The Lardy

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the tenth 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 2009 Lardies, bestowing the coveted and voluptuous golden trophy that honors only the most outstanding achievements in lardy goodness. The envelope, please...

Best Album of 2009

The Liberty of Norton Folgate The Liberty of Norton Folgate
Luxurious Box Set Edition
Madness

Coinciding with their 30th anniversary, Madness released their first new album of original material in a decade. And what perfect timing, in every way: because not only is The Liberty of Norton Folgate my choice as the best album of the year, I will declare it the album of this decade. Thoroughly brilliant and beautiful and bursting with creative inspiration, this is an hour-long love letter to the band's hometown of London. Among the many highlights here you'll find "NW5," a classic single that stands proudly beside the Madness hits of the '80s; "Dust Devil," a catchy tune about a high-spirited young lass; and the epic ten-minute title track that captures the colorful history and inordinate vivacity of London's East End. My personal top pick of the bunch is "Rainbows," a beautiful and simple little ditty which I believe gently whispers to us the true meaning of life. The limited-edition box set edition gave us hardcore fans an advance release and some nice bonus, most notably a precious second disc of outtakes. Far from being low-grade rejects, any of these songs could have fit nicely on the main album, like "Seven Dials" and "Hunchback of Torriano." I have to agree with what Suggs has so modestly remarked on stage: some people are calling the album a masterpiece, but I wouldn't... hesitate to doubt that.

Honorable Mentions:
The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me, Jane Monheit

Best Movie of 2009

Inglourious Basterds Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino

I read some rant condemning Inglourious Basterds because of how Brad Pitt's titular guerrilla unit kills and scalps captured German soldiers, who were typically not members of the Nazi party and thus didn't merit such brutal treatment. Yeah, and that criticism's about as valid as pointing out that Hitler didn't really die in a fiery French cinema. This is not a historical drama, you sauerkraut-sammich-eatin' crybabies, it's a fantasy of revenge and the way WWII should have gone down. And if you set aside the unbridled "Natsy" killin', this is a surprisingly bold and sophisticated film to find mainstream box office success. Mainly because there's lots and lots and lots of talking, with all the heavy dialogue Tarantino delights in, and the majority of it's not in English. European characters speak at length in their own languages instead of artificially spouting English for the benefit of yahoos that don't much cotton to reading fancy subtitles. And all the best and most suspenseful parts occur with characters conversing around a table, with three successive scenes in which the knows vital information that's being hidden, and we're fearful as hell the bad guys will find out the truth. I applaud Tarantino for exploring new territory beyond modern-day gangsters and assassins, and appreciate his ongoing efforts to make movies kick ass in whole different ways.

Honorable Mention:
Star Trek, J.J. Abrams

Best DVD of 2009

Tora-San: Volume 1 Tora-San: Volume 1
AnimEigo

In recent years as I've expanded my knowledge of Japanese cinema beyond jidai-geki samurai films, time and again I've heard about the Tora-san series. It's the creation and life's work of director Yoji Yamada, also known for his recent jidai-geki films like The Twilight Samurai. Tora-san is the world's longest-running film franchise with the same lead actor throughout, yielding 48 installments from 1969 to 1995, and just about every major Japanese actor from the period (especially the beautiful young actresses) made a guest appearance at some point. I can put the series' longevity into personal perspective since I was born just before the first one came out, and it continued until I was 36. But I never saw any of them until this year's U.S. DVD release of the first four movies. And I have to say Tora-san himself isn't what I expected. Hearing the character was a lovable loser, I anticipated a sort of bumbling but harmless fool, like a Japanese Gilligan or Jar Jar Binks. He's actually much more complex, a greedy con-man and tactless boor who can be a downright asshole at times, but actor Kiyoshi Atsumi also gives him a sweet and tender side that makes him impossible to dislike. The movies follow the same formula over and over: the traveling huckster rolls into town to visit his aunt, uncle and sister, then he totally screws something up and hits the road again, where he falls in love with a beautiful woman but she ends up with another man. And yet it's fresh and hilarious each time. I know not all westerners would get the humor; my exposure to Japanese films greatly helps me understand the situations, such as Tora-san's goofy affectations to present himself as an old-time yakuza (which he probably picked up from watching classic ninkyo-eiga movies instead of from hanging out with real gangsters). The typical extended subtitles and notes from AnimEigo are particularly helpful in sorting out the elaborate wordplay and cultural references that would otherwise get lost in translation. So it'll only take eleven more box sets to get us caught up on the whole Tora-san saga, and I'm on board.

Honorable Mention:
The Human Condition, Masaki Kobayashi

Best Blu-ray Disc of 2009

The Prisoner The Prisoner: The Complete Series

I first saw The Prisoner a few years ago on the initial U.K. DVD release, which had such drab and dreary picture quality it looked like the series had been shot through a pair of pantyhose. I was dubious about the idea of the series being released on Blu-ray, thinking that cruddy A/V was inherent to a 40-year-old TV show. So what a revelation it was to see Patrick McGoohan's surreal masterpiece in this beautifully restored set. This isn't one of those cases where you can say a HD transfer makes a classic look like it was filmed yesterday, since the look of The Prisoner is part and parcel of the psychedelic late '60s. But that's just the way you want it. Now we can truly appreciate the beauty of the Portmeirion resort location that served as the Village and all those colorful umbrellas and striped capes sported by its residents. My gosh, what tremendous set design went into this program. Everything is spellbinding just to look and and pore over, even before you get into the craziness of the plot and storylines. There's been decades of heavy geek debate over the symbolism of Number Six's predicament, the meaning of the outlandish series finale, and even what sequence you should properly view the episodes in. My personal feeling is that it's all just a brilliant mindfuck, a riddle with no answer that you would drive yourself bonkers attempting to make rational sense of. It is what it is, a fun and engaging parable that miraculously ever made it onto television. All I know for sure is the Blu-ray set looks awesome, and now I've got a notion to set up two trampolines and a wading pool out on my back porch to make my own kosho court.

Honorable Mention:
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Complete First Season

Best TV Series of 2009

Big Love Big Love
HBO

After sitting out 2008 as a casualty of the writers' strike, Big Love struck back onto premium cable this year seeking blood atonement. Clearly, Mark V. Olsen, Will Scheffer and their crew didn't lose their magic touch during their labor dispute hiatus. Secrets and deception were the overriding theme for this brief but incendiary 10-episode season, which packed in more development than any 22 installments of your typical television drama. We got to see new soap opera twists and turns in the Henricksons' polygamist marriage, which briefly expanded from three sister wives to four. Chloe Sevigny's Nikki had the plum role of the season, splitting her loyalties between her spouses and her family at the crazy Juniper Creek compound, and flirting with infidelity with the assistant D.A. whose case against her evil prophet father she was spying on. Now that's drama! Twice we got to see bitter enemies engaged in mortal showdowns -- Lois vs. Frank, then Joey vs. Roman -- one of which resulted in the tremendously satisfying death of a bad guy (too bad we didn't go two for two). Everything came to a raging boil when the Henricksons took a road trip that exposed truckloads of their darkest secrets dating back from the start of the series, in the epic "Come, Ye Saints" episode that was the finest hour of television in 2009. I can tirelessly watch every episode of this show over and over, and I have, and I'm ready to see how they can top themselves in 2010.

Honorable Mention:
Mad Men, AMC

Best Book of 2009

Suggs and the City Suggs and the City: My Journeys Through Disappearing London
Suggs

A few years ago, multi-talented Madness vocalist Suggs (known to his dear mother Edwina as Graham McPherson) hosted a TV series called Disappearing London, which documented endangered remnants of the city's history and unique culture. Our renaissance man-about-town has now drawn upon those experiences to author his first book, Suggs and the City. Suggs includes lots of the people and places he covered in the show, such as Alf Masterson, the last rag and bone man in London, and pie and mash shop proprietor Bob Cooke. On the basis of Suggs' introduction, I had the pleasure of meeting the affable Mr. Cooke and enjoying a hearty lunch at his place on the afternoon before Madstock this past summer. But the book is more than just a rehash of the TV show. Suggs also recounts plenty of personal anecdotes to thrill any Madness fans, such as various youthful misadventures with the band's sax player Lee Thompson. From interviews and TV appearances, I know Suggs' storytelling style well enough to recognize the hand of a ghostwriter shaping the narrative flow here. But without an editor, I imagine this book would have ended up a spiraling mess of digressions and poor grammar. Enough of the true Suggs enthusiasm for his beloved city comes shining through to make this book a winner. I just wish I could have read it before my trip to London, since many of the sights he celebrates in these pages will sadly no longer be there to see the next time I make it over for a visit.

Honorable Mention:
Warring Clans, Flashing Blades, Patrick Galloway

Best Video Game of 2009

PixelJunk Shooter PixelJunk Shooter

As I've said many times before, I'm strictly old school when it comes to video games. I like simple, basic arcade-style games that are fun instead of flashy. PixelJunk Shooter was absolutely made for me. Like my other most-played PlayStation 3 games, Super Stardust HD and PixelJunk Eden, it's a downloadable game from the PlayStation Network than pleases me far more than some $60 disc-based 3D-rendered blockbuster. PixelJunk Shooter has a very basic premise of exploring underground caverns in a weapon-loaded flying vessel to rescue stranded humanoids. What makes things interesting is the environment of various substances, including water, lava, toxic gas and magnetic oil, which interact in different ways with realistic fluid dynamics. A small amount of water evaporates when it hits lava, but a flood of water cools the lava into rock. The appealing combination of flat colors and silky-smooth animation reminds me of the look and feel of the classic Sega Genesis game Flashback. It's huge fun to play and packs some cleverly imagined problem-solving scenarios. In particular, the final boss at the end of the ice level is amazing. The one weakness of this game is that it's too short, having only three main levels that are fairly easy to storm through. I haven't finished it yet only because I'm holding myself back to savor the experience. Fortunately, though, PixelJunk games always get a "Encore" extension later on, so the fun will get to keep on coming.

Honorable Mention:
Street Fighter IV

Hottest Chick of 2009

Fluvia Lacerda Fluvia Lacerda

The phenomenally gorgeous Brazilian model Fluvia Lacerda has been characterized as "the plus size version of Gisele," which in my terms means she's the attractive version of Gisele. Fluvia is ridiculously, mind-meltingly sexy across every ample inch of her 42-35-48 frame. As part of a promotion from fashion retailer IGIGI, she appeared in a short YouTube film entitled "16," in honor of her dress size. A sultry black-and-white montage of Fluvia showering and getting dressed in a glamourous evening gown ends with this defiant declaration: "So go ahead, call me fat." And you know what? With all due respect and admiration, I will. Just take a look at this Biluzik video which I think is even more dazzling. Fluvia's hips and thighs in those jeans are scandalously thick and meaty. And look at the proud roll of pudge around her middle. God bless her, Fluvia Lacerda is undeniably a fat woman. And this is a wonderful thing. How thrilling it is to see a gorgeous and successful plus-size model who isn't just curvy or full-figured or hourglass-shaped, but challenges the prevailing false standard of beauty because she officially qualifies as being fat. Fat and stunning. Gorda e bonita.

Honorable Mention:
Tali from More to Love

Special Achievement in Lardy Goodness

Mr Kipling Fruity Pies Mr Kipling Fruity Pies

On my visit to London this past summer, I went shopping for some indigenous snack treats to nibble on back at the hotel. I'd done my advance research on good restaurants to target, but I had no clue on supermarket packaged goods. At a Tesco in Marylebone, I found a shelf of goodies that immediately caught my fancy: Mr Kipling Fruity Pies. "Exceedingly Good," the package copy boasted, with a variety of fillings including Bramley apple and blackcurrant. That sounded pretty authentically British to me, and thus I came to have one of the most pleasant discoveries of my trip. Blimey, these wee buggers are bloody brilliant! The crust is flaky and fresh, the fruity fillings bursting with natural "flavour." You'll never find a Hostess fruit pie or Little Debbie cake with anything near the tasty quality of Mr Kipling. Maybe it's the lack of artificial additives and preservatives we use, or maybe the manufacturing cost-per-unit for pies that actually taste good would be too unprofitable for U.S. snack companies. If all our snack treats were this delicious, I'm sure Americans would be even fatter than we already are. I had such a brutal jones for a Mr Kipling fix that I had a case of Fruity Pies shipped over to give out as Christmas gifts for friends, family and myself. You haven't lived if you've never Kippled.

The 2009 Lard Biscuit Persons of the Year

Madness Madness

M... A... D... N... E... S... S... Yes! Congratulations to Suggs, Mike Barson, Chris Foreman, Lee Thompson, Woody Woodgate, Mark Bedford and Cathal Smyth for celebrating their 30th year together in grand style. After a decade without an album of original songs, they released the spectacular The Liberty of Norton Folgate. And breaking out of their typical pattern of performing only a handful of special gigs each year, in 2009 Madness played an astonishing 53 shows around the U.K., Europe and Australia. They didn't make it to the U.S., so I had to head across the Atlantic. I was so inspired by the new album that I decided it was finally time for me to see Madness in concert as my 40th birthday present to myself, so I got on a plane to London and went to the Madstock festival. What a fantastic experience that I'll never forget as my rewarding first foray into international travel. My thanks to Madness for taking me places I've never been before, emotionally and physically, and for still being there performing their nutty sounds better than ever after all these years. During my pilgrimage I decided that Madness has officially replaced the Minutemen as my favorite band of all time.

The 2009 Lard Biscuit Asshole of the Year

Glenn Beck Glenn Beck

What happens when you put a complete idiot on TV and radio and millions of other complete idiots believe all the hateful, ignorant, deliberately misleading bullshit that he issues forth on a daily basis? You get Glenn Beck, the black hole at the epicenter of teabagging Faux News stupidity. This is the guy who said carbon dioxide levels can't be a problem since "trees need it to grow," who ridiculously overinflated the attendance at his 9/12 rally, who decoded Rockfeller Center's architecture as being communist and fascist, and who declared that Barack Obama is a racist who hates white people. That's right, the President hates his dead mother and half of his relatives. Just as Beck claims to do, I also love my country, and I fear for it... because our fellow citizens are taking this jackass seriously.

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