Awards-show hosts are traditionally amusing and gracious presences, but last night, at the New York Film Critics Circle’s annual ceremony, host and noted contrarian Armond White went a different way, opting for churlishness, alienating bias, and passive-aggressive insults. Note to Anne Hathaway and James Franco: This is not a good way to go. The awards are intended to be an evening of celebration, where the results of voting by all of the city’s critics are honored, but NYFCC chairman and New York Press reviewer White kept making clear when he disagreed with the group’s decisions, much to the discomfort of the audience, let alone the awards recipients. For example, when introducing the Best Actress award, which was won by Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right, a movie he hated, he barely mentioned the film. Instead, he focused at unnecessary length on her performance in Mother and Child, which he did like. And for all the time spent on that movie, he wasn’t even introducing Bening, but rather her presenter. As chairman, White picked the presenters, so whom did he choose for Bening? Not her Kids co-star Mark Ruffalo or director Lisa Cholodenko — both winners and in the audience — but rather Kerry Washington, her Mother and Child co-star.
The controversial White is known for making his criticism personal, whether of actors, directors, or his own peers (at different points he has referred to fellow critics as “fascists” and “backwards children”). His comments last night gave the speakers a rare opportunity to talk back. When Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky hit the podium to present to his cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, he laid into White, who detested Swan. “Keep it up, because you give all of us another reason not to read the New York Press,” he said. The audience gasped and chuckled. “Hey, my only chance to have revenge against this guy, and now it’s done. I’m sorry.” He then gave a gracious speech about Libatique. After they both left the stage, White wasted no time bringing it back to himself: “That’s all right. Darren reads me. That’s all I want. And because he reads me, he knows the truth.”
Later, he introduced Michelle Williams, who would be presenting to Ruffalo. He mentioned that he’d liked Ruffalo in 2007’s Reservation Road, and then complimented Williams for an even older credit, 2004’s Land of Plenty; it seemed like a deliberate snub of her current role in Blue Valentine. Said Williams upon taking the stage, “Um, thanks, that was, like, ten years ago. I’m not going to read any of your reviews of my other work because you really had to reach.” The final award was Best Picture, which went to The Social Network, another film White didn’t like. He said of presenter Tony Kushner (whom he referred to simply as “Kushner”), “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.”
Throughout the evening, as many of the presenters and winners cringed and some openly jeered him, White kept a condescending grin plastered on his face that seemed to pity the poor deluded film illiterates. The evening ended with a few hisses at his final swipe (“I thank the circle for not awarding a single award to Greenberg“), but then relief set in that this was White’s last year as chairman, and therefore, as host.