He hates your favourite movie

He trashed ‘Toy Story 3,’ and loved ‘Transformers 2.’ ‘It’s insanity,’ says one detractor.

Photograph by Steve Simon

Meet the film critic who hates Toy Story 3 and calls Josh Brolin’s Jonah Hex “beautiful and brilliant.” Armond White used to be unknown beyond readers of the alternative weekly he writes for, the New York Press. But that changed when fans of movies like The Dark Knight, There Will Be Blood, and Wall-E began to notice that White was the only critic who disliked their favourite films. That made him famous, even feared: he was banned from a screening of the Ben Stiller vehicle Greenberg because he’d wished “retroactive abortion” on the film’s director. Though Village Voice critic Vadim Rizov calls him a once-interesting critic who has “collapsed into self-parody,” White has found a way to make criticism relevant again: write reviews that strike people as crazy.

White, a chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle, has reviewed films in impenetrable prose for years; he told Maclean’s that only people who haven’t followed him subscribe to “the infantile notion that I’m just after attention.” What brought him attention was the website Rotten Tomatoes, where movies are ranked according to an average of major critics’ reviews. Thanks to that site, readers discovered that he levels some odd accusations against big films, implying, for instance, that District 9 showed what producer Peter Jackson “really thinks about the Maori and Aborigines.” They also found that he likes to be different from other critics; when The Hurt Locker came out, he reviewed it favourably, but he started calling it “overrated” once it won the Oscar.

The last straw came last week, when White panned the new Toy Story sequel, almost solely preventing it from getting a 100 per cent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Josh Tyler at the website Cinema Blend wrote that his opinion was objectively “wrong, flat-out wrong.” A Petitionspot.com petition to disqualify his reviews from counting at Rotten Tomatoes, because “he’s been railing against the most popular and beloved movies while praising utter garbage,” had a goal of 500 signatures; it now has over 3,500. Another webpage features a long list of his opinions, revealing that he loathed The Wrestler and liked Confessions of a Shopaholic; the list is called “Armond White is Insane.”

No one cared that much about White a few years ago; he says that “the ‘controversial figure online’ stuff is pretty recent, especially after Rotten Tomatoes became popular.” So while White calls fans of the site “ignorant of history,” it’s single-handedly turned him into a celebrity. It drives traffic to the New York Press site, where people leave enraged and sometimes hateful comments. There are discussions about White to an extent that hasn’t been seen since the days of his hero, film critic Pauline Kael. Roger Ebert, the most prominent critic in the U.S., called White “a troll. A smart and knowing one, but a troll.”

White, for his part, doesn’t seem unhappy about his notoriety. He told Maclean’s that Ebert began “the destruction of intellectual film response,” and he sees attacks as a badge of honour, further proof that “I don’t think like the mainstream. As a pedigreed film scholar, I take movies seriously.” But while White claims his opinions are a sign of superior taste, readers have pointed out that his attacks aren’t always logical. He called Toy Story 3 “besotted with brand names and product-placement,” but in the exact same essay, he compared it unfavourably to Transformers 2, a movie literally based on toys. “The film under discussion is secondary,” Rizov says. “The primary agenda is to champion himself as the one lone voice of truth in a field of easily corruptible fools.”

As provocation, it’s working. Tyler wrote that one of White’s arguments was “not just a bad opinion, it’s insanity,” perhaps confirming White’s point that people are “unnerved by the ideas I bring up.” Even Rizov, who calls White “a jerk who combines rhetorical misdirection with bullying behaviour,” doesn’t mind that he upsets “the fanboy contingent” that loves Hollywood blockbusters: “It’s good to champion stuff against the tide.” It’s just that White’s championing of great cinema might be more convincing if he didn’t love I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.




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He hates your favourite movie

  1. I think he serves a useful function by attempting to cast the best of films (and lets be honest, while I haven't seen Toy Story 3, I doubt its exactly Shakespeare) in the worst possible light. People can then read the review and ponder: "if this is the worst thing anybody can say about the film, it must not be that bad".

    The fact that this may cost some films their 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is pretty thin gruel. Indeed, the fact that so many films do get 100% or close to it is a serious problem for Rotten Tomatoes. It means that a competent, but hardly life-changing film like say, Dark Knight is indistinguishable from a film like Godfather. In this sense Rotten Tomatoes contributes to the "thumbs up" inflation Ebert has helped to spur on for decades. So bring on the bad reviews of good movies.

    • Umm…thumbs up?

    • I agree to a point, it's hard to trust a 100% positive review

  2. this just illustrates the crap that is generated when giving so called knowledgeable critics write authoritatively on subjective subjects. Movies are not right and wrong they are "I like this, I didn't like this" as soon as people start saying he's flatly wrong they give credence to the insane idea that there can be right and wrong movies (foods, books, etc) instead of right and wrong facts

  3. Anyone who can speak favourably of Transformers 2 cannot be trusted as reviewer. What an unspeakably boring turd of a movie that thing was. I realize it's not meant to be deep in any way, but it wasn't even entertaining.

  4. I’d welcome a contrarian voice. I find it interesting to read thoughtful reviews that I disagree with. They open my eyes to a new perspective and force me to confront my own personal tastes. I may walk away from one of these reviews disagreeing with everything I’ve read, but I usually enjoy the read. Quite frankly, I enjoy reading reviews I disagree with more than ones I agree with.

    I’d be Armond White’s biggest cheerleader if he was a fearless voice challenging conventional wisdom. However, his reviews have become so predictable that they’re boring. They often contain very little substance, and what little substance they have usually makes me wonder if we’ve seen the same movie. By no means, am I a “fanboy” who’s more concerned with maintaining a Tomatometer reading; and while I’ll admit I adored Toy Story 3, I’m perfectly willing to concede that it’s not without its faults and that Pixar is not above criticism. White’s review of TS3 (unlike Cole Smithee’s also-bad review of TS3) was completely empty of anything resembling a valid point.

    I don’t doubt White’s intellectual abilities for a moment. There are plenty of reviews he’s written that show that the man is no moron. However, if he’s simply being a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian, he’s not very good at it. And if he’s actually stating his honest opinion when reviewing mainstream movies, he has pretty wretched tastes and should stick to reviewing foreign and independent films (which a. he clearly enjoys and b. need all the ink they can get).

    Also, Josh Tyler rendered his CinemaBlend rant on Armond White null and void when he, less than a mere two weeks later, became one of the only critics in the world to give The Last Airbender a glowing review. “…that one lone voice standing in the corner and shouting the opposite isn’t just a different opinion, it’s a wrong opinion.” Indeed.

  5. "I'm not one of those who, in expressing opinions, confine themselves to facts." -Mark Twain.

    I find it interesting, not that Armond writes dubious reviews of bad movies, but that so many people are so infuriated by it. Everyone from Fanboys to legitimate critics are frothing at the mouth over this guy. Seems like a win for Armond. Is it because he's put a black eye on the hallowed institution of 'Film Critic'? Most of them are a bunch of hacks anyway, so maybe he's just found an interesting way of shining a spotlight on the hypocrisy of the entire industry.

    But that's just an opinion.

    ps: The Godfather is be one of the most overrated, boring, ham-fisted, self-indulgent pieces of crap I have ever seen. IMHO.

  6. What on earth is this? A journalistic account of White's impact on film culture, an op-ed reaction to his criticism, or yet another blog post copy-pasting complaints about White's supposed "contrarianism"?

    Answer: all of the above, and none. Given the opportunity to interview White, this writer quotes him exactly once, giving more space to quotes from third-rater Rizov. Debunked internet claims are misleadingly repeated. Again, White never wished "retroactive abortion" on Baumbach.

    If this writer were a genuine journalist, he/she would respect White's integrity and independence. He is a pedigreed film scholar. He does take movies seriously. He deserves an equally serious response from his supposed "peers."

  7. I think people take critics to seriously. With movies as with any other critic I feel all you have to do is find one that has similar tastes as you. That way if that person hates something chances are so will you saving you the time and money of finding out you hate it on your own. Isn't that the point of critics? For me, I seek the opinion of my brother for good movie picks far more often than anyone else because there is yet to be a movie that he liked that I absolutely hated and vice versa and that saves at least one of us a few bucks on a bad movie.

  8. Simply put White is just annoying. Literally every other movie he gives a bad rating isn't even all that bad, while other bad movies get good ratings. Makes no sense.

  9. Why is there such consistent whining over whether Film Critic Armond White "likes", "dislikes", "loves" or "hates" a movie? Don't people who can actually read see that that is NOT what real firm criticism is about? It's not about rubber-stamping a movie one sees, it is about actually LOOKING at a movie and investigating the ideas that that movie expresses–something Film Critic Armond White does to thrilling/astonishing effect week after week.

    Anyone who really reads his writing can see that his prose is enlightening and challenging, NOT troll-like and impenentrable. The kids/children who pass off as movie-goers/critics need to grow up. Really.

    What it comes down to is that people resent having to think. There are some who do like to think, although they are few and far between. Judging by the reader comments of Armond White's new book (published in 2009), "KEEP MOVING: The Michael Jackson Chronicles", a growing audience is learning about Armond White's commitment to principled, thoughtful and humane criticism. Google the title if you'd like to learn more.

    • People, for the most part, don't read film reviews to observe whatever insight the critic has. When I watch a movie, say A Clockwork Orange, I look for the ideas the movie expresses. When I read a review, I don't care what insights Armond White has in the movie, but rather his parapgraphed form of a pro/con list. Calling his reviews thrilling/astonishing come more from the reactions they get from the actual reviews. The man clearly has become a one-trick pony, all his reviews draw from the same things in different movies.

      Just because his simple-minded, dull and obviously "troll-like" reviews appeal to a simpleton such as yourself, doesn't mean they provide some hidden insight that film critics have since forgotten. Movies today have drawn away from a new art into entertainment, and at the very core, all movies are entertainment. You don't need a review telling you about hidden racism or Mr. White's comparisons to society, or whatever this hack sophist stems to put in his review. You need a critic who tells you what to expect from the movie, the good and the bad…..and in mr. white's case, the ugly (literally).

    • psssh, thats just sad. he's going aganst what the popular movie is because fanboyism is downright overrated, fangirlism too…*cough,twilight,cough*, but still, if you cant see his judgement eye to eye then possibly you should get off the internet and stop blaming him for your own personal dislikes.

  10. I love the movie of Ben Stiller which is There is something about mary, nice love story and comedy.~”

  11. Vadim Rizov referred to someone as "a jerk"? That's rich.

    • Rich indeed. Hypothetically here NP (because, you know, I wouldn't want to accuse anyone of something without definitive proof): how'd you feel about, say, anonymously accusing someone of plagiarism on multiple websites without any proof? Would that also be acting like "a jerk"?

    • Well, there's a hierarchy, you see…

  12. I've never even heard of this guy before. And why haven't I? Because I don't give a damn about what film critics think. If I like the movie, I'll like it. If not, then I don't. Who cares what other people say? Film critics do the job no one else appears to want to do, until they're pissed off by said critics; register an opinion. The only time I've ever listened to movie critics, is if there's more than four bad reviews from completely different critics of a single movie. I do NOT listen to critics, because they give you a bias before you even see the movie. I'd like to stay objective, and give my own opinion, thank you very much.

  13. It's obvious what White is doing. It's equally obvious what a wank it is. Pure self-indulgence. If you like something you should be honest about it and give an unfiltered review, regardless of what the "masses" OR the "cognoscenti" think. Clearly he waits to see what the consensus is, and if something gets too many raves, he feels it's his duty to take it down a peg. Hey, what ever gets him off, it's his own business, but it has nothing to do with reality. He's so predictable that it backfires,because you might as well take what he does as reverse-criticism. In other words, you can take it to the bank that a film is great if he doesn't like it.

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