The Lardy

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the twelfth 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 2011 Lardies, bestowing the coveted and voluptuous golden trophy that honors only the most outstanding achievements in lardy goodness. The envelope, please...

Best Album of 2011

Neptune Neptune
Eliza Carthy

I fell in love with Eliza Carthy's unique blend of English folk and modern musical stylings on the basis of 1998's Red Rice. As I've followed everything she's recorded over the past decade, she's never matched that double album's bubbling creative energy, until now. Neptune is her new masterpiece, the best thing she's ever done, the work of a mature artist applying her life's experience in a joyous outpouring of individual expression. The album's full official title is Neptune in the Stars (Wants His Bloody Pound of Fish), and the cover depicts Eliza in a giant wig with a sailing ship and seas creatures in it, but the sort of seafaring folk tunes she has explored on other albums aren't present here. The ten songs are all original compositions about her own life in various oblique ways, and they're also original in the sense that you've never freaking heard anything like this before. You could set aside the mythological allusion of the title and consider this an album from the planet Neptune. Forming its framework is a series of rollicking and boisterous foot-stompers with lyrics about Jerry Springer, King Kong and British tourists demanding chips while vacationing in Spain. In between these zesty numbers, Eliza serves up heartfelt ballads meditating on personal fears, troubled relationships and the regrets of a touring musician separated from her young children. Just as the subject matter and tonality is diverse across the albums, often the songs wildly shift gears within themselves. The astonishing track "War," an ode to the never-ending battle between the sexes, undergoes a metamorphosis from a hand-clapping doo-wop singalong to a sauntering torch song with a blaring brass section, kaleidoscoping through various rhythm structures and time signatures but still remaining one cohesive song. This is thrilling music, overflowing with life and color and sheer inventiveness. Listening you can feel how much fun Eliza and her band were having in the studio, and you can see their grins at the audacious glory of it all. The only bad thing about Neptune is that Eliza released it on her new independent label and it has yet to find U.S. distribution (not even on iTunes), but the import CD can be had with minimal effort. It's a treasure worth discovering.

Honorable Mention:
hyphenated-man, Mike Watt

Best Movie of 2011

13 Assassins 13 Assassins
Takashi Miike

I've written plenty enough about 13 Assassins already. In fact, it's one of the few things I managed to write about at all here on the site in 2011, I admit to my shame. But to reiterate, I love this damn movie. I'm crazy about samurai films, a genre whose zenith occurred some 50 to 60 years ago. The few jidai-geki made in Japan these days tend to be somber and meditative, kinda wimpy compared to the old classics. And most Americans' conception of a samurai movie is that Tom Cruise piece of crap, or the Shogun mini-series, for those old enough to remember that. Hip and eccentric filmmaker Takashi Miike has remade a 1963 classic with a masterful touch that is both faithful to the source and brimming with new inspiration. Miike has captured the (literally) red-blooded heart and soul of old-time chambara for the first time in a generation. And by God, this remarkable film played in mainstream U.S. cinemas and is now being sold at your local Wal-Mart. That to me is a blessed miracle. Now there's a new frame of reference for me to explain to friends and acquaintances what kind of samurai movies it is that I like so much, and now a far broader audience has an entry point to learn about this particular little niche of world cinema and potentially join me in my devoted fascination.

Honorable Mention:
Cowboys & Aliens, Jon Favreau

Best Blu-ray Disc of 2011

Harakiri Blu-ray Harakiri
Masaki Kobayashi
The Criterion Collection

My list of Most Wanted Blu-rays got decimated in 2011, with the welcome releases of Brazil, Pulp Fiction, The Blues Brothers, most of the Coen Brothers classics, and also those yet-even-further bastardized versions of a certain saga about a distant temporal period in a remote galactic sector. The brilliant sights and sounds of Miike's 13 Assassins made it easily my most watched Blu-ray of the year. But for this award I'm going to single out a more historically significant samurai film and arguably the finest one ever made: Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri. The old Criterion DVD had a superb picture, so the upgrade's not as dramatic as it would be for a number of other vintage chambara (such as the Best DVD winner below). But it's remarkable nonetheless to view this masterpiece in such sumptuous detail. Now I can make out every waving blade of grass in that spectacular windswept swordfight between Tatsuya Nakadai and Tetsuro Tamba. I just have one complaint about Criterion Blu-ray: the subtitles font is too damn thin, with only a razor hairline of black around the letters. When the subtitles are against a light background, as is the case in Harakiri's lengthy dialogue scenes in the castle courtyard, you really have to squint and focus to make out the words. I can normally speed-read subtitles in one glance, but Criterion slows me down. That quibble aside, I've got to give them props for this supreme edition of a film that deserves all the best.

Honorable Mention:
13 Assassins, Takashi Miike

Best DVD of 2011

Revenge Revenge
Tadashi Imai

As DVD becomes obsolete in the age of Blu-ray (not to mention streaming Netflix and all that bullshit), I continue to do most of my movie-watching in the elder format because of my exotic tastes. When you love obscure Japanese films, you have to make do with shoddy bootlegs and TV recordings, and English subtitles are a more precious attribute than 1080p resolution. So when a great quality DVD comes along, fans like me can really appreciate it. Tadashi Imai's Revenge (original Japanese title Adauchi) is a classic 1964 cruel jidai-geki that I had seen before only in a low-grade fan market edition. The new DVD from AnimEigo is a revelation, with the black and white cinemascope image rendered in such vivid clarity that this might as well be Blu-ray. Revenge boasts a script by Japan's greatest screenwriter, Shinobu Hashimoto, a dark tale of bushido injustice propelled by great performances from Kinnosuke Nakamura and a number of Toei's fine supporting regulars. Some truly bad-ass cover art completes this classy package. Domo arigato to AnimEigo for continually bringing such fantastic, Criterion-level presentations of vintage Japanese films to the American market. I predict their announced release of Eiichi Kudo's "Samurai Revolution" trilogy will be claiming this Lardy Award in 2012.

Honorable Mention:
The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara
Eclipse Series 28, The Criterion Collection

Best TV Series of 2011

Game of Thrones Game of Thrones
HBO

Breaking Bad was a lock for this category until the last two episodes of the otherwise perfect season 4 threw in that ridiculous plot twist about Walt's killer houseplant. So instead I'm pleased to grant the Lardy to a new television masterpiece that satisfied me utterly from start to finish. Game of Thrones is a magnificent epic that succeeds by weaving a rich and expansive mythology that defies and surpasses genre expectations. The Starks, the Lannisters, the Baratheons and the Targaryens are one fascinating bunch, once you get through a couple of episodes and figure out who's who. I'd never read the George R.R. Martin books, but I got so enthralled with the story midway through the season that I got the first volume and started reading along. Though most fans would call it heresy, I actually think the TV show is far better than Martin's stiff and ponderous prose. Executive producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have brought the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros vibrantly to life, trimming the fat from the novel and assembling the best cast and crew imaginable for the massive task. The characters and political intrigue are what really captivate the viewer, more than the fantasy trappings or medieval combat. In fact, I love how all the big battle scenes take place off camera, and the only supernatural elements appear in the very first and very last scenes of the whole season. Budget-driven choices, certainly, but also appropos within the narrative. Game of Thrones serves up a level of grand entertainment that huge Hollywood productions can't buy and the typical brain-dead blockbuster can't begin to aspire to. The easy comparison is to call it Lord of the Rings for TV, but I think it's more apt to call it The Sopranos with swords. Winter is coming, and so are further seasons of greatness on HBO.

Honorable Mention:
Breaking Bad, AMC

Best Book of 2011

Congress of the Animals Congress of the Animals
Jim Woodring

The inimitable cartoonist savant Jim Woodring has been uncharacteristically prolific of late, having published the widely acclaimed Weathercraft graphic novel in 2010 and an equally lengthy follow-up this past year. Congress of the Animals is another wordless fable set in Woodring's surreal Unifactor universe, home of the anthropomorphic Frank. I struggled with Weathercraft because the unsavory Manhog was cast as the protagonist and Frank was reduced to a cameo spot, but the new book is much more to my liking because it's a bona-fide Frank extravaganza. I believe this is the longest Frank story since the seminal 1992 Frank in The River. I'm not going to attempt to explain or interpret the meaning of Congress of the Animals, because I honestly have no idea. All I can summarize is the Frank gets punished for a mistake, goes on a strange and disturbing voyage, and ends up meeting a cute unnamed She-Frank. What I love about Woodring comics is how they stimulate unused regions of my brain, like a harmless but potent hallucinogen. It's an experience beyond words in more ways than one, and the only way to know what it's like is to read the works of this peerless master.

Honorable Mention:
Paying for It, Chester Brown

Best Video Game of 2011

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

I'm a longtime fan of the classic Street Fighter games, and in particular I love Chun-Li, the strongest woman in the world. The modernized Street Fighter IV is decent, but I've never found it to be all that fun. That's what Capcom got right in its epic comic-book crossover, Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It's not just a game for tournament professionals where in-depth training and mastery of elaborate moves is required. Anyone can pick it up and have a blast making all kinds of splashy superhero attacks and giant energy blasts to pummel opponents with. The huge cast of fighters embraces both grim & gritty and cute & cartoony characters, with familiar icons like Spider-Man, Wolverine and Marvel's recent movie stars alongside obscure figures known only to the nerdiest of nerds. I love the game's what-the-heck spirit of putting fun first, everything else second. For me it's still all about Chun-Li, and even though her legendary thighs are a touch too slender in this incarnation, this is the best ever game for the lightning-kick lass. I've teamed her up with the sassy She-Hulk and a rotating third slot of X-23, Morrigan and Phoenix to form Chun-Li's Angels. Yes, I suck compared to the expert players, but I love it anyway. The same-year release of the sequel/update, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, stirred a major backlash and cries of ripoff. But I loved the game well enough to pay $40 for 12 new characters and added touches without complaint. Besides, GameStop had a pre-order bonus with an alternate costume for Chun-Li that sealed the deal. You can keep all those cooler and more popular games, your Gears of Duty and Grand Theft Call of Warfare and whatnot. For my ultimate video game pleasure, It's Mahvel Baby!

Honorable Mention:
Mortal Kombat

Special Achievement in Lardy Goodness

Which Wich Which Wich

The Which Wich sandwich chain arrived in Raleigh in 2011 and promptly become my favorite lunch joint. It has a really cool gimmick: you choose a brown paper bag pre-printed with the various sandwich categories, use a red Sharpie to check off your ingredients and preparation instructions, then the crew whips up your custom order and serves it in your bag. And these tasty creations live up to the tagline "Superior Sandwiches," totally kicking Subway's ass. I can't settle on a single best wich, but my steady rotation includes the Italian Grinder, the Bac-Hammon (bacon and ham), the Beef & Whiz (roast beef with Cheez Whiz for a quasi-Philly experience) and the Shrimp Po' Boy. Yum, yum. Which Wich does a great job with Facebook and email offers, and I've already earned two free wiches with their frequent flyer cards. Plus there's another nice bonus: it seems like I always spot cute fat women having lunch at Which Wich. And you can trust chubby girls to know where the best food is, God bless 'em!

Hottest Chick of 2011

Julia Pires Julia Pires

I discovered the stunning Julia Pires while browsing Brazilian plus-size model blogs for coverage of Fluvia Lacerda. Julia has had basically no exposure in the U.S. and information about her in English is scarce, but here's what I've been able to come up with with the help of online Portuguese translation. She's an experienced 30-something started her career modeling plus-size lingerie, a specialty that she continues as the face of intimate fashion designer Ana Lisboa. Julia also works as an actress, which contributes to her skills in engaging the camera with her bubbly and ravishing expressions. Unusually short for a model, the 5'3" Julia is known as the "bonequinha (doll) of the plus sizes." But height is the only measure by which this gorgeous gordinha is petite. She is a Brazilian size 48/50, roughly equivalent to a U.S. size 18/20. From the looks of her plush thighs and enormously ample backside, Julia's hip measurement is probably not all that much less than the 63 inches she stands. This woman is basically perfect according to the Lard Biscuit standard of beauty.

Honorable Mentions:
Tara Lynn and Denise Bidot

The 2011 Lard Biscuit Person of the Year

Steve Jobs Steve Jobs

I must join in with the rest of the world paying my respects to the great man behind the great technology. I've been an Apple fan since long before Apple was cool. The four computers I've owned have all been Macs, and the first one I bought back in 1995 enabled me to recover from a personal tailspin and get started in my professional career as a copywriter, as well as helping me establish Lard Biscuit Enterprises. I've always felt at ease with Apple and always fumbled with the computers most of the world uses, and that's largely due to Steve Jobs' vision of how humans should interact with machines. My loyal relationship with this man's magical gadgets has continued right through my first iPhone purchase just a few months before Steve died. The man was a wizard, a genius, and a champion of individuality and self-expression in the face of monolithic corporate tyranny of thought. We may never be blessed with his like again.

The 2011 Lard Biscuit Assholes of the Year

The Blondes of Fox News All the Interchangeable,
Soulless, Shrieking Idiot Blonde
Propaganda Fembots of Fox News

I certainly don't watch Fox News, but I get enough secondhand exposure to their toxic bilge via Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Keith Olbermann. As much as the Orwellian spew of misinformation disturbs and horrifies me in general, of late I've taken particular offense to the network's coven of blonde banshees. Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly, Laura Ingraham, on and on and on... do they grow these she-beasts in pods at Rupert Murdoch's subterranean lair or what? Howling over the secret Muslim Kenyan Obama not mentioning Jesus in his Thanksgiving address, calling the Occupy protesters wimps because "pepper spray is a food product essentially," and otherwise goading stupid people to think stupider with their every vile and empty-headed utterance. I'm going to start my own Lard News cable network anchored exclusively by plus-size brunettes. They will all be intelligent, informed on the issues, and read the news calmly and clearly without getting in a huff over trivial imaginary bullshit. On the opinion programs, my girls will mainly talk about how much they love samurai movies and Which Wich. That would make the world a more fair and balanced place.

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