The Lardy

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the ninth 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 2008 Lardies, bestowing the coveted and voluptuous golden trophy that honors only the most outstanding achievements in lardy goodness. The envelope, please...

Best Album of 2008 (Studio Recording)

22 Dreams 22 Dreams
Paul Weller

Having toyed with the notion of releasing a double album since 1997's Heavy Soul, Paul Weller finally served up an extra-length magnum opus to celebrate his 50th birthday. Though 22 Dreams has been widely praised, many critics have accused it of being bloated up with "filler" tracks that should have been cut to make it a leaner and less self-indulgent package. I would actually agree that it only contains a handful of Weller classics-to-be, especially "Have You Made Up Your Mind," "Cold Moments" and the title track. But I feel Weller succeeded wildly in his stated goal of creating a proper album in this age of iTunes downloads of cherry-picked singles. 22 Dreams is a 68-minute piece of work that you're meant to enjoy all the way through, and what some call filler I call interesting interludes and side journeys. One of these is my personal favorite track, "Song for Alice," a powerfully dynamic jazz instrumental fuelled with the confident verve of the early Style Council. Weller has woven reprised snippets into most of his solo albums, and this time he lets that proclivity run wild: "Light Nights," "22 Dreams" and "Empty Ring" each make an encore appearance, and "Push It Along" and "Sea Spray" are actually two oppositional versions of the same melody, like reversed reflections of each other. The recurring motifs lend the album, it must be said, a "dreamy" feel, as if it all takes place in a singular quantum physics moment of hypertime. To top it off, I also had the rare pleasure of seeing Weller on tour in Washington, DC this fall, and playing these new songs he seemed to be having the most fun I've ever seen him have on stage. Not bad for an old geezer.

Honorable Mentions:
Funplex, The B-52's
Saturnalia, The Gutter Twins

Best Album of 2008 (Live Recording)

Hackney Empire Hackney Empire, June 24, 2008

Last summer Madness, my favorite band still actively in existence,gave a series of performances at London's Hackney Empire theater to debut their upcoming album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate. At the time the album was slated for release in the fall, though it's since been pushed to March 2009. Actually, fans like myself got a Christmas present of a preview download of the album with our advance orders of a deluxe box set, but since that's not the official and final release, I have ruled The Liberty of Norton Folgate ineligible for the 2008 Lardy Award for best album, for which it would have kicked the crap out of 22 Dreams. Nevertheless, since the souvenir USB-wristband recording of the Hackney shows has been my most-enjoyed listening material of the year (the opening night of July 24 being the best of the three gigs), I had to give it this special recoginition. Suggs, Barso, Thommo, Chrissy Boy, Bedders, Woody and Chas have got a masterpiece on their hands here. This music is transcendentally good. It's not your typical reunion project of washed-up, middle-aged musicians desperately grasping at their past glories and falling flat. These 7 guys absolutely keep moving one step beyond their rise and fall. This is the work of a band in its prime. Some of the Hackney Empire performances are so phenomenal that they may even outclass the studio versions, particularly "We Are London," "Dust Devil" and "Clerkenwell Polka." And the album will probably be lacking the hauntingly beautiful strains of the orchestral arrangement of melodies from the epic-length "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" track, which were performed by strings and brass as an overture. As Chas Smash remarked in his carnival barker-style introduction to the evening's scheduled entertainment, "What some may consider a flatulent piece of frippery, others may consider with awe and reverence." I know Chas was taking the piss, as they say in merrie olde England, but you can place D. Trull firmly in the latter camp.

Honorable Mention:
Weller at the BBC Digital Box Set, Paul Weller

Best Movie of 2008
Best Blu-ray Disc of 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Dave Filoni

I had no great expectations for the new CGI Clone Wars adventures, given my low opinion of the Genndy Tartakovsky shorts. I expected the new stuff would be more of the same faulty characterization, overblown Jedi superheroics and general "Expended Universe" ickiness. But in my opinion, everything Tartakovsky got wrong has been done right in the new series, and the theatrical movie was a fantastic way to kick off this new chapter in the saga. The action scenes are imaginatively designed and beautifully executed, the familiar characters seem convincingly like themselves, and most what's most impressive of all, it genuinely feels like Star Wars. There's been enough hate for Ahsoka Tano to dub her the second coming of Jar Jar Binks, but I have to say her characterization in the movie completely won me over. More than being a contrivance to appeal to the kiddie demographic, her insertion into the saga is actually a stroke of brilliance. With this new series being basically an extended flashback in which we already know the fate of all the principals and the inevitable mutiny of the heroic clone soldiers, Ahsoka adds a needed element of mystery to leave us pondering whether Darth Vader slays his erstwhile padawan or if she survives to adulthood as a Jedi fugitive. The Blu-ray disc is an absolute pleasure to watch, with the gorgeous colors and art direction of the battles on Christophsis and Teth looking dazzling in high definition. And the underrated score of Kevin Kiner somehow avoids the trap of being "John Williams lite" to create its own sonic identity that rocks out in 5.1 surround. The one false note I found in this movie is that the writers forgot that Anakin Skywalker is fluent in Huttese and wouldn't need a translator droid to speak with Jabba. And if that's the biggest gripe this finicky Star Wars geek can come up with, I'd have to say these animation guys have done a pretty damn good job. For the record, I even thought Truman Capote the Hutt was awesome.

Honorable Mentions: (Best Movie)
The Spirit, Frank Miller
WALL-E, Andrew Stanton

Honorable Mentions (Best Blu-ray Disc):
Baraka, Ron Fricke
Kill Bill Vol. 1, Quentin Tarantino

Best DVD of 2008

Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women
Eclipse Series 13
The Criterion Collection

I'd been looking to expand my knowledge of the great Kenji Mizoguchi, and early this year I forked out a bunch of cash to import the Masters of Cinema double-packs from the U.K. Then along came Criterion to make it a lot easier and more economical to fill out my Mizoguchi library with this outstanding Eclipse set. The four films included form a retrospective on the director's central recurring theme -- the plight of desperately oppressed women -- from his first sound movies in the 1930s to his final work in 1956. The prewar Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion give a fascinating glimpse of the mature Mizoguchi style being present even in these early films, both featuring grand performances by the young Isuzu Yamada (previously best known to me during her matronly years). Women of the Night is a devastating study of how ordinary, upstanding women could so easily descend into prostitution in the turbulent world of 1948 Japan. But the real jewel of the Fallen Women set is Street of Shame, Mizoguchi's last film and a true masterpiece. It features an ensemble cast of four women who have ended up at the working at the Dreamland brothel. There's no single protagonist, but for me the star is Machiko Kyo as the sassy, Americanized girl known as Mickey. I could not believe she was the same actress who played the demure wife in Rashomon six years prior. Kyo's performance lights up the screen, and I loved how the Mickey seemed to be idly eating in nearly every scene, highlighting her unrestrained, non-traditional sensuality. I agree with those who've noted that Street of Shame is enough of a classic to deserve the full Criterion treatment on its own, but I'm delighted to take four films in a plain Eclipse set rather than having only one of them.

Honorable Mentions:
Wakeful Nights, Masahiko Tsugawa
U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky

Best Book of 2008

A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors
Alexander Jacoby

In my pursuit of knowledge in the field of Japanese cinema, I've mostly found scholarly tomes focusing on the fine-art films, and a couple of books dedicated to samurai/chambara genre movies. Alexander Jacoby's new book, which I got hold of just as I was finishing up the launch of The Jidai-Geki Knights here on my web site, is the first book I've found that gives equal coverage to both "high" and "low" Japanese film. The A-Z profiles of Japan's key directors obviously includes the biggies like Kurosawa, Ozu, Naruse and Mizoguchi, but Jacoby also gives fair shakes to the likes of chambara and ninkyo-eiga specialists Hideo Gosha, Kenji Misumi, Eiichi Kudo and Kazuo Mori. And the rigorously complete filmographies for each director seriously put IMDb to shame. A few of chambara directors like Tokuzo Tanaka have been left out, but I'll forgive Jacoby for having space limitations. It's hugely illuminating to see all these diverse directors listed together in one volume, and I've found it as compulsively readable as an encyclopedic reference work can be. I've mined some choice tidbits of data from this book that I had not come across anywhere else. I mean, did you have any idea that Mashahiro Makino and Sadatsugu Matsuda were half-brothers, Matusda being the illegimate son of Japanese film pioneer Shozo Makino? Me either, but it makes so much sense now!

Honorable Mention:
Watching the Watchmen, Dave Gibbons with Chip Kidd and Mike Essl

Best TV Series of 2008

Mad Men Mad Men

When the writers' strike waylaid my current favorite TV series, Big Love, from airing any new episodes in 2008, the door was open for the new Clone Wars animated series to swoop in and take over the title. But I much as I love the weekly adventures of Anakin, Ahsoka and company, there is another fine television program that I have to name as superior. This year I discovered the first season of AMC's Mad Men through my digital cable's on-demand service, and I got hopelessly hooked. Then I tuned in for the second season as began airing this summer, and it managed to be even better. This is a marvelously sophisticated drama with a level of artistic merit unseen on American television beyond premium channels. Considering that creator Matthew Weiner and much of the crew previously worked on The Sopranos, HBO was utterly out of their minds to pass on this series. Much has been said about the novelty of the show's fiercely authentic setting in the early 1960s, complete with socially condoned sexism, racism and smoking. But what I'd like to remark on is the subject matter of advertising, and how Mad Men shows us the birth of the lies and deception that make up the bulk of modern-day marketing. From my personal experience as a copywriter at a creative agency, I get a kick out of seeing Sterling Cooper having the same problems with hard-headed clients that we still have to endure today. For a show called Mad Men that depicts so much venal misogyny, it's notable that its female characters are among the most compelling on TV: the ambitious copywriter Peggy, the disillusioned housewife Betty, and especially the voluptuous office sexpot Joan, portrayed by Hottest Chick runner-up Christina Hendricks.

Honorable Mention:
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Cartoon Network

Best Video Game of 2008

SoulCalibur IV SoulCalibur IV

Being a Star Wars nerd, I got interested in SoulCalibur IV because of the crossover appearance of Darth Vader and his apprentice from The Force Unleashed. I liked the notion of seeing Vader in these various gothic fantasy environments that had no relation to the established Star Wars universe. In made me think of Vader confronting the cyborg Valance the Hunter in the old Marvel comics. So that attraction got me to buy this video game, which has turned out to be one of my absolute favorite PlayStation 3 time-wasters. And yet I have hardly even played as Vader or the Apprentice (or Yoda, as a digital download). The unexpected thrill of SoulCalibur IV is the custom character creation feature. I've had a blast playing as my new version of a female swordfighting superhero I created as a teenager, and I've also made reasonably authentic versions of Elektra from Daredevil, Chun-Li from Street Fighter II, the Bride from Kill Bill, and Xena and Gabrielle. (I've always preferred playing as female characters in fighting games, which probably says something about my damaged psychological makeup.) I'd probably have loved this game even without the custom characters, because the gameplay is so excellent. It's far and away the most fun 3-D fighting game I've ever played, giving you a fine sense of control and the ability to pull off fancy moves without memorizing ridiculous button combinations or pinpoint timing. It's just fun, fun, fun. I'm just grateful for the Lucasfilm licensing tie-in, without which I probably would have overlooked this total gem.

Honorable Mention:
Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

Hottest Chick of 2008

Chloe Marshall Chloe Marshall

If you want to know what my type of woman is, just take a look at Chloe Marshall. She's a ridiculously perfect physical specimen: cascading brunette locks, bewitching blue eyes, 5 foot 10, a fulsome 38-32-43 and 176 pounds. I couldn't ask for anything more. Neither could the impeccably shrewd judges of the Miss Surrey pageant, who crowned Chloe their local queen and sent her to represent plus-size beauty at the Miss England finals. "Everybody thinks you have to be a tall, slim blonde and I'm a curvy brunette," Chloe says. "I want to show it is possible to be beautiful and not a standard size zero." She ended up finishing respectably as first runner-up for Miss England 2008, proving that "fat girls" can compete at the highest levels without dieting to the lowest weight.

Honorable Mention:
Christina Hendricks

The 2008 Lard Biscuit Person of the Year

Barack Obama Barack Obama

I have to admit, at the outset of the 2008 election campaign (about 17 years ago, it seems), I wasn't sold on Obama as the best contender to replace the idiot man-child known as Dubya. I thought Dennis Kucinich was the candidate with the most intelligent policy ideas, but the sad reality is that no one as physically silly-looking as this guy has a prayer of being elected in our superficial modern nation. And I'm all for women running all branches of government, but Hillary Clinton is not the woman I want for this job. So along the way, I bought into Barack Obama as the best and only choice to lead our country out of this shittiest of times, and I hope our collective faith will be paid off. I've votes in every election since 1988, and this was actually the first time my vote has contributed to the electoral college winner, as my home state turned a lovely shade of Carolina blue. And I can't remember what it's like to have a president who can speak in complete sentences without a script and thinks about problems in more complex terms than a spoiled third-grader. So good luck to you, President Obama, and let's hope the frightened idiot rednecks of our nation will permit you to do all that needs to be done.

The 2008 Lard Biscuit Asshole of the Year

Sean Avery Sean Avery

Boy, there's plenty of low-hanging fruit I could go after for this award, bozos ranging from Sarah Palin to Rod Blagojevich. But I think I'll bypass the world of politics to single out a shithead both liberals and conservatives can agree upon, an ass-clown of such epic proportions he's like a cartoon villain: hockey goon Sean Avery. His douchbaggery turned me against the New York Rangers, formerly my second-favorite NHL team besides my beloved Carolina Hurricanes. In an April playoffs game against the New Jersey Devils, Avery decided to wave his hands and stick in front of Martin Brodeur's face to block his view of the puck during a 5-on-3. The befuddled referees didn't give him a penalty because no one on the history of the NHL had considered such an ass-bag tactic before, and the next day the league issued the Sean Avery Rule defining said Averying as unsportsmanlike conduct. But Avery would not reach his final downfall until he made the unforgivable mistake of publicly demeaning the "not-so-fresh" genitalia of a celebrity ex-girlfriend. How appropriate that "Puppy" Avery should get kicked out of the NHL not for infractions on the ice, but for running his mouth in front of a camera. Let's just hope no other team will touch the Dallas Stars' sloppy seconds.

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