I recently came across a movie critic by the name of Armond White. He’s been a prominent figure in the world of film criticism for years now, and has become known (read: notorious) for a taste in movies that more often than not goes wildly against the grain of the majority opinion. White has recently come into the spotlight for his take on 12 Years a Slave, a movie that is getting near-unanimous praise from everyone who has seen it, but is trashed by White as nothing more than another entry in the “torture porn” genre made briefly (and unfortunately) popular by films like Hostel.
White has made a career of lambasting the most beloved of movies and celebrating “films” that the vast majority of the movie-going public (and anyone with the slightest inkling of what actually qualifies as good entertainment) view as garbage. Certainly everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but when that opinion goes so decidedly against what the rest of society thinks, it’s hard to take it seriously. So that you can see for yourself, here is a brief list of movies White has negatively reviewed: Toy Story 3, There Will Be Blood, Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, The Exorcist, Up, Bridesmaids, The Dark Knight, Gravity, Midnight in Paris, Black Swan, the entire Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series, and Inception. Meanwhile, Grown Ups 2, Jack and Jill (and seemingly every other recent Adam Sandler movie), Jonah Hex, Clash of the Titans, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Dance Flick (a Wayans brothers spoof film), Transporter 3 (which he called “the only movie you need to see this season” when it came out in 2008), and A Thousand Words (that “comedy” where Eddie Murphy will die if he speaks 1000 words).
The problem here – or at least the biggest problem – is not necessarily the movies Armond White likes and the ones he doesn’t. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I guess it’s possible (kind of) that someone could enjoy Dance Flick but hate There Will Be Blood. What rubs me and so many other people the wrong way is the way he delivers and justifies that opinion. White uses pretentious language to ascribe broad cultural and societal commentary that only he sees to films that are so subjectively bad that it has become an objective fact. Making the claim that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance provides a more accurate commentary on “the 9/11 zeitgeist” than Zero Dark Thirty, or that A Thousand Words is an indictment of Hollywood and not just some banal assembly-line high-concept paycheck for Eddie Murphy does nothing more than invalidate his point of view. Roger Ebert and many others have called White a “troll,” and he has done nothing to lose that reputation.
Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe Armond White really is seeing a “moral core” at the heart of Jack and Jill where the rest of the world saw a stale, over-played, mildly offensive drag movie. Or maybe his contrarianism for the sake of contrarianism just gives film criticism a bad name.