Best of 2004... the Kewpie awards?

Gather 'round, the amateur critic has some end-of-year awards to bestow, for what it's worth.

Best Book:

The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth.

Roth is such a good writer that his Lindberg-as-president schtick didn't even come off as gimmicky; perhaps because his attention to detail fully permeated the story, he was able to create a frighteningly believable world for his alternative history project. Or maybe two potentially gimmicky elements (the second being himself as the young protagonist) somehow made a right. Regardless, the novel succeeds not because it draws the reader into a hysterical paranoia, but because it calmly convinces the reader that the most sensible way to be is paranoid. After all, if they're really after you...

Best CD:

"Eveningland," by Hem

Oddly, Hem's sophomore release is something of a distant cousin to The Plot Against America. Both are examining the past through the lens of the present, only Hem's version of history is all about sweetness and light. The songs on this album are a nostalgic throwback to the good old days of the Carpenters; leave your ironic cynicism at the door, please. Even with their hearts firmly planted in yesterday's best pop, Hem's lyrics and musicianship aren't naive approximations. Their spare use of the Slovakian National Radio Orchestra, along with songwriter Dan Messe's knack for bright melodies, makes for an earnest and astute collection of postmodern pop.

I'm still deliberating on best movie. There are a few new releases I would like to catch before I decide. For now, though, the Kewpie goes to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

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