The World’s Most Contrarian Film Critic: Armond White

Bomb-throwing troll? Or courageous curmudgeon? You decide.

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Armond White
D Dipasupil / FilmMagic / Getty Images

Chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle Armond White attends the 2010 New York Film Critics Circle Awards on Jan. 10, 2011, in New York City

[ Updated with clarification – Oct. 19, 2013 ]

Chances are, you’ve probably never heard of film critic Armond White. The New York-based writer — now editor of CityArts magazine — made his name at the alternative weeklies New York Press and The City Sun and has contributed to the New York Times, The Nation, and Film Comment. He’s a member of several influential film-critic organizations and even served as chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle.

An undeniably talented writer, White has developed a kind of notoriety for his rather contrarian opinions. Some of colleagues have praised his against-the-grain approach to film criticism, while many others, including a broad swath he’s publicly condemned, have been less kind—the late Roger Ebert famously labelled White a “troll.” He does not always sail against the tide: of the nearly 600 of his reviews collected on the review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, just under half of them agreed with the Tomatometer, which indicates the percentage of critics who have given a movie a positive review.*

The latest target of his bomb-throwing is 12 Years a Slave, opening in selected theaters on Friday, October 18. Never mind that the movie, a harrowing based-on-fact tale of slavery in antebellum America, has been met with mostly rapturous notices. White, in his review, writes “12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre with Hostel, The Human Centipede and the Saw franchise but it is being sold (and mistaken) as part of the recent spate of movies that pretend ‘a conversation about race’.”

Below, his thoughts on some recent movies:

Toy Story 3 … is cold and empty 

“…none of these digital-cartoon characters reflect human experience…I admit to simply not digging the toys-come-to-life fantasy”

Grown Ups 2 is a canny take on millenial America   

“...illuminate the troubled yearning inside American hopelessness…amazing to the degree that they are authentic and perceptive”

The Butler is “phony”

He—and this film—most resembles Forrest Gump, that symbolic idiot savant witness to social progress he played no part in.”

Black Swan is inferior to Kanye West‘s music video for “Runaway”   

“…becomes director Darren Aronofsky’s mechanism for a ridiculous psychological thriller that is genuinely less thrilling and revealing than West’s magical mystery movie.”

Iron Man 2 is “disposable junk”

“…exactly what critics and audiences deserve following the celebration of that awful, dung-hued first film.”

Inception is the work of a “con artist”

“[Nolan’s] shapeless storytelling… throws audiences into artistic limbo—an “unconstructed dream space” like Toy Story 3—that leaves them bereft of art’s genuine purpose: a way of dealing with the real world.”

The Blind Side is … pretty good, Precious not so much

“All Bullock’s films promote an edifying sense of human experience—she has an instinct for what people like to see—and that gift makes The Blind Side the perfect, God-sent antidote to Precious.”

* The original version of this story made the assertion that Rotten Tomatoes had banned Armond White following a dispute over his review of a 2011 movie. According to a spokesperson for the site, while White’s reviews no longer appear on Rotten Tomatoes, no such incident took place: when White moved to his latest position as editor of CityArts, he was asked to submit his reviews for aggregation — he chose not to. Says the spokesperson: “We do not ‘ban’ our critics because of their opinions, and Armond is not ‘banned’ as a critic on our site.”