Best Memoir 2012 | American Desperado, by Jon Roberts and Evan Wright | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

Carl Hiaasen — South Florida's reigning king of fiction that's almost as unbelievable as local headlines — once said of his novels' bad guys: "I always try to burden even the villains with some weird predilection they have to cope with. It helps make them memorable and gives them a human side." Former drug smuggler Jon Roberts, who achieved an outlaw's fame when he costarred in the documentary Cocaine Cowboys, was as gleefully villainous as any literary character. He was a mob thug turned Vietnam War murderer — readily admitting to skinning Vietcong alive and killing village women and children — turned filthy rich and incredibly violent coke importer. He once eluded cops by kicking through the windows of two squad cars, while handcuffed, leaving a trail of hundred-dollar bills behind him. Hell, in 2009, he threatened the life of a reporter from this publication. But in his memoir, American Desperado, his co-author, accomplished war journalist Evan Wright, somehow dragged enough weird predilections out of Roberts to make the old, evil bastard sympathetic. At one point, Roberts, an unlikely animal lover, recalled his deep fondness for a glass room he constructed in his Delray Beach house. During wild South Florida electrical storms, he liked to lie there with his model wife, his 150-pound pet cougar named Cucha, and his killer dogs, and watch rain lash the glass. He had spent his teenage years as a bloodthirsty orphan after his mafioso dad was deported and his mother passed away. Roberts died in horrible, karmic fashion from the rapid spread of cancer a month after the memoir was published. But the sparely described image of him ensconced behind glass with his strange, makeshift family, marveling at the natural power of a storm, said something about the swaggering bad guy's perpetual loneliness. And, even more remarkably, about his vulnerability.

This year, the Miami Herald was a Pulitzer finalist for its series "Neglected to Death," about horrifying abuse and deadly neglect in Florida's assisted living facilities. The series was reported by Michael Sallah and Carol Marbin Miller — along with Rob Barry, who has since left the paper — and as a result of their yearlong investigation, 13 offending facilities were shut down and the state penalized nearly three dozen others. Lives were saved — lives of otherwise marginalized, voiceless, defenseless people like so many of the others whose stories were told in "Neglected to Death." Is there a better use of newsprint than that? As important as this series has been, it's worth noting that it isn't unlike the other work Sallah and Marbin Miller have produced during their careers. Sallah has won two Pulitzers for reporting on war crimes and public housing corruption, and Marbin Miller has done incalculable good in chronicling child welfare problems in the state. If you see either of their bylines above an article, it's a safe bet that what follows is essential reading that will reverberate in Florida well past the final punctuation mark.

Earlier this year, journalist Terence Cantarella re-created a two-decade-old experiment by legendary Miami New Times writer Sean Rowe. Like Rowe, Cantarella bought a canoe, launched it into Biscayne Bay, and navigated all of Miami-Dade County via its neglected canals. Instead of writing about the trip, though, Cantarella told his story primarily through audio. In Dade, there's only one place for that kind of radio storytelling: WLRN's narrative innovator, Under the Sun. After Cantarella paddled his way through the Biltmore Golf Course, battled hordes of mosquitoes, and discovered that locals are way friendlier than advertised (someone even left a cooler of cold beer out for him!), he told his tale on Under the Sun. It's exactly the kind of project the show has pioneered — from narratives about religion in Haiti after a devastating earthquake to a series of personal stories of real Miamians — and won numerous awards for, including an Edward R. Murrow prize and regional awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. Whatever story Under the Sun tells, we'll be listening.

Brindley "Bo the Lover" Marshall might not be the best-known radio personality in Miami, and he's certainly not the slickest, but he's definitely the hardest working and most consistent. The founder of Hot 97.7 FM ("The hottest, hypest radio station in South Florida"), which is by most accounts the longest-running underground station in Miami, can be heard at all hours of the day and night. In fact, if we hadn't heard him stumble over the same word on a few occasions, we might have figured he was broadcasting live 24/7. Highly regarded in the local hip-hop community for his early support of artists such as Trick Daddy, Trina, and Brianna, Bo the Lover has also been an indispensable asset to the local pirate radioscape. He emerged as a spokesman of sorts for airwave pirates after a 1999 FCC raid, which briefly shut down his station, and he's been a vocal supporter of Hot 97.7's home base of Liberty City, where he has led drives to raise money for families of murder victims. Perhaps most important, in an era of highly formatted radio programming, Bo the Lover is one of the few remaining DJs who emphasize spirited conversation and music in equal measure.

Sports talk radio is largely a vast, arid wasteland of vapid, mind-numbing obtuseness. Angry, failed, and washed-up athletes-turned-mike-jocks saturate the airwaves with meathead nonsense that feeds the bloated beast of sports cliché and celebrates antiquated and lazy-minded notions of sports myth and misinformation. But then there's Dan Le Batard and his afternoon drive show on 790 the Ticket offering a refreshing alternative. Yes, this is the same Dan Le Batard who wanted to get into the human element of Ricky Williams's abrupt retirement from the Miami Dolphins in 2004 when everyone else simply wanted to burn the running back in effigy. This is the same Dan Le Batard who can come across as a condescending, player-apologist, let's-make-every-topic-somehow-about-race know-it-all. But the Cuban-American University of Miami grad is also mostly right. And he's a fan of fun. Le Batard is as intelligent as he is silly — equal parts college professor and clown. And that's exactly why his is the highest-rated sports talk program on the radio from 3 to 7 every weekday. Along with cohost John "Stugotz" Weiner — who plays the perfect foil to Dan's academic, abstract, and nontraditional take on sports — Le Batard covers everything from Miami's pro and college teams to pop culture and animals. And it's his love of stats, intellectual discourse, and self-deprecating humor that make him a must-listen for all Miami sports fans. That, and his hilarious viral YouTube rants about the Miami Heat.

Every weekday, Ricardo Brown and Lourdes Ubieta provide Miami with a double dose of politics. Their show on Actualidad (WURN-AM, 1020) is like a cortadito to the cerebral cortex, skipping from local news to national and international politics so easily that before you know it, you've forgone your usual afternoon siesta and actually learned something. Unlike many Hispanic radio personalities, however, they don't ignore Anglo or African-American Miami. Case in point: They interviewed Miami New Times columnist Luther Campbell last year when he ran for mayor. On a recent show, Brown, a Cuban who has won four Emmy Awards and traveled more widely than Anderson Cooper, discussed the Trayvon Martin killing with a leading Miami attorney. In his warm, deep voice, Brown expressed disbelief that Sanford police had threatened journalists reporting the case. "How are they going to arrest you for sending an email to a public figure whose information might be important in a death investigation?" he asked. "As far as I know, asking questions is still legal in the United States." Alongside Brown, Ubieta's rapid-fire, Venezuelan-accented commentary and incisive wit come in handy for fielding the dozens of calls the duo takes on the air every day. Together, they're a doble espreso de noticias instead of that weak, watered-down stuff on other stations.

Djanet Sears's meticulously complex Harlem Duet is a provocative play that deals with race, sex, and mental illness in the black community. When the M Ensemble performed the play in March, the troupe turned to University of Miami drama professor Lowell Williams to take on the challenge of bringing out all of the show's multifaceted and nuanced layers. Williams, who holds a master's degree in psychology from Kent State, took an eclectic and talented cast and coached it into performing one of the finer dramas on a Miami stage in some time. The ever-modest Williams swore that his cast, made up of veterans such as John Archie and up-and-comers such as Ethan Henry, made the play excel. But tackling subjects such as interracial marriage and sexual politics in the African-American community takes a strong hand steering the production. Williams's direction was particularly crucial for the role of Billie, a woman dealing with a deteriorating psyche, played by Christina Alexander (not coincidentally our winner this year for Best Actress). "I told Christina that she can't play both sane and insane at one time," Williams said. "I told her not to get caught up in trying to bleed them together. A lot of actors make the mistake of playing competing emotions at the same time." The result was an outstanding performance from Alexander and a powerful, resonant production from the M Ensemble.

With all the handwringing that University of Miami fans were doing last year, they might have missed a historic, lineman-shredding effort by their sophomore running back. While former booster Nevin Shapiro was promising to destroy UM football and a decidedly mediocre 6-6 season unraveled on the field, Lamar Miller accomplished something no Cane had done in nearly a decade: topping 1,000 yards on the ground. (The last guy to do it? You may have heard of Willis McGahee.) In Miller's first season as a starter, the five-foot-11, 212-pound Miami Killian Senior High grad stiff-armed his way to seven different hundred-yard games, bashed in nine touchdowns, and finished with 1,272 yards on the year. Sadly for the orange-and-green, soon after his final game, the 20-year-old wrecking ball tweeted a farewell to the U — "It was a blessing to be a Miami Hurricane," he wrote — and declared for the NFL draft. Let's hope someone at Dolphins HQ took note of the righteous ass-kicking Miller left on the field in his last year in Coral Gables.

Unless you live in Southwest Dade, the Tropical Park Tennis Center isn't exactly convenient — but therein lies its unique appeal. You can actually nab a court without lurking for hours or booking days or weeks in advance. Sure, reservations are recommended during the peak hours of 6 to 9 p.m. (courts are open till 10 Monday through Thursday and 8:15 on weekends), but stop by on a weekday afternoon and you and your partner might just find yourselves playing in solitude. The dozen courts are well manicured, with few if any of the disorienting cracks that mar most public tennis courts. And if you find yourself in a queue for a court, there's almost always room to practice your stroke on one of eight nearby racquetball courts. Plus the price isn't bad: $3 per person per hour before 6 p.m. and $4 thereafter.

Plenty of films were shot in Miami this year. But only one of them featured the life story of 2 Live Crew's Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell, as told by two of our city's quirkiest and most entertaining artists: filmmakers Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva. Are we biased, considering that both Leyva and Mayer have won New Times MasterMind Awards and that Uncle Luke writes a column for our publication? Perhaps. But we're sure as hell not alone in fawning over this film. Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke received a rousing welcome at festivals from Sundance to South by Southwest. (It might have been in part due to the filmmakers' creative additions to the festivals' swag bags: whoopee cushions printed with a cartoon version of Uncle Luke.) Life and Freaky Times injected homegrown Miami talent into the international film scene. But it's also simply a damn fine movie, immersing the ever-entertaining Uncle Luke inside a fantasy world of Mayer's creation, featuring cartoonish, colorful handmade sets and adorably lo-fi special effects. There are booties and boobs and science and more booties and a whole lot of screaming. At one point, a character confirms to Luke what we've known all along: "According to our extensive research, you are the realest nigga in Miami." And it all proves that 20 years and a genre change later, Miami's artists are still as nasty as they wanna be.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®