The Lardy

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the eighth 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 2007 Lardies, bestowing the coveted and voluptuous golden trophy that honors only the most outstanding achievements in lardy goodness. And yes, Anna Nicole will remain the icon of Lard Biscuit Achievement despite her passing in 2007, because the spirit that she once represented is timeless and immortal. The envelope, please...

Best Album of 2007

Icky Thump Icky Thump
The White Stripes

For some reason, it seems like it's not cool to like The White Stripes. Or maybe it's cool to dislike them. Whatever. I've never been one to be concerned with having fashionable opinions, and all I know is that Icky Thump is the best damn album released this past year. After largely abandoning his guitar in favor of piano, marimbas and other instrumentation on 2005's Get Behind Me Satan (which I like, despite its poor reputation), Jack White has plugged in his six-string and cranked the amp to 11 for this bad boy. One after another, every song on here is great, even the weird one Meg sings. It's hard to pick a favorite out of this bunch, but I would have to cite "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues" and "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" as being extra special. And the title track has become my most loved rabble-rousing anthem played at Carolina Hurricanes games. It's a song that was simply made for hockey. Also, I have to point out that both this album and Cherryholmes' runner-up for this award coincidentally include original compositions entitled "You Don't Know What Love Is." I know for certain these two tunes would mix together for a killer bluegrass/rock hybrid (and I'd do it myself if only I had the know-how).

Honorable Mention:
Cherryholmes II: Black and White, Cherryholmes

Best Single of 2007 (Tie)

Are You Trying to Be Lonely? and Sorry "Are You Trying to Be Lonely?"
Paul Weller & Andy Lewis

"Sorry"
Madness

My two favorite actively recording musical acts each released outstanding non-album cuts this past year, so I had to create a new special category to recognize this singular (ha, ha) event. Madness returned with their first original composition in about five years, a bouncy little number called "Sorry" that joyously harks back to the band's ska roots. At first I was dismayed at the mixes of the song featuring hip-hop performers Sway and Baby Blue, which seemed like a desperate marketing move to make these '80s pop dinosaurs more palatable to a younger audience. But after getting used to it, I have to admit that the nutty/rap hybrid works pretty well, and I'm definitely pumped up for the all-new Madness album coming in 2008. Meanwhile, Modfather Paul Weller issued a one-off collaboration of his own, working with acid jazz artist Andy Lewis. The duo co-wrote "Are You Trying to Be Lonely?," a stunning re-creation of the classic "Northern Soul" sound. Honestly, I would have thought this was a cover of a vintage Motown single from 1962. It just goes to prove that they can still write 'em like they used to. This is the kind of song that just makes you feel happy to be alive. With the iTunes download age reviving the single a viable format for music releases, I'd like this to become a regular category in the Lardy Awards.

Best Movie of 2007

No Country for Old Men No Country for Old Men
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Grindhouse was by far the most fun I had at the movies in 2007, and 300 was the most visually spectacular film of the year. But ultimately, I have to bestow the Lardy to a motion picture with less flash than those two and a hell of a lot more substance. Virtually every review of No Country for Old Men has expressed grateful relief in comparison to how much the Coen brothers' last two movies sucked. All I can add to that is amen. Let's just assume that Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers were made by evil replicants and the real Joel and Ethan have since been safely returned to Earth. No Country is a gut-wrenching study of greed leading to inevitable ruin, presenting an all-time classic psycho-killer antagonist as portrayed by Javier Bardem. But the real brilliance of this movie lies in its technical virtuosity: the captivating cinematography of Roger Deakins, the always impeccable editing of "Roderick Jaynes" (a.k.a. Joel and Ethan), and the starting absence of a conventional music score. This is simply superb moviemaking, and we should all welcome the Coens back from the depths of mediocrity. May they never suck again.

Honorable Mention:
Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez

Best DVD of 2007 (Tie)

Shadow Warriors, Sansho the Bailiff Shadow Warriors (Kage No Gunden)
The Complete First Season


Sansho the Bailiff: The Criterion Collection
Kenji Mizoguchi

The two Japanese-produced winners of this Lardy Award coincidentally have vaguely similar cover designs: each shows a silhouetted figure in profile wearing historical Japanese garb and sword scabbards. The parallels end there. Shadow Warriors introduces the Western audience to the original Hattori Hanzo that inspired the Sonny Chiba master swordsmith character from Kill Bill. Previously my only exposure to Sonny Chiba's old work was a mediocre samurai movie and some karate-fighter flicks that didn't impress me much. Now I understand what Tarantino's fuss is all about. The 1980 Kage No Gunden television series is a pure delight, 27 bite-site morsels of awesome ninja chambara action that treads the fine line between drama and trash with all the agility of Hanzo's ninja crew. Every element adds up to perfect entertainment, including the goofball comic relief and the four or five recycled cheesy music cues that patch together every episode's soundtrack. This 7-disc set has given me months of enjoyment, and I can only imagine what adolescent bliss it would have been to watch the TV program on a weekly basis back in the eighties. On the other hand, Sansho the Bailiff is a monumental artistic triumph that demands fully mature sensibilities. Kenji Mizoguchi's 1954 masterwork is sheer visual poetry, as emotionally gripping as cinema is capable of being. I will admit that I cried at three distinct points throughout the course of the story, probably more intensely than I have ever wept over a work of fiction. It absolutely tears your heart to pieces. Sansho the Bailiff is by far the best movie I watched for the first time in 2007, new or old, foreign or domestic. Anytime someone asks me why I have such a passion for movies from Japan, I will now reach past Kurosawa, Ozu and Kobayashi to point out this sublime achievement by Mizoguchi. Although it's such a draining experience that I'm actually reluctant to watch it again.

Honorable Mentions:
Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season
Futurama: Bender's Big Score

Best Blu-ray Disc of 2007

Visions of the Sea Visions of the Sea: Explorations
HD Scape

This year marked my entry into the HD media arena, with my eminently sound choice of the PlayStation 3 and Blu-ray. I was wowed by a number of recent theatrical blockbusters like Casino Royale, Pirates of the Caribbean and 300, but I've got to go in a different direction to name the single most impressive release. On digital cable, my favorite subject matter for HD eye candy has proven to be water-based and undersea nature documentaries. The Visions of the Sea Blu-ray disc is the ultimate manifestation of this particular category of visual delight. Nothing but pristine coral reefs and tropical aquatic life of every shape and color, more crystal clear and lifelike than I've ever seen on Discovery HD Theater. To perfect the total package, there is absolutely no human presence to be found: no hosts, no scuba divers, no narration trying to tell us something educational about what we're looking at. Just breathtaking videography and tastefully relaxing music in immersive 5.1 surround. Which not only makes this a nice disc for chilling out, it also sends the replay value through the roof since you're not listening to some annoying voiceover every time you play it. Now, I've seen a lot of cynical remarks about scenery-based high-def discs like this, dismissing them as boring "screensavers." I say bullshit to that. I'd much rather have a well-produced Blu-ray like this to show off my system than buy some crappy movie like Transformers or Ghost Rider just because it makes a sweet demo disc. With something like Visions of the Sea, there's no pretense about what it is, there's no idiotic story to get in the way, and there's no need to skip through the chapters to find the "good parts," because the entire thing is a good part.

Honorable Mention:
Casino Royale

Best Comics Work of 2007

Alice in Sunderland Alice in Sunderland
Bryan Talbot

Bryan Talbot has been among my favorite comics talents ever since his Luther Arkwright and The Tale of One Bad Rat graphic novels, and it's a special event when he completes and publishes a new work. It's been known for a number of years that he was working on a major opus entitled Alice in Sunderland, which arrived this year in all its 320-page hardcover splendor. It's certainly unlike anything that's ever been done before in the medium, more of a graphic documentary than a graphic novel. Basically, it's a history of Talbot's English hometown of Sunderland, crossed with a biography of one-time Sunderland resident Lewis Carroll. In its form and execution, the book is far more complex than that simple summary would suggest. Alice in Sunderland is long, dense, challenging, and at times even tiresome to read. But its brilliance is almost frightening. The aspect I like best is how Talbot manages to integrate his subjective viewpoint into the narrative without slanting the entire work in one particular direction of egotism. His clever solution is to depict himself in three separate, simultaneous roles: Talbot the Plebeian, Talbot the Performer and Talbot the Pilgrim, sort of representing his id, ego and superego, with each contributing to the storytelling and even arguing with each other. The book is presented in the idiom of a stage performance, and it is definitely a bravura showstopper. I just feel like I need to review the contents two or three more times before I can begin to fully understand it.

Honorable Mention:
I would have given recognition to the welcome return of Mike Baron and Steve Rude's Nexus, but considering that they only managed to get out one issue back in July before vanishing into eternal-delay oblivion, screw 'em.

Best Book of 2007

Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy
Matthew Reinhardt

A number of fine books were released this year in commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of Star Wars, including the magnificent The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler and The Star Wars Vault compiled by Steve Sansweet. But an unexpected entry in Lucas-related publishing emerged to win my heart above all others. I first heard of Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy when Stephen Colbert ridiculed it on his show for having the audacity to hit the shelves at the same time as I Am America (And So Can You!), until he peeked inside and fell spellbound by how cool it was. I ordered a copy on a lark, not cognizant of the actual scope and grandeur of this thing until it arrived from Amazon. Holy God, this ain't no mere kiddie book. It's a freaking work of art. A few years back there was a Japanese manga adaptation of A New Hope that captured the key essence in a fresh new way that cut through the stagnant, commercialized veneer that has accumulated on the franchise's merchandising over the decades. Matthew Reinhardt has accomplished the same effect in the unlikely medium of the pop-up book. This is a loving artifact, seemingly devised and functioning by magic, which in some way represents every significant element of the Original Trilogy (confining the prequel lore to a few passing references) over the course of six main spreads and dozens of mini-foldouts. Few would have judged the Rancor important enough to warrant its featured billing, but Reinhardt wisely recognized how perfectly the physiology of Jabba's pet beast suited the mechanics of pop-up technology, and the result is spectacular. The revelation of the light-up lightsabers at the end is such a climactic event that when I showed a group of friends, they appropriately broke into spontaneous applause. And Han Solo even transforms into carbonite-frozen form when you flip out the Boba Fett tab. But my favorite single feature in the book is a less flashy moment: it's the reveal of Princess Leia, who pulls back her white hood to reveal her face, while pulling out a blaster in front of her femininely curved cardboard figure. There's one, set for stun, indeed.

Honorable Mention:
The Making of Star Wars, J.W. Rinzler

Best TV Series of 2007

Big Love Big Love
HBO

Largely on the basis of Ginnifer Goodwin's extreme cuteness, I became a big fan of Big Love in its 2006 debut season. I had some reservations as to how a drama series about polygamy could sustain its freshness and intrigue after the novelty wore off, but that proved to be a false concern. The show easily became twice as captivating in its sophomore season, with the best cast and the best writing anywhere on television. Interestingly, creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer seemed hell-bent on making protagonist Bill Henrickson progressively more unlikeable week after week, as Bill flirted with a potential fourth wife, schemed for control of a video poker business, and ran afoul of a new evil polygamist sect even crazier and more dangerous than Roman Grant's Juniper Creek compound. We're left waiting for the third season to see whether the husband of Barb, Nikki and Margene will suffer his deserved downfall or somehow turn himself into a good guy again. The show's so fantastic that I'm even willing to forgive Miss Goodwin for losing so much weight between seasons, even though Margene is supposed to be pregnant. (Why oh why can't more hot actresses follow the De Niro school of carbo-loaded method acting?) Big Love is seriously underrated and unappreciated, and now that The Sopranos is gone, hopefully it can rise to its rightful prominence as HBO's flagship original series.

Honorable Mentions:
The Colbert Report, Comedy Central
Ugly Betty, ABC
The Unit, CBS

Best Video Game of 2007

Super Stardust HD Super Stardust HD

My aforementioned purchase of a PlayStation 3 for Blu-ray purposes brought me back into the world of modern video games for the first time in years. I have no interest in the newfangled Halo-type games the kids are so crazy about nowadays, and fortunately there are a handful of PS3 games that suit the sensibilities of an old-school geezer like me. Fittingly, my favorite one thus far isn't even full-fledged release found in retail stores. It's a download on the online PlayStation Network that cost me the whopping sum of $7.99. Super Stardust HD could be fairly described as the best arcade-style outer space shoot-em-up ever created. It's Asteroids on methamphetamines, outfitted with the requisite power-ups, smart bombs, level bosses, and -- thank God! -- good ol' 2-dimensional gameplay wrapped up in an attractive pseudo-3D package. It's a difficult game, but not impossibly hard, and when I lose I feel like it's my own fault, and not that the game is being unfair. When I really get my groove on, Super Stardust makes feel like I'm summoning up Jedi reflexes to keep myself alive. I would have been perfectly satisfied to pay 50 bucks for this game, but if Sony wants to keep putting out gems like this as cheapo downloads, that'll be fine too.

Honorable Mention:
Motorstorm

Hottest Chick of 2007

Jane Monheit Jane Monheit

When gorgeous jazz vocalist Jane Monheit released a new album this May, Surrender, I hoped to catch her making some promotional appearances in the media. After she'd become distressingly skinny circa 2004, there were fleeting signs that Jane was gaining back her weight and looking better than ever. Sadly, her publicity efforts for Surrender seemed to be minimal and she remained practically invisible. That is, until Jane came to my town of Durham, NC, on her performance tour in December. At last I got my chance to see what she's looking like these days, and my wildest wishes were answered in spades. Yes, Jane Monheit is properly voluptuous once again. She strutted out onto the Carolina Theatre at her absolute plumpest and most womanly, because -- surprise! -- she was five months pregnant. And positively radiant, head to toe. Jane's round hips and robust backside looked supremely engineered for childbearing, testing the seams of her sexy black dress drawn taut over her marvellously swollen midriff. And she simply could not keep her hands off that tumescent tummy bulge, whose delicate heft she patted, caressed and cradled all throughout the evening. The sight was such a tantalizing distraction that I practically forgot we were there to hear her sing. I'm not typically a pregnancy fetishist, being enamored of female figures expanded by overindulgence rather than obstetrics, but I reckon that Jane's presently accumulated poundage owes plenty to both circumstances. After the show, I was granted the thrill of speaking personally to Jane and getting her autograph. I can say that on that evening, Jane Monheit was the single most beautiful woman I've ever seen face to face. I have a good feeling that she is settling into her natural body shape that she will maintain after her blessed event (and any future ones). Please, for the love of all that's holy, let this most perfect creature steer clear of cruel and evil diets.

Honorable Mention:
Nikki Blonsky

The 2007 Lard Biscuit Person of the Year

Carolina Hurricanes Stephen Colbert

When The Colbert Report debuted in 2005, I was among those who feared that the gimmick of the show would get old fast. A comedian doing an entire series playing the character of a blowhard conservative moron pundit, night after night, didn't seem like a proposition that would have legs over the long haul. But it's a tribute to the genius of Stephen Colbert that the program has not only remained consistently fresh and funny for over two years now, but it's actually become sharper and more incisive with age. It's actually gotten to the point that The Daily Show seems tired by comparison. Introducing new segments like "Colbert Platinum," "Monkey on the Lam," "Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA," and his monumental "WristStrong" wrist-awareness campaign, the Report grew more hilarious than ever in 2007. Jon Stewart gave Vanity Fair a great appraisal of Colbert's unique talent to improvise and interact with guests while remaining both witty and in character. "I've seen talk-show hosts who can't do that for real," Stewart said. "And then you watch Colbert and it's like the first time you use broadband: 'How the fuck did that happen?' He's rendering in real time. He's basically doing his show in a second language." (Hey, does this mean Lard Biscuit Enterprises might appear on the next installment of "Who's Honoring Me Now?")

The 2007 Lard Biscuit Asshole of the Year

Everybody Everybody

Well, this year there was so much that pissed me off that I can't pick just one person who was the worst culprit. So I'll have to give this one to the entire world, just to make sure I've got it covered. That includes me, too. Humanity, we suck. Seriously. Let's all try to do a little better next year.

The 2006 Lard Biscuit Achievement Awards

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