Armond White, notoriously contrarian film critic and argument for trolling as a viable career option, rarely gets the chance to express his ornery opinions to the faces of those whose work he so despises, so he really went all out at last night’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards. While hosting the ceremony, both as part of his regular duties as chairman and through some seeming “let’s get the homecoming queen drunk”-style ruse to breathe some bilious life into an otherwise staid year of critical consent and thus wreck the nice party, White did everything in the Armond White playbook to keep the attention squarely focused on himself—acting dismissive toward the films and actors being recognized and occasionally even openly insulting them, all while bathing in the negative attention like a preening professional wrestler.
Of course, doing so in such a public forum, in real time, was also a chance for the insulted to give it right back, as when director Darren Aronofsky of Black Swan—which White called “insipid” and an example of “white petulance” that lacked the narrative grounding of Kanye West’s “Runaway” video—appeared to recognize cinematographer Matthew Libatique, but paused to blast White first, saying, “I thought I was giving Armond White the compassion award, because if you don’t have something you should get it.” Aronofsky then added, “Seriously, keep it up because you give all of us another reason not to read New York Press.” Sensing he'd sowed some discontent, Aronofsky apologized for being “a dick”—not that White minded. Back at the podium, White mimed brushing dirt off his shoulders and cheerfully responded, “Hey, that's all right. Darren reads me. That's all I want. And because he reads me knows the truth.” Oh that Armond! [MANIC XYLOPHONE MUSIC INTERLUDE]
As with any efficient troll, that early sparring seemed to give White all the impetus he needed to keep laying out the bait, as when he introduced Blue Valentine’s Michelle Williams to present an award to Mark Ruffalo by talking at length about how he’d enjoyed Ruffalo’s work in 2007’s Reservation Road and Williams’ in 2004’s Land Of Plenty, deliberately side-stepping their most recent films. “Um, thanks, that was, like, 10 years ago,” Williams responded, according to some sources. “I'm not going to read any of your reviews of my other work, because you really had to reach.” (Other attendees quote her as saying, “I can't imagine what you've said about me since then if you had to go back that far to say something nice.”)
White pulled a similar move with Annette Bening, who was accepting the night’s Best Actress winner for The Kids Are All Right—a film that White hated for its depiction of a lesbian couple as so “unexcitingly ‘normal’…[they] might as well be heterosexual.” Once again, White all but omitted any mention of that film, instead rambling on about her performance in a film he did like, 2009’s Mother And Child, and choosing its co-star Kerry Washington to present Bening with her award. By that point, the divisiveness had apparently taken its toll on Bening, who reportedly was near tears as she “came close to lecturing critics for being mean little shits,” even asking “something like, 'Can't we all just get along?’”
Near the end of the night, White introduced playwright Tony Kushner, who would present the Best Picture award to The Social Network, by saying, “Surely, Kushner, whose great play, Angels in America, showed how spiritual and social connections transformed lust and envy to family, friends, and country, has a moral responsibility to explain why The Social Network is good." Unfortunately, White neglected to regale the audience with his theory on why The Social Network failed in part thanks to the deficit of “instructive” Harvard veracity embodied by the 1986 C. Thomas Howell comedy Soul Man, but this was probably just as good.
Ending things on a high note, White did as any proper troll would and threw in an unprompted final dig at his supposed archenemies—namely director Noah Baumbach, whose publicity team disinvited White from Greenberg, sparking a weeks-long imbroglio that eventually led to White comparing the incident to “exactly what Communist cells do to anyone they disfavor,” adding, “This is how fascists operate,” and throwing in “it is also a racist lynching by white critics of a black critic” for good measure. In his closing remarks, White said, “I thank the circle for not awarding a single award to Greenberg”—which, in Armond White’s world, actually qualifies as a classy rejoinder.
Anyway, you can check out White’s list of “better-than” films that should have been recognized this year instead—with its attendant argument as to why True Grit is a lesser movie than Jonah Hex—by clicking here to go to his website. After all, that’s why he says that stuff. [Village Voice, New York Post, Gawker, Vulture]