Apparently Armond White doesn’t even qualify this year, according to the study that The Atlantic Wire did on fickle film critics. I know we all like to laugh at White and some even question his validity as a film critic, but he’s apparently not the most egregious offender in the field, as you’ll see below. Some of the names make a lot of sense to me (Kyle Smith has made me shake my head on more than one occasion), and some are a bit on the surprising side, but overall I found it an interesting enough article to be worth sharing, so here you all go…
Call it brash independence, a unique way of seeing, or simple cantankerousness, but it’s often struck us while reading film reviews that some critics enjoy going against the grain. When you visit Rotten Tomatoes and you see a movie that has received a mere 5 percent good reviews (like last year’s comedy unclassic Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son), the critical consensus couldn’t be clearer. But in the back of our mind lurks another question: Just who are these critics in the 5 percent who went the other way? (Really? Mike Hale of The New York Times?) Were they in the right theater? And do they make a habit of disagreeing with their peers? With those questions in mind, we crunched some numbers to crown America’s most cantankerous film critic.
Rotten Tomatoes has a beautifully simple formula: They judge whether a critic’s review is good (or as they call it, “fresh”) or bad (“rotten”) and assign films a rating based on the percentage of good reviews. The 30 best reviewed movies of each year tend to have 90 percent or higher ratings (that is 90 percent of all reviews were positive). The ratings for the 30 worst reviewed of the year generally have an overall rating lower than 20 percent. So, in other words, these are movies where there was little disagreement among critics.
But we are interested in the outliers — the ones who disagreed with the overall rating — for these movies. Who were the critics who found themselves on the losing side, so to speak, the most often? So we went through all 180 movies that got the most extreme ratings over the last three years and then tallied how often the Rotten Tomatoes-designated “Top Critics” found themselves in the minority of these best and worst films. At right is our top 20 (actually, top 29 when you include the ties) most cantankerous critics, and the winner is…
Smith blew away the competition. Between 2009 and 2011, he disliked 13 of the 90 best-reviewed movies and liked nine of the 90 worst-reviewed ones. While some critics showed a tendency toward either being overly tough on good movies or overly forgiving of terrible ones, Smith is notable for being both. He’s undoubtedly America’s most cantankerous (he’d probably prefer “independent”) critic.
Notable films: Smith did not like Hugo (which came in at 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), The Fighter (91 percent), and Food, Inc. (96 percent). He did, however, enjoy I Love You Beth Cooper (14 percent), Atlas Shrugged (11 percent) and W.E. (13 percent.)
Representative quote: “Two-thirds of The Fighter is a slog through the bleak and the ugly — poverty porn meant to reassure us that our social inferiors never say anything witty or achieve a moment of grace. Still, they might provide intermittent entertainment by beating each other up.”
(Update: In response to those who wondered where notoriously cantankerous Armond White ranked on the list, we’ve got an explanation for his conspicuous absence from our little contest.)
… and there were some other patterns emerged in our survey of the ratings. When critics (aside from Smith) diverged from the pack, it was generally in one direction, either giving mostly bad reviews to the best-reviewed films or good reviews to the worst-reviewed. So we decided to look at the critics who were the most heavily weighted one way or the other. Introducing…
The Most Forgiving Critic: Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
While Gleiberman came in second overall, there was a definite pattern for when he disagreed with his colleagues: he gave 12 good reviews to the worst-reviewed movies and only one bad review of the movies on the best-reviewed list. If you’re gonna give Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (20 percent) or Zookeeper (14 percent) a good review, as Gleiberman did, you’ve got to see this coming.
Notable films: Gleiberman gave a positive review to New Year’s Eve (8 percent), Zookeeper (14 percent) and Grown Ups (10 percent).
Representative quote: “When he takes the gorilla (Nick Nolte) out for a night at T.G.I. Friday’s, the film briefly soars.”
Runner Up: Amy Biancolli of the San Francisco Chronicle, with eight good reviews for bad movies and no bad reviews for good movies. She saw something to admire where others didn’t in a diverse line up of films including Marmaduke (9 percent), Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (14 percent), and The Tooth Fairy (17 percent), The Back-up Plan (19 percent), Our Family Wedding (14 percent) and The Ugly Truth (13 percent).
Honorable Mention: Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer was just behind Biancolli, with all seven of her aberrant reviews going to otherwise badly rated movies. But we think she deserves special notice for her stalwart defense of little-loved chick flicks. She carried a torch for Sex and the City 2 (15 percent) I Don’t Know How She Does It (17 percent), Valentine’s Day (18 percent), The Last Song (19 percent), and Dance Flick (18 percent). (OK, that last one is a parody of chick flicks like Save the Last Dance, but we still think we’ve spotted a pattern for Rickey.)
The Hardest-to-Please Critic: Anthony Lane of The New Yorker
Any regular reader of Lane shouldn’t be surprised that the Brit is often unimpressed with a near-universally loved film. All six times that he broke against his peers, it was to disagree with their nearly universally adoring reviews movies.
Notable films: He didn’t care much for Exit Through the Gift Shop (96 percent), Drive (93 percent), The Kids Are All Right (93 percent), or Star Trek (95 percent).
Representative quote: “It isn’t often that I wish a high-minded Marxist had been in charge of a motion picture, but who else would you trust with the spectacle of subversive activity being commandeered, and fetishized, by the capitalist machinery that it was meant to undermine?”
Runner Up: Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger gave six bad reviews to universally loved movies, like Lane, but he comes in second place by balancing it with one good review to one of the worst reviewed movies, Bride Wars (11 percent). Loved movies that Whitty didn’t care for included: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (91 percent), 50/50 (93 percent), and The Fighter (91 percent).
…so there you have it. Newly armed with this knowledge, you can now check out The Atlantic Wire’s spring movie preview to see which movies look so good that they’re bound to get a bad review from the recipients of our little awards.
-And here’s their follow-up article on the exclusion of Armond White from the list:
This morning we released our ranking of America’s most cantankerous film critics, and since then, several people, including winner Kyle Smith of the New York Post, have asked why longtime New York City critic Armond White was left out of our contest. White, who recently moved from New York Press to City Arts, certainly has a reputation for being one of the more cantankerous critics out there. But he wasn’t eligible for our contest because we only included those Rotten Tomatoes deemed “Top Critics,” and White is not one. Rather than adding and removing people based on our own impressions of which critics matter and which do not, it felt more objective to defer to their list. We asked why White isn’t on the Rotten Tomatoes list, and editor in chief Matt Atchity told us, “Armond White has never been a Top Critic, mainly because his outlets have never had a significant reach outside of NYC.”
Of course, White’s personal reach, especially in in media circles, has usually far outdistanced his outlets. He worked for the City Sun for years before moving to the weekly New York Press and now reviews for CityArts, which is a free semi-monthly that is “distributed to buildings and prominently located news boxes in Manhattan, as well as to galleries, museums, performing arts centers, schools, cultural centers, hotels and numerous other organizations throughout Manhattan.” But his penchant for riling up his peers has given him plenty of notoriety over his career. He once said Roger Ebert “destroyed film criticism.” Ebert, in turn, called him a “troll,” a characterization that has been echoed by other over the years. (For a fuller picture of the controversy he’s raised, read this very entertaining New York magazine profile.) When White moved to CityArts last fall, his reviews actually dropped entirely from Rotten Tomatoes, leading to speculation that the site had dropped him over his too-contrarian review of Jack and Jill. But Atchity told AV Club at the time, “That’s just Armond being Armond. Some people just like to stir up controversy.”
Ultimately, though, rules are rules, the Rotten Tomatoes list was the one we went with, and that means White is disqualified. But, out of curiosity, we crunched the numbers to find out how he would have scored. Out of the 180 best- and worst-reviewed movies we examined, he gave 20 bad reviews to well-liked movies including Midnight in Paris, Star Trek, and The Social Network and seven good reviews to disliked movies including Grown Ups, Dance Flick, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. That’s 27 against-the-grain reviews in total. And it would have edged just past Kyle Smith’s 22 outlier reviews. It’s a tough loss on a technicality, but we wanted to give him his moment in the sun. Congratulations, Mr. White. You have incredibly unique opinions on film.
-Thoughts? Discuss on the Forum!