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Hitfix's Predictions for the 46th Annual CMA Awards

Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Jason Aldean duke it out for top prizes

The 46th annual CMA Awards air live Thursday on ABC from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who have developed true chemistry and comedic timing in their four previous years as hosts, are back. This year's program promises plenty of drama, including will Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert continue to be king and queen of the country prom? They've snagged male and female vocalist for the past two years. Will other multiple-year consecutive winners such as Lady Antebellum and Sugarland continue their streaks?

Among the performers, many of whom are debuting new songs, are Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Jason Aldean, top nominee Eric Church, Kelly Clarkson, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Zac Brown Band and Keith Urban.

It’s been a strong year for country music and there continues to be an infusion of new, exciting talent. Below are my predictions on who will take home the big prizes. Short version: It's Eric Church's night.

We’ll be live blogging the CMAs, so join us here at  8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Nov. 1 for all the action.


ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

All of these artists are great brand ambassadors for country music, which is an unspoken part of this award. Having said that, I would have swapped out Blake Shelton for Lady Antebellum, who had a tremendously successful world tour this year. While it’s easy to judge this solely on their live shows, the CMA tends to award someone more for all-around strength. Having seen all the nominees in concert over the past year or so, if it were solely on concert merit, I would give the award to either Chesney or Paisley, but Aldean’s star is rising and he’s now, like Chesney, risen to the stadium level. Combine that with his tremendous album sales and he’s the winner.

Will Win: Jason Aldean


FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR


Kelly Clarkson
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

Hmmm. Let’s review, shall we?  Kelly Clarkson is a pop star who occasionally crosses over (very credibly and well) into country music. Taylor Swift is a former country star who is really now a pop star. The overall weakness in this category shows how dominated country music is right now by male artists. McBride has the purest voice of the bunch, but the past winner won’t take home the trophy this year. Underwood’s voice is unbelievable as well. She’s the best singer to ever come out of “American Idol” (sorry, Kelly). Reigning winner Lambert is on a roll that shows no signs of stopping--nor should it.

Will Win: Miranda Lambert


MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR


Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Keith Urban

These are all solid hit makers and each is leaving his own mark on country music right now. It also shows the changing the guard: Urban is the only one that any of us had heard of 10 years ago (even though reigning champ Shelton was making records already, he didn’t really break through until a few years ago and then, since “The Voice,” has really exploded. Church, who is the most nominated artist this year, has carved out a slow and steady career for himself that seems about to bust wide open. His twang is instantly recognizable and CMA voters like the ring of stubborn authenticity he brings to the format.

Will Win: Eric Church

 
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR


The Band Perry
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band

What was I saying about how strong solo males are in country right now? So are groups. This category rises and falls, but has a bumper crop this year.  LBT has put out the best album of its career, ZBB brings lots of younger fans into the format who listen to way more than country music. Eli Young Band has momentum with last year’s “Crazy Girl” and then “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” Lady A and TBP just keep getting stronger. While it may not be fair, it feels like it’s time to give Lady A a little bit of a rest from competition this year after the trio snagged the award the past three years.

Will Win: Eli Young Band

VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR

Big & Rich
Love and Theft
Sugarland
The Civil Wars
Thompson Square

Perennially one of the weakest categories with the CMA often resorting to tired duos who have not received a lick of airplay in years to round it out, the vocal duo of the year category is having a little bit of a resurgence this year. For more than a decade, it was dominated by Brooks & Dunn and lesser acts, and then Sugarland took over the title. This year,  five-time winner Sugarland is one of the weaker offerings (they didn’t put out a new album during the eligibility period, though they toured). Big & Rich came rebounding back, while Love and Theft is gaining momentum and Thompson Square had its biggest hit so far. The Civil Wars are astounding and are definitely country leaning, despite the fact that country radio doesn’t care about them.

Will Win: Thompson Square

NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR


Lee Brice
Brantley Gilbert
Hunter Hayes
Love and Theft
Thompson Square

This tremendously strong slate features new acts all of whom have scored major hits this year (even if, like Brice and Gilbert, they have been around as songwriters for awhile helping other artists have hits). Having said that, it feels like a race between Hunter Hayes, Brantley Gilbert and Thompson Square, with Thompson Square seeming like the elder statesmen of the category. At 21, Hayes seems to represent young country, and country loves lauding artists who help lower the aging demographic. Plus, “Wanted,” which he co-wrote,” is a killer track.

Will Win: Hunter Hayes

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Luke Bryan, Tailgates and Tanlines
Eric Church, Chief
Miranda Lambert, Four the Record
Dierks Bentley, Home
Lady Antebellum, Own the Night

It's a toss-up between Lambert's "Four The Record" and Church's "Chief," both of which were critical favorites (though Lambert's album not so much as her previous efforts including 2010 winner "Revolution"). Bryan's album seems like the weakest link here, but there's no denying his appeal and he is very liked in Nashville. For all its strength, "Own The Night" is not Lady A's best album.

Will Win: "Chief"

SONG OF THE YEAR (Award goes to songwriters)

Eli Young Band, "Even if It Breaks Your Heart" - written by Will Hoge and Eric Paslay
Blake Shelton, "God Gave Me You" - written by Dave Barnes
Dierks Bentley, "Home" - written by Dierks Bentley, Dan Wilson and Brett Beavers
Miranda Lambert, "Over You" - written by Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton
Eric Church, "Springsteen" - written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell

Since this award goes to the songwriters, I always think of how the song would sound accompanied only by acoustic guitar or piano. Stripping down a song to its core elements is usually a good way to judge it. “Over You,” written about Shelton’s brother, is heartbreaking and a strong contender. It’s going to be a close race between “Over You” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” which took on a collective meaning for anyone who’s ever pursued a dream. A the selections show, the CMA tends to favor songs with "meaning," over fluff.

Will Win: “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”

SINGLE OF THE YEAR (Award goes to artist and producer)

Jason Aldean, "Dirt Road Anthem"
Blake Shelton, "God Gave Me You"
Dierks Bentley, "Home"
Little Big Town, "Pontoon"
Eric Church, "Springsteen"

“Dirt Road Anthem” seems a little too past its prime to still be forefront in voters’ minds. “God Gave Me You” is a syrupy ballad and “Pontoon,” as summer-loving fun as it is, is a trifle (though it did provide LBT with its first No. 1). “Home” hits all the right notes: patriotic without being jingoistic. However, it’s Eric Church’s year...and, apparently, Springsteen’s too.

Will Win: “Springsteen”
 

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<p>Denzel Washington stumbles into The Ed Sullivan&nbsp;Theater.</p>

Denzel Washington stumbles into The Ed Sullivan Theater.

Credit: CBS

Washington and Zemeckis brave Sandy to promote 'Flight' on Letterman and Fallon

The director and star stop by audience-free late night in New York

With writer John Gatins and star John Goodman in the air leaving Savannah after film festival tributes there, Paramount had the highlights of its "Flight" crew -- Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington -- back in New York Monday to promote the film, which releases Friday. Zemeckis was set to appear on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" while Washington was all set for "The Late Show with David Letterman." Then Hurricane Sandy came a'knockin'.

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<p>Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes in &quot;Martha Marcy May Marlene.&quot;</p>

Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes in "Martha Marcy May Marlene."

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Wins for 'The Help,' 'The Artist,' 'Martha Marcy' at Casting Society of America Awards

We're not quite done with 2011's awards contenders yet

Thought you'd seen "The Artist" win its last award? Think again. The Casting Society of America pretty much partied like it was 2011 at last night's Artios Awards -- the premier honor for casting directors in the industry, given the absence of an Oscar category for the discipline. (That absence is often lamented, but let's be honest -- the average Academy member knows even less about casting than he does about sound editing.)

Anyway, while a scattering of early 2012 releases -- "The Hunger Games," "21 Jump Street," "Friends With Kids" -- had cracked the nominee list, the CSA was all about the awards contenders of 2011 when it came to choosing the winners. "The Help" took the prize in the Big-Budget Feature: Drama category, which is hardly surprising, given the number of ensemble awards (culminating in SAG's top honor) the film took down last season.

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<p>&quot;CeeLo's Magic Moment&quot;</p>

"CeeLo's Magic Moment"

Credit: Elektra/Atlantic

Review: CeeLo Green's Christmas album 'CeeLo's Magic Moment'

How does 'The Voice' judge do with guests Christina Aguilera, the Muppets and Straight No Chaser?

About a third of CeeLo Green's 14-track Christmas album is pretty solid. This includes consideration that CeeLo's overall approach to singing tends toward the heavy-handed, an attribute absolutely compatible with Christmas records. But the most unnatural elements -- the forced styles outside his comfort zone, clunky duets, uninspired excesses -- are what ultimately causes "CeeLo's Magic Moment" to stumblebum around the season with only a few perfectly packaged gifts. 

Green positively delights over the three-song stretch of tracks 3 to 5, with "This Christmas," "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas," all the Motown sheen over top Green's smiling consonants and midtempo bops. The mood on either side there is ruined, first, by his duel with powerhouse (and "The Voice" cohort) Christina Aguilera on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a tune that turned out less conversational than it is two horny people yelling at each other ("YOU'VE REALLY BEEN NICE!..." "I'M THRILLED WHEN YOU TOUCH MY HAIR!"). Green's standing endorsement from the Muppets rallies on hot mess "All I Need Is Love," as it relies whole-cloth on "Mahna Mahna" with sprinkles of the word "Santa," the chosen ad lib over "baby."
 
"Magic Moment" is inflicted with Atlantic labelmates Straight No Chaser on three tracks, especially on novelty "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," as it's apparent the a capella crew's 15 minutes has extended into four years. Rod Stewart shows up on R&B classic "Merry Christmas Baby" to easy-listening effect, but it and the plain cover of Joni Mitchell's tender "River" lacks the color and heart that gospel choir-backed tracks like "Mary Did You Know." "All I Want for Christmas" and "Silent Night" dynamically are written in two different ways, but ultimately burst with the same bombast and artless backing from the same arranger's desk.
 
Select songs from "Magic Moment" would make such a highly successful EP in many ways, but like most EPs, it wouldn't sell the way a full-length set would, so Green bears what he can here with his wonderful voice. But ain't it just like Christmas, to over-extend?

 

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<p>John&nbsp;Gatins at the New York&nbsp;Film&nbsp;Festival premiere of &quot;Flight&quot;</p>

John Gatins at the New York Film Festival premiere of "Flight"

Credit: AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

Interview: John Gatins on wrestling his demons to write 'Flight'

'There are no atheists in foxholes or at 30,000 feet.'

NEW YORK – The day after John Gatins graduated Vassar in 1990 he got into a car and drove to California to be an actor. He was already having borderline "Whip-like issues," he says, referencing Whip Whitaker, the alcoholic airline pilot Denzel Washington plays in "Flight." Part of the decision was an attempt to leave those problems behind a little bit. So, naturally, he became a bartender.

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<p>Colin Firth in &quot;The King's Speech.&quot;</p>

Colin Firth in "The King's Speech."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: The movies are dead, again

Also: Dressing 'Les Mis' and the new, non-sexist Bond

For a medium we're told nobody cares about, people sure are devoting a lot of column inches to the end of cinema. Michael Cieply joins the long line of writers sounding the artform's death knell, claiming that Hollywood has lost its grip on the public imagination to TV. He points out that even the film of the moment, "Argo," has still attracted fewer viewers over its three-week run than a single episode of "Glee," while the number of specialist films released in US market has dropped by 55% in the last decade. Furthermore, Cieply quotes sources suggesting the Oscars are complicit in this disconnect, citing the recent coronation of the backward-looking "The King's Speech" (to which audiences flocked, mind you) as an example. I think people might be getting a bit dramatic. [New York Times]

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<p>Nicki MInaj's crazy eyes in &quot;Va Va Voom&quot;</p>

Nicki MInaj's crazy eyes in "Va Va Voom"

Watch: Nicki MInaj's 'Va Va Voom' video is a fairytale with no sound magic

Next single from 'Roman Reloaded - The Re-Up' takes from the sugar bowl

As evident on the original release of "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded," Nicki Minaj can't help but to oscillate between trash-talking raps and pure, saccharine pop music for her singles, her sides and, apparently, her personalities. For the upcoming "Re-Up" of "Roman," the bonus tracks have been taking turns batting, starting with heady and bratty "The Boys" featuring Cassie, and now with this new cavity "Va Va Voom."

Of course, Minaj can't help but to play the villain sometime in this fairytale-driven narrative, but for the most part is the Queens-bred artist mugging in a variety of false lashes, with her penchant bright colors swimming all around her. I literally laughed out loud when when a dastardly Robin Hood darkens her doorway as she bakes sweets in a cottage (not making this up) and as she idles alongside a unicorn in a creek (still not making this up).

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<p>Cute much?</p>

Cute much?

Credit: Walt Disney Feature Animation

Review: 'Wreck-It Ralph' is a winning new animated delight from Disney

Gamers young and old should find themselves pumping quarters into this one

What is a Disney movie these days?

I know what an animated Disney film was, brand-wise, when I was a kid.  And when Disney reinvented themselves in the post-"Black Cauldron" world as a musical fairy tale factory, that was also a brand that was easy to identify.

But today, Walt Disney Feature Animation has perhaps the most tenuous grasp on identity that I've ever seen from them.  Part of that has to do with all the competition that exists today from Blue Sky Studios and Sony Animation and DreamWorks Animation… basically a bunch of companies that have gotten very good at making movies that play to the audience that was at one point the sole domain of Disney.  Then, of course, there's the in-house issue of Pixar Animation, a powerhouse team of storytellers who have arguably out-Disney'd Disney for the past fifteen years.  It's hard to be the top dog when you no longer are the first pick for animators looking for work, and these days, filmmakers who want to work in animation are probably looking to Pixar the signpost for what it is they want to do.

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<p>Nicholas David of &quot;The Voice&quot;</p>

Nicholas David of "The Voice"

Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Recap: 'The Voice' Monday - The Knockouts, Part 1

Our East Coast recapper braves Sandy to bring you this report
Welcome to our coverage of the two-night Knockout Round event for “The Voice”. I describe it as an “event” rather than “a quick and dirty way for the show to shrink the still enormous number of contestants left on the show” because I’m a nice guy. As this is the first iteration of this phase in the history of the show, we’ll have to feel things out as we go tonight and tomorrow. From what it seemed in last week’s preview, each coach will pick two singers from his or her respective teams to face off in head-to-head competition. Each contestant will choose a song to perform individually, and the coach will pick a winner.
 
We have twenty of these knockouts to get through over four hours, which means either a series of no-frills, lean-and-mean contests or a combination of lengthy rounds coupled with quick montages. Either way, there are a lot of decisions for Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, and CeeLo Green to make over the next two nights. I’ll try to make this recap as clean as possible, covering each pairing as a whole rather than maintaining a minute-by-minute running diary. I’m sure those will return once we get to the live shows starting next week, but even if this experiment fails, it’ll all be over in 24 hours anyways. Tonight, “The Voice” is focusing on Team Adam and Team CeeLo.
 
(I’ll note up front that I’m covering this from Boston, where Hurricane Sandy is currently pounding down. There might be times in which local coverage trumps the show itself. I’ll do my best.)
 
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"Dancing with the Stars"

 "Dancing with the Stars"

Credit: ABC

'Dancing with the Stars' recap: It's country night! Mostly!

The celebs and pros must put a ballroom twist on country songs
It’s country night on “Dancing with the Stars,” which seems like some pretty brilliant cross promotion (if you’re watching “Nashville” and the CMA Awards this week, BOTH ON ABC, you’ll love “DWTS”!), but I'm not sure if it's the best thing for the show. Yes, country music encompasses many things, but I'm not sure if it's a perfect fit for, say, the cha cha. This isn't a judgment against one or the other, mind you, but they are different animals. Still, Taylor Swift is going to be on the show this week, so let’s focus!
 
The show does not begin with Taylor Swift (she'll be on tomorrow night), but Little Big Town, Big & Rich and Cowboy Troy will all appear tonight. And there will be dancing. What’s with half of the celebs wearing country gear, others looking like they fell out of “Gone with the Wind” and others wearing formal wear and traditional evening gear? I know, country is many things, but this looks a little schizo.
 
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<p>Hugh Jackman sported a familiar haircut today during the online chat about next summer's 'The Wolverine'</p>

Hugh Jackman sported a familiar haircut today during the online chat about next summer's 'The Wolverine'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Five things we learned from today's 'Wolverine' online chat with Hugh Jackman

Sounds like they're pushing the character to a dark place, which could be great news

Film companies continue to push for new ways to reach out to audiences as they figure out when it's okay to start hyping a film.  Summer 2013 movies are already starting to stake their claims and premiere imagery and set visit glimpses and posters.  20th Century Fox has a pretty big stake in "The Wolverine" working, and one of the first big moments for them came last week when Empire magazine revealed some of what James Mangold told them for their upcoming story.  We wrote about that piece, which included a new image of Wolverine with his bone claws extended, last week, and it seemed like one more promising detail in what is shaping up as a very promising entry in the long-running "X-Men" franchise.

Today, James Mangold and Hugh Jackman spoke directly to fans around the world who tuned in for a live online chat that YouTube streamed from Sydney.  It sounds like more and more journalists are arriving in Sydney today for further press events in the days ahead, and according to Mangold and Jackman, they're only a few weeks away from wrapping the film.  I'm guessing there's got to be a trailer soon at this rate.  They've described the film, and now it's time to let people know what it's going to look like in motion, what that world is that they're talking about.  When Mangold references both "The Bicentennial Man" and "The Outlaw Josey Wales" as thematic touchstones, it's probably safe to assume this isn't just going to be another standard-issue superhero movie.

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<p>Tessa Ia in &quot;After Lucia.&quot;</p>

Tessa Ia in "After Lucia."

Credit: Pop Films

Foreign Oscar watch: 'After Lucia' and 'Kauwboy'

Mexico and The Netherlands offer two contrasting portraits of youth in turmoil

While official Academy screenings are already under way for the long roll-call of foreign-language Oscar submissions, I've slowly been wading my own way through the pile. Having now seen in the region of 25 contenders, around two-thirds of the list remains – I'll never get to them all, but I'm still feeling more well-briefed than usual. Meanwhile, the more I see, the more impressed I am by the standard of this year's competition; the threat of “The Intouchables” notwithstanding, Academy voters will really have to go out of their way to make a dud choice. 

Today's double-shot of contenders for discussion haven't been been paired for any reason beyond the fact that I saw them back-to-back at the London Film Festival last weekend. Certainly, at first glance, Mexico's serenely threatening high-school drama “After Lucia” and The Netherlands' gentle slip of a family film “Kauwboy” don't have much more than that in common. On closer inspection, however, some clear dramatic and thematic links belie the gaping tonal and formal differences between them.

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