The Lardy

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the fourteenth 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 2013 Lardies, bestowing the coveted and voluptuous golden trophy that honors only the most outstanding achievements in lardy goodness. The envelope, please...

Best Album of 2013

The Shocking Miss Emerald The Shocking Miss Emerald
Deluxe Edition
Caro Emerald

For the past few years, I have been searching for new female vocalists to enjoy. It's as if I could sense something was missing, that someone special was out there waiting for me. Then Caro Emerald came along, and everything has changed. Completely. It astonishes me that this perfectly marvelous Dutch singer has been an international success since 2009 while escaping my notice. I finally found her on Later with Jools Holland promoting this new album. The general consensus is that The Shocking Miss Emerald is not quite as good as her flawless debut, Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor. And that's true, it's not. But it's still a delight worthy of top Lard Biscuit honors. This album leans more toward sultry ballads like "Tangled Up," "Black Valentine" and "I Belong to You," and that's not a bad thing. We also get some of that bouncy Deleted Scenes feel with numbers like "Liquid Lunch" and "Completely." The deluxe edition, released a matter of months after the original album, features a couple of bonus tracks and a full concert recording. One of the new songs, "The Bullet," serves as further evidence for why Caro should sing the next James Bond theme song. The live performance disc finds Miss Emerald and her band in a notch more relaxed and easygoing mood, relative to their typical thermonuclear energy level in concert. They mix things up with some alternate arrangements, such as "Pack Up the Louie" without the Satchmo-style vocal sample in the chorus, and an offbeat call-and-response grafted onto her big hit "Back It Up." Once Caro gets the crowd chanting to an unfamiliar rhythm, she advises them, "Okay, I'm going to sing on top of you, okay?" I tell you what, Caro honey, you can sing on top of me anytime!

Honorable Mentions:
The Benevolence of Sister Mary Ignatius, The Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra
I Can't Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson, Mandy Barnett
13, Black Sabbath

Best Movie of 2013

The Wolverine The Wolverine
James Mangold

After the moronic disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I was not at all interested in a further Logan sequel with an extraneous "The" in the title. Then I heard that it was going to feature the classic storyline of Wolverine in Japan. This got my attention. I read the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller miniseries when it came out in 1982, and it was a seminal influence fostering my fascination with Japanese adventure stories. James Mangold and his screenwriters did a phenomenal job of capturing the essence of the source material while while taking well-chosen liberties in adapting it for the screen, citing westerns and samurai films as inspiration. I dare say The Wolverine is even better than the comics. Sure, there are a few dopey Hollywood elements in there, but I absolutely love the feeling and personality of this movie. What can I say, it just punches all my nerd buttons: Japanese setting, Wolverine as a ronin figure, swordfights, yakuzas, ninjas, kick-ass female protagonists... yes, please! Hugh Jackman is more compelling than ever in his signature role, rising above the cartoony veneer of the preceding X-Men films to explore new emotional territory. With him being the only familiar face among the mostly Japanese cast, novice actresses Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima acquit themselves with vividly memorable performances as Mariko and Yukio. Hell, I would love to see a Yojimbo Yukio spinoff movie. And the "Unleashed" extended cut on Blu-ray offers substantial improvements, the most welcome of which is the unexpurgated bloody battle between Wolverine and the Hand, I mean the Black Clan, which was trimmed for the sake of a PG-13 rating. The Wolverine outclasses The Avengers as my favorite Marvel movie, and I think it might be the best superhero movie ever made.

Honorable Mention:
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson

Best Blu-ray Disc of 2013

Zatoichi Blu-ray Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman
The Criterion Collection

When AnimEigo's Zatoichi DVDs went out of print a little while back, I harbored an ultimate nerd fantasy that Criterion -- license-holders for the bulk of the series -- was snatching up the rights in order to release a complete box set edition on Blu-ray. Sometimes ultimate nerd fantasies come true. Bear in mind, we're talking about my favorite jidai-geki film series, and my favorite cinematic franchise overall aside from Star Wars, being treated with the full lavish Criterion treatment in high definition. So this is a big damn deal. The deluxe 27-disc box set is gorgeous in both design and content. I interpret the garish illustrations adorning the packaging in an M.C. Escher panorama as being Ichi's inner conception of the unseen world around him. The 25 films from 1962 to 1973 include the previously scarce Zatoichi's Pilgrimage, but not Shintaro Katsu's final 1989 film. But that one was really more a capper to the television series and doesn't really fit in with the original run in this set, so I can sour grapes it away. These movies look rapturously gorgeous, which is a real mind-blow considering that I first saw many of them on IFC Samurai Saturdays in pathetic murky prints barely clearer than Ichi's vision. I think the best-looking single film in the bunch is Zatoichi Challenged, boasting richly saturated banners waving in the breeze at a festival, as well as the serene falling snow during the memorable climatic duel. It kind of makes me sad that Criterion will probably never be able to impress me again, compared to this dream come true. But I'm really happy that loads of new viewers who never heard of Zatoichi before are buying this on the basis of the Criterion seal of approval, which is a true blessing.

Honorable Mention:
Caro Emerald In Concert

Best DVD of 2013

A Chivalrous Spirit A Chivalrous Spirit
Sadatsugu Matsuda
Samurai DVD

Back in 2010, Merlin at Samurai DVD let me know he was going to be releasing a remastered version of one of my favorite jidai-geki films, A Chivalrous Spirit. This year he finally made good on that promise. This 1958 Toei classic is one of the best Shimizu no Jirocho films, starring the great Chiezo Kataoka as the chivalrous yakuza boss, along with an all-star cast. I fell in love with this movie from an old Hawaii TV recording, and now this new edition comes with a beautiful anamorphic widescreen that Samurai DVD subtitled. It's a wonderful and magnificent thing to behold. Domo arigato gozaimasu to Merlin for his chivalrous deed.

Honorable Mention:
The Complete (Exisiting) Films of Sadao Yamanaka
Eureka/Masters of Cinema

Best TV Series of 2013 (Tie)

Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad Game of Thrones
HBO
Breaking Bad
AMC

So much great television this year! I can't pick just one winner, so here are the two best. What got all the attention in the third season of Game of Thrones was the infamous Red Wedding, which drastically changed the trajectory of the story going forward and left us fearing whether any of the Stark clan can hope to survive. But let's not forget there was so much more going on besides the massacre at the Twins. There was Daenerys gaining her Unsullied army, the unhanding of Jaime Lannister, Bran's discovery of his warg powers, the forced marriage of Tyrion and Sansa, Samwell Tarly slaying a white walker, and a personal favorite, the fiery duel between the Hound and Beric Dondarrion. As a longtime connoisseur of swordplay, I have to say that was one of the coolest damn things I've ever seen. Kudos to David Benioff and D. B. Weiss for maintaining the top-notch quality of this classic in the making. And equal respect to Vince Gilligan for steering his Breaking Bad to a magnificently crafted and satisfying end. On the critical side, I was disappointed that so much of the climactic developments turned on Walt's past poisoning of Brock, which I felt was the one weak plot point in the entire series, and some of Jesse's decisions seemed contrived and out of character. That aside, the final eight episodes were astonishing to the gut-wrenching end. The long-anticipated showdown between Walt and Hank played out in a way that seemed surprising at first, but inevitable in retrospect. "Ozymadias" really was the best single episode of the series, as the mighty Heisenberg looked on his works and despaired, bookended by his first lying phone call to Skyler and his final lying phone call to Skyler. And yet in the end, it was his monstrous ego that kept him from giving up when all was lost, and drove him to orchestrate one last genius scheme and confront the dark truth: "I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it, and I was really... alive."

Honorable Mention:
Arrested Development, Netflix

Best Book of 2013 (Provisional Award)

That Close That Close
Suggs

Well, this is awkward. Graham "Suggs" McPherson, lead vocalist of my favorite band Madness, published his autobiography this year, and I haven't read it yet. I made the mistake of ordering the audio version of the book from Amazon, and those jokers haven't managed to fill my order. I thought it would be pleasant to listen to the author reciting his life story in his own dulcet voice as opposed to reading it, and therefore I've got nothing. Since the excerpts of the book seemed interesting enough, and I wasn't overly impressed with any of the few books I read in 2013, I'm going to go ahead and grant Suggsy the award on a provisional basis. Presumably I will read and/or listen to That Close in 2014 and make sure I was getting it right -- not crashing and burning.

Honorable Mention:
Fran, Jim Woodring

Best Video Game of 2013

NHL 14 NHL 14
Electronic Arts (PS3)

Video games are what got me interested in NHL hockey. The classic Electronic Arts NHLPA '93 and NHL 94 games were fun as hell, ranking among the best-loved titles of the Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo era. The modern EA hockey games have become too complicated and overly focused on "realism" at the expense of playability. I got the NHL 08 game for PlayStation 3 (Eric Staal on the cover!), and while it looked cool, it was so impenetrably difficult that I could hardly ever score even one goal. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of NHL 94, EA got the right idea to enhance this year's model with a throwback anniversary mode: simplified shoot-pass-turbo controls, crazy hits, no penalties, retro midi music, and even the pale blue ice. It really does have that old-school feel, and guess what else? It's actually fun to play again! Even something as seemingly trivial as the star-shaped player indicator makes the game so much more playable than the silly floating Sims pointer EA uses instead these days. I get all the good stuff from the old game I loved, with the additions of way better HD graphics and my Carolina Hurricanes, who were still the Hartford Whalers back then. It's funny how many reviews of NHL 14 said, "The NHL 94 Anniversary mode is a cool novelty, but no one's likely to buy the game just because of it." Wrong, hipster pundits. I am the demographic this nostalgia trip was made for.

Honorable Mention:
Flashback (PSN)

Hottest Chick of 2013

Caro Emerald Caro Emerald

Dutch pop diva Caro Emerald captured my heart this year, in a way that no celebrity femme fatale has done since the late great Anna Nicole Smith. She's a huge success in her native Holland and across Europe, but has yet to crack the United States, even though her modern mix of sultry jazz and hip-hop beats sounds ready-made for U.S. audiences. Sadly, I think her looks are an issue in her marketability. Even though Adele has paved the way for big girls to be big stars here, there's no question that the U.S. pop music market remains averse to chanteuses of size. "I didn't want to be seen as the 'fat girl' and so I avoided any questions about weight to start with," Caro admits. "I knew there was a time when people wanted their singers to be so thin, but I felt that it wasn't all about that. Now I think things are changing and people want more from their female singers." Let's hope so. Speaking for myself, Caro Emerald is exactly and completely what I want from a female singer.

Honorable Mention:
Denise Bidot

The 2013 Lard Biscuit Person of the Year

Chris Christie Reed Hastings
Netflix CEO

Now, I don't know squat about this guy, and he may be a jerk as a person. But I wanted to express my admiration for Netflix and how the company is being run, so I figured I'll let Mr. Hastings take the credit. I got converted into being a loyal customer this year after being strongly anti-Netflix. I was opposed to streaming video services because I considered the format inferior to disc media and a threat to the Blu-ray cause. When Netflix made the shrewd move to finance and distribute the new episodes of Arrested Development, naturally I dropped my objections and signed up via my PS3, expecting to unsubscribe after a couple of months. But then I took note of all the other cool original content happening there, like Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards. And I got hooked on some existing shows I'd missed out on before, including Parks and Recreation and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. True, the selection of recent hit films is spotty, but they do offer a nice assortment of offbeat indie and foreign films, which is more my cup of tea anyway. While the streaming video quality can be intermittently fuzzy and won't ever match a good Blu-ray, the cost, convenience and content quality makes that compromise worthwhile. I heard that Reed Hastings said Netflix's goal is to become HBO before HBO can become Netflix, and it sure seems like they are going to make that happen. Hats off to him for getting past that Qwikster fiasco from a couple of years ago, winning over discriminating snobs like myself, and building his company into a pioneering entertainment powerhouse.

The 2013 Lard Biscuit Assholes of the Year

The NHL John Boehner and the Do-Nothing Congress

So much hate. So much hate. So much hate. And I'm not talking about my feelings toward John Boehner and his conservative cronies. I'm talking about their petty, small-minded, hypocritical contempt for the president, for the principles of democracy, and for the common good of the citizens they allegedly represent. The problems facing our country today are too dire and urgent for us to be governed with the emotional intelligence of a cranky four-year-old who doesn't get his way and only barks "NO!" There is absolutely no justification for the 113th Congress to be the least productive in U.S. history, at a juncture where we need to be getting shit done. Mr. Speaker, you suck.

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