(Image borrowed from The Reasonal.)
It's here! Every year, like the coming of robins, Armond White, film critic/contrarian extraordinaire for the New York Press, unleashes his "Better-Than List," a thunderous bolt from the blue that blasts our assumptions about the year in cinema straight to Valhalla; making comparisons that we never thought existed (what do Coraline: Based on the Book 'Coraline' by Neil Gaiman, and Precious have in common? Go find out!); in sum, providing an invaluable public service by showing us How Wrong We Were.
Still, Armond may have done his job too well, as he got my befuddled mind to thinking contrary to what he intended: Who's better than you, Armond? Lots of folks, as it turns out, this year and every year, including plenty in his despised blogosphere. The following, then, is my first annual "Better Than Armond White" list of comparative film criticism. To put a spin on a Bond theme: Somebody does it better....
Steven Santos's review of Inglourious Basterds > Armond White's review of Inglourious Basterds. Steven's penetrating analysis of Tarantino as a "cinematic sampler" is the most insightful critique I've read about Basterds (which I adore). Armond's review is predictably negative, facile droning that includes identifying Jacky Ido rather than Samuel L. Jackson as the movie's narrator. (Left uncorrected, of course.)
Stephanie Zacharek's review of Up > Armond White's review of Up. Not pretending to speak for anyone but herself, Zacharek offers a personal reaction about why Pixar's universally celebrated films seem wanting. White starts off strong by nailing the collusion between criticism and "Hollywood capitalism" only to descend into slick, incoherent hipsterism. (Up is a "ripoff" of The Red Balloon how exactly -- because it has balloons in it?)
Jason Bellamy's review of Precious > Armond White's review of Precious. Jason digs deeply into the exploitative nature of what he calls the movie's "tabloid cinema." Armond approaches the same idea by blaming Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey for the film's hype, an interesting point dulled by bludgeoning repetition that culminates in an overreaching (to put it mildly) comparison between Precious and Birth of a Nation.
Dennis Cozzalio's review of The Blind Side > Armond White's review of The Blind Side. Dennis thoughtfully calls out critics on their assumptions with an illuminating against-the-grain take of an unexpected blockbuster at the receiving end of hostile reviews. Armond uses Bullock's movie as nothing more than an excuse to slam Precious again.
Hokahey's review of The Hurt Locker > Armond White's review of The Hurt Locker. Right off the bat, Hokahey explains his misgivings for The Hurt Locker while also acknowledging the movie's strengths. White's original review, deeming Bigelow's film great, occurred only weeks before a full-blown reversal ("The now-overrated Hurt Locker") that he has since repeated ad nauseam, pretending that it was his view from the start. Armond, why do you hate America?
David Edelstein's review of Police, Adjective > Armond White's review of Police, Adjective. Edelstein's isn't a review so much an uproarious suggestion for using the artsy Rumanian film as a practical joke, yet it's enough to illuminate his opinion that the film is rank. White's pan, of course, is less about the movie than about his own delusions of grandeur as a crusading anti-movie-fascist.
Fernando Croce's review of Watchmen > Armond White's review of Watchmen. Fernando's measured negative analysis has more clarity than anything in Armond's embarrassingly overblown Will-Zack Snyder-save-pop-culture treatise.
Edward Copeland's review of A Serious Man >Armond White's review of A Serious Man. Ed eloquently discusses how Joel and Ethan Coen weave the personal into their film. Armond's lack of empathy hampers his attempt to get inside the Coens' motives, falling back on lazy and irrelevant swipes at Judd Apatow. (What on earth does White think links them, you ask? Brace yourselves: All three are Jewish.)
Fox's review of Where the Wild Things Are > Armond White's review of Where the Wild Things Are. Fox's impassioned love for the movie evokes the childlike wonder that Spike Jonze was aiming for (and, in my view, didn't hit), trumping White's non-existent correlations with Spielberg and Altman.
Jim Emerson's review of Avatar > Armond White's review of Avatar. Jim's scathingly thorough pan opens the conversation to fans and foes of the film alike. As usual, the latter's tedious ramblings aren't interested in hearing any voice beyond his own. "Techno-exoticism"? Oh, Armond, you hipster!