The Lardy

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the sixth annual Lard Biscuit Achievement Awards! Round about every December, everybody just loves putting together their meaningless and self-important lists of the best and biggest accomplishments of the past year, so I'm getting into the act with my own awards ceremony that has utterly no significance to anybody besides myself. I don't care if anybody else gives a shit or not.

Without further ado, I hereby present the winners of the 2005 Lardies, bestowing the coveted and voluptuous golden trophy that honors only the most outstanding achievements in lardy goodness. The envelope, please...

Best Album of 2005 (Tie)

As Is Now, The Dangermen Sessions: Volume One As Is Now
Paul Weller

The Dangermen Sessions: Volume One
Madness

Two of my all-time favorite musical acts each released excellent new recordings in 2005. Both albums are dominated with great tracks, but with a couple of semi-clunkers in the mix, and neither collection is clearly superior to the other. So let's call it a draw and have Paul Weller and Madness share the honor. Weller came back from 2004's covers album with a new set of his own compositions, As Is Now. I think every time Weller puts out a new album, the critics always call it a comeback and a "return to form," saying it's his best work since Stanley Road or the olden days of The Jam or whatever. Well, that's all crap, since Weller never lost it and never needed to come back, except for that one time after The Style Council fizzled out. As Is Now simply continues Paul's late successes. kicking off with the one-two punch of "Blink and You'll Miss It" followed by "Paper Smile." But the acoustic ballad "All on a Misty Morning" is my favorite new Weller song in years, and it's got to be the most erotic song I've ever heard that is (a) free of any vulgar language and (b) sung by a guy. But I've also got to give props to the nutty boys of Madness, whose new album legitimately is a comeback, their first new full-length release since 1999. The Dangermen Sessions is marketed as an album of classic ska covers, although the songs chosen here also encompass Motown, The Kinks and Jose Feliciano. In their new alter-egos as The Dangermen, though, Madness does play more in a genuine ska idiom than they have ever done since 1977's One Step Beyond, and the results are joyous to listen to. Suggs' vocals are delightful as always, but this album is really a showcase for the mighty rhythm section of Mark Bedford and Woody Woodgate. In fact, Bedders has never laid down such fat bass lines before. It's just a shame that guitarist Chris Foreman got in a snit after the album was recorded and quit the band, but maybe he'll come back into the fold in time for a Volume Two.

Honorable Mention:
Get Behind Me Satan, The White Stripes

Best Movie of 2005

Revenge of the Sith Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
George Lucas

My first impression of Episode III was that it was perfect, but now after a couple dozen viewings, I must say that the final Star Wars movie has its shortcomings. Specifically, I wish the Jedi Council had committed some greater infraction against Anakin than simply refusing to promote him to Jedi Master. They could have expelled him over his relationship with Padmé, or given him some other truly substantial reason to want to kill them all. And sadly, the realization of the fateful duel between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader in the lava pit didn't quite live up to the battle I'd been imagining for nearly 30 years. Nevertheless, Revenge of the Sith is still a masterpiece. The opening sequence is fun, fresh and exhilirating. And the entire middle act of the film -- from the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise, to Palpatine's unveiling as Sidious, to Anakin's wrenching decision to join the Sith, to Mace Windu's spectacular demise and the execution of Order 66 -- it's all flawlessly done. Wrapping everything up is the closing montage, beautiful beyond words, which lays out the separate paths of each member of the Skywalker family: mother, father, daughter and son. From beginning to end, the great Ian McDiarmid finally edges out Alec Guinness and Harrison Ford to secure his place as the single best actor in all of the Star Wars saga. Without his wonderfully convincing portrayal of purest evil, the premise of this movie, and the entire prequel trilogy for that matter, might have fallen apart. So I think for now I'll say that Episode III is mostly perfect. And I'll have a lot more to say about it later on.

Honorable Mentions:
We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, Tim Irwin
Sin City, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez

Best DVD of 2005

Harakiri Harakiri: The Criterion Collection
Masaki Kobayashi

I'd never heard of this classic 1964 film until Criterion announced its new release, and there was lots of buzz about this being one of the greatest samurai films ever. Since I've been getting into classic chambara in a major way, I bought this DVD sight unseen. And Harakiri is tremendous, and possibly the best Japanese film I've ever seen, matching even the greatest works of Akira Kurosawa. Harakiri shares some common threads with Kurosawa's films, having a screenplay by the great Shinobu Hashimoto, whose writing credits also include Rashomon and Seven Samurai, and the film stars Tatsuya Nakadai, who unforgettably portrayed Lord Hidetora in Ran, some 20 years later. What makes Harakiri so great is its simplicity and its intensity. Anyone could understand this movie without being a foreign film buff or scholar of Japanese history. Yes, this movie is about the samurai ritual of self-disembowellment, but can you imagine what would be even worse than cutting your belly open with a steel blade? This film will show you, in graphic detail. It's got to be the most brutally suspenseful movie I've seen. About 40 minutes into the film, things dramatically come to a head, and you think, "Okay, now the movie has to end." But knowing this film runs over two hours, you can't figure out what else can possibly happen. Then the story metamorposizes, and nothing is what you believed. And the tension becomes almost unbearable. So this is not the kind of movie you could watch in installments over two or three nights. Once you start, you've got to see it through to the bitter end. A grand and towering achievement.

Honorable Mentions:
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Arrested Development, Season Two
The Errol Morris DVD Collection
Ran: The Criterion Collection

Best Comics Series of 2005

GrimJack GrimJack: Killer Instinct
John Ostrander and Timothy Truman

Now that Promethea has ended, I had to find another comic book worthy of recognition in 2005. Fortunately, John Ostrander and Timothy Truman delivered by returning to their classic '80s creation, GrimJack. The original series was a sort of fantasy noir featuring John Gaunt, a hard-boiled mercenary who lived in a pan-dimensional realm called Cynosure, the crossroads of infinite universes. GrimJack was great as long as the original team worked on it, but eventually Truman left and other artists took over, and the series descended into crap by the time it ended. But some 20 years later, Ostrander and Truman have proven that you can go home again. They took the genius move of making this revival series a prequel to the earliest GrimJack stories, so they didn't have to worry about all that post-Truman continuity with John Gaunt dying and a new GrimJack taking over or whatever. This is strictly old school, and it's just exactly like the GrimJack I remember, if not even better. There's nothing literary or profound in Killer Instinct, it's just plain old fun and adventure. I would specifically single out the awesome chase scene in issue #2, which ends up in Cynosure's waste treatment complex run by the Temple of the Knights Sewar. This is the first time I can recall being genuinely thrilled by a comics action sequence in many a year. Great stuff.

Honorable Mention:
Desperation Jones, Warren Ellis and J.H. Williams III

Best Book of 2005

Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves:
The Samurai Film Handbook
Patrick Galloway

As I mentioned above in my remarks on Harakiri, I have developed a passionate interest in classic Japanese cinema this past year. It used to be that my knowledge of Japanese films was limited to Akira Kurosawa and Juzo Itami's comedy Tampopo. But now I've learned loads more and seen a lot of other great movies, and my favorites are the classic chambara of the sixties and seventies. I got to the point that I wanted a book to expand my knowledge of this fantastic genre, and I found just what the daimyo ordered in Patrick Galloway's Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves. As Galloway explains in his introduction, the chambara genre gets little respect in film criticism and there were no decent books devoted to the topic, so he decided to write one himself. But he keeps his analysis fun and light-hearted, not letting scholarly prentention get in to way of appreciating a kick-ass fight scene with geysers of spurting blood. Galloway covers just about all the classics, with an emphasis on the gritty ronin anti-heroes that followed in the footsteps of Kurosawa's Yojimbo. The book is invaluable for helping piece together the intricate webs of directors, actors and screenwriters who keep popping up in movie after movie, and it's added several titles to my list of chambara to track down and enjoy.

Honorable Mention:
Labyrinth of Evil, James Luceno

Best TV Series of 2005

Arrested Development Arrested Development
Fox

I really don't know what else to say about Arrested Development, since I've already done my share of gushing about how brilliant it is and I don't feel like moaning any more about Fox canceling it or whether Shwotime is going to pick it up. So instead, I'll try and summarize one of the most important subplots of 2005 for the benefit of non-viewers (in other words, 99.999% of the planet), which was how Buster happened to lose his hand. You see, Buster is the youngest son of the Bluth family and a hopeless mama's boy over the age of 30, the shining example of a man whose development is arrested. After his mother Lucille signed him up for the Army at the urging of a Michael Moore impersonator, and Buster was about to be sent to boot camp, as a last gesture of defiance Buster went swimming in the ocean, which Lucille had always forbidden because it was too dangerous. During his brief swim, Buster had his left hand bitten off by a seal. Yes, a seal. Stick with me here. It turns out that the seal had been released into the ocean by Buster's brother G.O.B., who had borrowed the seal from a woman he married on a drunken dare, who was in the seal trading business. After the seal failed to perform in his magic show, G.O.B. angrily turned the seal loose in the sea, but he had inadvertently given the seal a taste for mammal blood, which is why it attacked Buster. A witness on the scene tried to warn Buster by yelling "Loose seal!," which sounds like "Lucille" and underscores how the injury is a result of Buster's dysfunctional relationship with his mother. As arbitrary as this bizarre plot development may seem, it was actually thoroughly foreshadowed and justified by many events in previous episodes. There was a one-armed man who taught Buster and his siblings lessons when they were kids at the behest of their father, George, Sr. When Buster was first looking for a way to get out of the Army, his uncle/father Oscar offered to render him unfit for service by cutting off one of his fingers. Buster previously owned a chair shaped like a giant hand, which his mother gave away to their Mexican housekeeper without telling Buster. When he reclaimed his lost chair, he said, "I never thought I'd miss a hand so much." The second season premiere featured a newscast about a seal attack. While AWOL from Army duty, Buster occupied himself playing a claw game, manipulating a mechanical appendage like the one he would later wear as a prosthesis, and one of the stuffed animals he won from the game was, you guessed it, a seal. I mean, I really can't figure out why Mr. and Mrs. Joe Six-Pack would be confused by this show, can you?

Honorable Mentions:
My Name Is Earl, NBC
Weeds, Showtime

Hottest Chick of 2005

Jane Monheit Jane Monheit

Besides being a talented jazz singer, Jane Monheit is one of the most fabulously beautiful women in the world. She was the vision of perfection when I first discovered her and saw her perform four years ago, blessed with a radiant face and a voluptuous figure. In the intervening span of time, Jane apparently succumbed to the pressure to adjust her appearance to more mainstream and more marketable standards, and she lost a noticeable amount of weight. This tragically diminished Jane's beauty, making her look like just any other run-of-the-mill entertainment-industry brunette chick. But in this past year, it's evident that Jane has overcome this unfortunate downturn and restored her figure to its proper dimensions. Perhaps married life has been agreeing with her since she tied the know with her drummer a while back. The video content on the DualDisc version of her 2005 Christmas album, The Season, shows Jane looking postively luminous, sexier and more alluring than any scrawny 110-pound wannabe diva could ever manage. It is a precious thrill to welcome back a lost goddess.

Honorable Mention:
Ginnifer Goodwin
(The actress who played Johnny Cash's first wife in Walk the Line)

Special Achievement in Lardy Goodness

Lance Hot Fries Lance Hot Fries
Made with Texas Pete

As a lifelong connoisseur of corn meal-based processed fry-style snack food items, and the copywriter for the Andy Capp's Hot Fries supermarket box packaging from a few years ago ("Looking for something deliciously different?" That was mine.), I have to say that my standards are nothing if not rigorous. Andy Capp's have been a joke since GoodMark Foods messed with the recipe in the late '90s, and Chester's Flamin' Hot Fries from Frito-Lay have been indisputed king of the hot fries scene for some time now, challenged only mildly by those cut-rate Tom's Cheddar Fries. But there's a new player in town. When I discovered the new Lance Hot Fries at my local convenience store, I was impressed by the Texas Pete licensing tie-in as well as the thick and hearty form-factor of the fries, subtly reminiscent of the coveted Andy Capp's Steak Fries that you can't hardly find anymore. So I tried 'em, and boy I am hooked. For 99 cents, you get a bag of pure snackly heaven. These fries are indeed hot, but not blisteringly so. The flavor is robust, well-balanced and peppery, nuanced with hints of soy sauce and apple cider vinegar. This is a hot fry for the discriminating adult palette. Holy godamighty, them sumbitches is tasty! Sure, each bag packs a heart-whomping 1,260 milligrams of sodium, but I prefer to think of it as one and a quarter grams, which doesn't sound so bad at all, does it?

The 2005 Lard Biscuit Person of the Year

George Lucas George Lucas

You know, George Lucas has taken more shit than any major pop-culture figure I can think of without being charged with murder, fraud or child molestation. And it's just ridiculous. If you don't like his work, that's fine, but he doesn't deserve to be made out as some kind of villainous bastard. In 2005, Lucas completed what has unintentionally become his life's work. A lot of people aren't satisfied with how that all turned out. But what nobody can say is that he caved to studio executives or that he compromised his vision. He did exactly what he wanted to do, scoring a triumph for the independent artist in a corporation-controlled world. Star Wars may not be perfect, but it's still the greatest story told in modern times, and Lucas told it his way. Congratulations, George. I can't wait to see what you'll do next.

The 2005 Lard Biscuit Asshole of the Year

Dubya George W. Bush

You're doin' a heck of a job, Bushie!

The 2004 Lard Biscuit Achievement Awards

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