Where you should be in 2003

Last year, a year overshadowed by 9/11, was a time of waiting, a time of sober self-examination. There was a lot of entertainment that was beyond mindless, of course. But still, some of the fluff started to slip away -- the fake "singing stars" of "American Idol" virtually disappeared the day the show ended. Substance wanted to speak, and every now and then it did, notably in film.

But mostly it couldn't get a word in edgewise.

Years of celebrating only kid culture -- boy bands and Britney and Harry Potter and DJs -- suddenly revealed a gaping void. Everyone asked: Where are the artists who can make sense of a suddenly very adult world?

The new year brings a rush of answers, beginning and ending in a new grown-up playground called downtown Los Angeles. New Year's parties erupted on Flower Street for the first time since it was part of the Pueblo. Disney Hall will open toward year's end -- another piece of spectacular architecture calling out for attention just as the neighboring Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels already does. Will L.A. really have a city center at last? It seems worth believing.

Between these events, major new works arrive in a changed landscape: In film, Russell Crowe stars in a seafaring tale, "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," that may move audiences as "Gladiator" did, while the groundbreaking visuals of "The Matrix" will be tested in not one but two sequels. The city will host important work from Bill Viola and Merce Cunningham to Julie Taymor and Outkast to Elaine Stritch and the White Stripes. William Bolcom even plunges in, setting William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience" to music in an extravaganza that'll rival the on-screen rococo of Baz Luhrmann.We've chosen 38 essential things to see in L.A. this year. Why 38? Because we had to choose. After a year of hesitation, it's time for artists to make statements again. Or to choose to stand up and reject statements.

At the very least, to act like artists and lead the culture. That's what made pop distractions like Britney fun in the first place.

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