. Castillo won his second NL stolen-base crown last year, barely holding off Juan Pierre. This year Luis and Juan are expected to make the most exciting base-stealing pair in baseball, and thus help the injury-prone pitching staff once they make it to first.

Readers Choice: Mike Lowell

Now the lone moviehouse in all the beaches, the Regal South Beach undoubtedly benefits from having a captive audience at its disposal. Weekend evenings can be disconcertingly chaotic at times, but its location at the corner of Lincoln and Alton roads makes it unbeatable for the perennially favorite combo: dinner and a movie. With summer upon us, beat the heat and the crowds by slipping in for an afternoon matinee (especially midweek, all the better to feel superior to the 9-to-5 wage slaves). Emerge from the cool darkness into the gentler rays of late afternoon, and amble down to an outdoor table at one of the many local establishments for a libation over which to debate whether the plot of The Matrix: Reloaded makes more sense than that of the original.

Readers Choice: Sunset Place 24

Last year MoCA featured a large exhibit of works by Jack Pierson, a midcareer American conceptualist in his early forties. While certainly grateful for the attention, Pierson expressed surprise, even embarrassment, at having a museum retrospective so early in his life. But that is exactly the sort of thing we've come to expect from MoCA. Museum director Bonnie Clearwater has made a commitment to show and acquire works by emerging artists such as Pierson, and in doing so has become a national trend-setter, not to mention creating the most dynamic art museum in South Florida. MoCA also has made a commitment to our local community of young artists, and has provided them with exposure and experience they couldn't hope to find in most large metropolitan areas. Not every MoCA venture has met with universal praise, but we applaud the willingness to take risks.

No doubt about it, the hands-down winner this year was the touring production of the long-running, groundbreaking Broadway musical hit, featuring director Julie Taymor's stunning visual imagination. Using a blend of lithe, live actors; huge carnival-like puppets; and an array of exotic theatrical traditions, Taymor took the popular Disney animated movie and did it one better, reinventing it as spectacular, unforgettable theater. The Lion King blended traditional American musical elements with classic literature (the story of a dispossessed lion cub is a reworking of Hamlet) together with a joyful celebration of African culture. The show was also a happy merger of art and commerce as the Broward Center for the Performing Arts was packed throughout the show's sold-out run.

Although this past season featured several premieres, the best of them was Nilo Cruz's steamy, sophisticated saga with its heady blend of raw emotion and poetic language set against an era of wrenching cultural and political change. The play was commissioned by the New Theatre and its artistic director Rafael de Acha, and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Cruz, who was born in Cuba but came to Miami at age ten, now spends much of his time in New York. His reputation skyrocketed recently when, in the course of one week, he was honored twice -- first with the American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award and then with the Pulitzer Prize, both for Anna in the Tropics. Despite his now widely recognized talent, Cruz has been largely ignored in his hometown. Fortunately the New Theatre has commissioned yet another play -- and residency -- for next season. As Miami struggles to reinvent itself as a cosmopolitan, world-class community, perhaps it's time for us to recognize that world-class artists like Nilo Cruz are already here.

Okay, the art itself wasn't outdoors; it was inside cargo containers clustered on the sand across Collins Avenue from the Bass Museum in Miami Beach. But let's be serious: This was outdoor art at its best. Hundreds of works of contemporary art were displayed in twenty containers, each housing an alternative gallery from around the globe. From Madrid, from Tokyo, from Los Angeles, from London, from Berlin -- cool stuff you'd never seen before landed right on the beach. Some of it was challenging, some pleasing, some outrageous -- and all of it was an amazing contribution to Miami's cultural scene. See you on the beach next year.

The best man on a mediocre team, center Jokinen leads the Panthers in points, goals, and assists. He was expected to be a star after Los Angeles selected him third in the 1997 draft, but he ended up being wildly inconsistent his first four seasons. Since then he has greatly improved, which is good news for the Panthers, who've been losing steam (on the ice and at the box office) since handing the 1996 Stanley Cup to Colorado. Today Jokinen and goalie Roberto Luongo are playing almost as if hockey actually matters in South Florida. Does it?

Readers Choice: Roberto Luongo

When you're baked, nothing beats a carnival of lights. Santa's Enchanted Forest, which runs from early November through the first week of January, is a great place to bug out and munch out. First you go through the acid-inspired Christmas displays, enhanced by more than three million flickering Christmas lights draped overhead in the forest of Australian pines. Along the way you encounter the off-the-chain performances of Kachunga the alligator, Dondi the Elephant, and Randall's High Diving Pigs. For the truly adventurous, test your limits by climbing aboard any of the looping, twirling, twisting carnival rides operated by substance-impaired carnies. Talk about a thrill. But best of all, Santa's is a great place to alleviate the munchies. Succulent turkey legs, tangy barbecued chicken, jumbo-size corn dogs, piping-hot ears of corn, and our personal favorite: sweet elephant ears.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®