The Lardy

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the seventh 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 2006 Lardies, bestowing the coveted and voluptuous golden trophy that honors only the most outstanding achievements in lardy goodness. The envelope, please...

Best Album of 2006

Ballad of the Broken Seas Ballad of the Broken Seas
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

The most talented male vocalist alive continues to surprise his followers with the twists and turns his career has taken in recent years. After his quasi-grunge rock band Screaming Trees called it quits a decade ago, Mark Lanegan recorded an acclaimed string of dark and brooding albums with an acoustic folk bent. Then he got back into hard rock as a temporary member of Queens of the Stone Age and his fierce 2004 album ironically titled Bubblegum. Now Lanegan has turned his talents back into quieter territory by way of an inspired collaboration with former Belle & Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell. Ballad of the Broken Seas is my first exposure to Campbell's work, and she's quite remarkable as both a singer and the writer of most of the album's songs. Her ethereal voice could not be more directly the opposite of Lanegan's whiskey-and-cigarettes growl, and yet the unlikely duo harmonizes beautifully together. "Honey Child What Can I Do?" has to be the sweetest and prettiest thing Lanegan has ever recorded, and "The Circus Is Leaving Town" wrings tremendous emotional impact out of the simple closing line: "You could make me believe/That the sun sets in the east/The sun sets in the east." I've also got to mention the awesomely provocative sleeve photography of Campbell and Lanegan lounging in a seedy motel room. At this point, Mark Lanegan has proven that he can do just about anything he takes a notion to. His next project could just as likely go in the direction of bluegrass, death metal or classical opera.

Honorable Mention:
Ta-Dah!, Scissor Sisters

Best Movie of 2006

V For Vendetta V For Vendetta
James McTeigue

This award category is becoming problematic for me, since I hardly ever go to the movies anymore. Unless there's some extraordinary motivation, I prefer to wait for the latest releases to come to DVD or pay cable where I can enjoy them on my lovely home theater system. Hence I'm subject to lag time in my appraisal of the best movie of the past year. It might turn out to be something like The Departed or Letters from Iwo Jima that I won't see until 2007. So among the meager handful of 2006 films that I have seen at this writing, I will select the surprisingly decent Hollywood adaptation of V For Vendetta. The Alan Moore/David Lloyd graphic novel has been a special favorite of mine since I read the original serialized chapters in Warrior magazine back in my college days, long before the story was finally completed at DC Comics. I fully expected the movie to suck donkey balls, considering the prior celluloid mutilations of Moore's works and the discouraging involvement of the Matrix bozos. But in defiance of all probability, the movie turned out to be pretty good. Sure, it was a massive simplification of the original, with some "eggy in a basket" and vociferously vertiginous vocalizations thrown in for no good reason, but it did capture the atmosphere and emotional gist of V For Vendetta more accurately than I could ever have imagined in a mainstream motion picture. What I loved most was seeing V's subterranean lair, the Shadow Gallery, brought so perfectly to life. When I later revisited the graphic novel, I realized that David Lloyd's renderings of the Shadow Gallery were rather impressionistic and vague, and the movie's set design was more a match for my imagined construct of V's baroque dwelling than it was for the original ink on paper. That's quite a staggering accomplishment for a filmed adaptation of a visual work. The only way for this movie to have been done better would be for Moore to team up with Robert Rodriguez and co-direct it himself, and that just ain't going to happen. I completely respect his decision to distance himself from the film industry, but it's a shame that the first and probably only respectable Alan Moore movie doesn't have his name on it.

Honorable Mention:
Snakes on a Plane, David R. Ellis
(See? I seriously did not see enough movies this year!)

Best DVD of 2006 (Tie)

We Jam Econo, Seven Samurai We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen
Tim Irwin

Seven Samurai: The Criterion Collection
Akira Kurosawa

Who says DVD is a dying format? I want an HD disc format as much as any home theater geek, but not until this HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray nonsense works itself out and the hardware is affordable and reliable. Until then, there's plenty of excitement left in good ol' standard DVD, with so many awesome releases in 2006 I couldn't pick just one as the best. At first, I thought for sure the unquestionable best DVD of the year would be We Jam Econo, the 2-disc edition of Tim Irwin's heartfelt documentary on the short but monumental career of my all-time favorite musical performers, the Minutemen. I actually managed to see the film last year in a screening at a Chapel Hill nightclub, and I'm glad I did, because it was so great to share in the intimate reactions of a small audience of knowledgeable fellow fans of D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley. Now the DVD can reach the vast majority who weren't so fortunate, and it sweetens the deal with a second disc containing three complete Minutemen shows shot live on video. Filmed Minutemen performances are ultra-rare, and We Jam Econo is actually the first Minutemen DVD release of any kind. This DVD fills a much-needed gap and will stand as one of the treasures of my collection. So what could possibly equal this release on any level of significance? Nothing less than Criterion's new and improved 3-disc edition of Seven Samurai. The original Criterion DVD introduced me to this 1954 classic that ranks as my favorite Kurosawa film, the progenitor of the chambara film genre of samurai and swordfights that has become a personal passion of mine. By now I know Seven Samurai so well that I could follow the whole 207-minute epic with the subtitles turned off, and I had come to accept that the film would always look like a gray haze, since Criterion's 1998 restoration was the best print available. But now Criterion has turned in its second restoration effort, and holy crap, what a miraculous feat. Seven Samurai has been rejuvenated to the pristine state in which it must have premiered over fifty years ago, with deep blacks and crisp detail like I never imagined before. This most dramatic upgrade goes far above and beyond your typical "digitally remastered" DVD double-dip -- comparing the old and new versions is like the difference between standard TV and high definition. Now Seven Samurai doesn't seem quite as visually antiquated in relation to subsequent chambara films, and sits more comfortable in its rightful place as a vibrant and powerful masterpiece in the genre. The movie is spread across two discs for maximum quality, accompanied by two insightful commentary tracks, plus a fantastic third disc of interviews and documentaries. This is a shining example of how a DVD special edition ought to be done. If I could pick only two DVDs to have while stranded on a desert island, I'd be awfully tempted to pass on the Star Wars saga in favor of these two right here.

Honorable Mentions:
Carolina Hurricanes: Stanley Cup 2005-2006 Champions
Arrested Development, Season Three

Best Comics Series of 2006

Love and Rockets Love and Rockets
Luba's Comics and Stories
Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez

Nowadays Love and Rockets is officially published three times a year. Reading episodic snippets of serialized stories spread out over a huge amount of time, it's easy to lose track and get the impression that the Hernandez brothers are just noodling around with meandering, self-indulgent vignettes. But then I sat down with the last three or four years' worth of these comics all at once, and now I can see what great stories Jaime and Gilbert have been slowly piecing together. "Day by Day with Hopey" came to a richly satisfying conclusion, depicting a week in the life of Ms. Esperanza Glass that took Jaime two years to complete. Although Jaime's other storylines narrated by Ray D. are getting a little tiresome, his gorgeously slutty and airheaded lover/adversary Vivian the Frogmouth now challenges Maggie as my favorite L&R character. On Gilbert's side, I'm still not quite following the enigmatic complexities surrounding Luba and her sisters Fritz and Petra, and I was alarmed to see the charming Little Venus suddenly emerging all grown up as a nubile teenager. But the stories have been fun, and I was delighted with the unveiling of the hitherto unseen mother of the "Kid Stuff Kids" Jimmy and Killer, who turned out to be Guadalupe from the old "Heartbreak Soup" days. Like most of today's best comics series, Love and Rockets makes its own compelling argument against buying it in saddle-stitched pamphlet installments, in favor of waiting for the eventual collected edition that will make for a far superior read.

Honorable Mention:
Hate Annual, Peter Bagge

Best Book of 2006

The Samurai Film The Samurai Film
Alain Silver

First published in 1977, The Samurai Film technically qualifies for this Lardy Award because the paperback of the latest revised edition came out this year. It's a more comprehensive survey of the chambara genre than Patrick Galloway's fine Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves, which I honored as the best book of 2005, and more inclusive than other scholarly writings on Japanese cinema. The leading authorities like Donald Richie tend to be overly snobby about samurai films, giving little serious consideration to any besides Kurosawa's classics and perhaps selected works by Inagaki and Kobayashi. By contrast, Alain Silver revels in the less "reputable" treasures of chambara, devoting an entire section to cult-favorite director Hideo Gosha and even giving due recognition to the Zatoichi series. More shocking yet, Silver's generous critical scope goes so far as to encompass Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies. Still, this book is not quite the ultimate reference on samurai films that I was hoping for. Even with his refreshingly open-minded approach to genre productions so distinct from the typical scholar of cinema, Silver's analysis tends too often to descend into pretentious film-school prattlings about mise en scene and wide-angle lenses. The book's various sections also have the slightly disjointed feel of collected essays originally published separately, even though I don't believe that was the case. Regardless of any shortcomings, The Samurai Film is a fine volume that has contributed to my knowledge of this fascinating genre that has given me some good ideas on how I intend to write my own explorations of the topic differently.

Best TV Series of 2006

Arrested Development Arrested Development

Arrested Development only aired on two nights early in 2006 before its tragic cancellation, but that was still plenty enough to qualify it as the best television program of the year. When Fox scornfully dumped the final four episodes back-to-back opposite the opening ceremonies of the Turin Olympics, the network inadvertently broadcast the finest single night of programming in its history, a devastating avalanche of comedic brilliance that nearly overloaded my cerebral cortex. While the show's third season had its shaky moments, as a new crew of writers undertook some stylistic departures and experimentations with mixed results, we fans are fairly unanimous in our judgment that the series came to a breathtakingly perfect conclusion. Word on the street was that Showtime made an offer to continue Arrested Development, but after much deliberation creator Mitch Hurwitz actually turned them down. He explained that he had taken the series as far as it could go and wouldn't be able to maintain its standard of quality if it continued. As heartbreaking as that news was, I really have to respect Mitch's decision. We've now got 53 episodes of classic comedy on DVD and cable reruns, a hilariously complex saga with a beginning, a middle and one hell of an end. Taste the happy that tastes kind of like sad.

Honorable Mentions:
Big Love, HBO
Weeds, Showtime
The Unit, CBS

Hottest Chick of 2006

Ginnifer Goodwin Ginnifer Goodwin

I discovered Ginnifer Goodwin in 2005 when she co-starred in Walk the Line as Johnny Cash's first wife, Vivian. She was the best part of the movie, and her beauty made it difficult to imagine why Johnny would dump her in favor of Reese Witherspoon. Pretty soon after making a mental note to seek out Ginnifer's other movies, I tuned in for the premiere of the new HBO series Big Love. And what do you know, to my surprise here comes Ginnifer Goodwin in the opening credits, starring as the youngest of polygamist Bill Paxton's three wives. Fortunately Big Love turned out to be a great series, though I knew right then I had a reason to become a regular viewer. While Ginnifer is by far the slimmest woman ever to win this Lardy Award, she is round-cheeked and curvy enough that her neurotic new-mother character Margene considers herself fat -- and evidently there are assholes in the media who would agree. "I have gotten a lot of B.S. about my absolute resistance to getting skinny," Ginnifer said in an interview. "I have had people be very cruel. Like, at press junkets, someone often asks, 'What's it like being an overweight actress in Hollywood?' I literally stand up and say, 'Look at me! I am smaller than the average woman!'" I'll tell you what else: she's also hotter than the average woman, even if she's not as voluptuous as I'd prefer. Should Ginnifer ever become legitimately plus-sized, I would love it in a big way.

Honorable Mention:
Charlotte Coyle

Special Achievement in Lardy Goodness

Cheese Nips Nabisco "Four Cheese" Cheese Nips

I harbor a deep and abiding passion for cheese in most of its forms, though cheese-based snack food items have always been a hit-or-miss proposition. I've never cared much for your typical cheese-flavored crackers like Cheez-Its or Cheese Nips, because they tend to be bland and cardboardy and get kind of gross after you've eaten a few. Those Better Cheddars are indeed better than average, although not great enough for me to ever get excited about. This year I happened to try the "Four Cheese" variety of Cheese Nips, and wow, what a flavor sensation! For once, that "Made with Real Kraft Cheese" marketing banner is no bullshit. You actually feel like you're eating something made out of authentic Parmesan and Romano cheese (and I'll take their word for it that cheddar and mozzarella are in there too). Finally, a cheese cracker that cheese snobs like me don't have to feel ashamed of. The packaging cryptically claims that Cheese Nips are now a "Better Value" -- in comparison with what, I have no idea. Maybe it's one of those deals where they've jacked up the price but added a couple of ounces to the box, so Nabsico can claim you're getting more for your money. Whatever the case, I feel lucky to be getting this economic advantage along with some awesome crackers that I would have bought anyway. The only downside remaining is that lame product name, which has somehow survived to into the 21st century without succumbing to pressure from Japanese-American interest groups.

The 2006 Lard Biscuit Persons of the Year

Carolina Hurricanes The Carolina Hurricanes

I love my Canes. When my high-definition TV rekindled my old interest in hockey for the 2005-06 season, following the year of the lockout, I seriously had no expectations that my local NHL franchise would be taking the Stanley Cup, but by golly they did it. Coach Peter Laviolette believed in his low-ranked, non-traditional market team and followed a relentless course of doing "whatever it takes." It was a thrill watching them make that journey. Lard Biscuit Enterprises proudly salutes Stanley Cup Champions Rod Brind'Amour, Eric Staal, Matt Cullen, Kevyn Adams, Cory Stillman, Ray Whitney, Josef Vasicek, Erik Cole, Justin Williams, Craig Adams, Andrew Ladd, Mark Recchi, Doug Weight, Chad LaRose, Anton Babchuk, Oleg Tverdovsky, Frantisek Kaberle, Glen Wesley, Bret Hedican, Aaron Ward, Niclas Wallin, Mike Commodore, Andrew Hutchinson, Martin Gerber and Cam Ward. For the current season I bought a 24-game season ticket package, and even if this year's squad isn't performing quite as magnificently as the championship Canes, it's still a blast. This is a new experience for me to get passionate about a pro sports team for the first time in my life, and finally I'm starting to understand what motivates all the sports nuts of the world.

The 2006 Lard Biscuit Asshole of the Year

Saddam Hussein The Late Saddam Hussein

Hey dude, how's it hangin'?

The 2005 Lard Biscuit Achievement Awards

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