I was first introduced to wacky cinematic opinions of Armond White while I was waiting for a pizza a couple years ago. The place was busy because of the lunch rush so I picked up the now-extinct New York Press and skimmed through, until I stumbled upon White’s annually ridiculous end of the year “Better Than” column. Back in the winter of 2010, I was less than a year out of college and just started interning for Death and Taxes. At the time I had never heard of White, but I found it extremely odd that he thought “Next Day Air” was a better film than “Up in the Air.”
At the time I had no clue he was a serious film critic, but over time his name seemed to keep popping up on the pages of Vulture and Gawker along with stories of his strange behavior or a review trashing “Toy Story 3.” Over time I’ve come to the conclusion that White was either stuck over the head by a cartoonishly large anvil as a child or he’s simply fucking with us. His reviews, while unnecessarily harsh towards unanimously well-reviewed films, are written beautifully. Unless White uses a Thesaurus for every fourth word, his command of the English language is impressive. To this day I’ve never seen a critic so consistently good at convincingly shitting on films the majority of the movie-going public enjoyed.
So when the New York Press closed its doors I was worried about Armond White’s future. Luckily he found a new home at City Arts. Last year, White hosted the NYFCC Awards and let his controversial opinions fly throughout the ceremony, pissing off Darren Aronofsky and making Annette Bening cry in the process. This year, White was simply another critic in the crowd, but that didn’t stop him from heckling Robert DeNiro and Viola Davis from the audience.
While DeNiro was speaking on stage White yelled “The Good Shepherd” from the audience and screamed “Ethel Waters” twice while Viola Davis was on stage. Many news outlets have covered White’s odd non sequiturs as strange heckling, however it appears White’s comments were positive. Back in 2006 he wrote a glowing review of the DeNiro-directed film, calling it a patriotic masterpiece. Most critics gave the film ho-hum reviews, which probably led people to believe he was insulting DeNiro when he was actually just choosing an inappropriate time to sing his praises. As for the “Ethel Waters” comment, she was the second African American to be nominated for an Academy Award — hardly an insult.
White even unleashed his inner fanboy and excitedly introduced himself to Brad Pitt while he was going outside for a cigarette break. So White may hold strong and illogical opinions and somehow believe that Adam Sandler’s “Jack and Jill” was better than Alexander Payne’s “The Descendents,” but he’s not all bad.
At this year’s New York Film Festival White sat directly behind me during the press screening of either Roman Polanski’s comedy “Carnage” or David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method.” I was inexplicably star struck—throughout the film I found myself suppressing the desire to turn around and pick his brain. I wanted to know whether he laughed at drama and cried at comedy. I desperately wanted to hear him say he loved the film, then read his review lambasting it. I wanted to know if he picked that fight with Noah Baumbach a couple years ago for shits and giggles.
I just wanted to understand. However, after sitting two-feet away from him for two hours I realized no one will ever understand a man who believes “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is better than “Toy Story 3.”