There were precious few air kisses and patted backs when Hollywood's Oscar season gravy train stopped in the Big Apple for the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Instead, the event ended in tearful recrimination after its outspoken host spent the evening exchanging insults with the A-list talent brave enough to venture onto his podium.
Armond White, a veteran critic for the New York Press, was always going to be a dangerous choice of anchorman for the prestigious event, which has been running since the 1930s. He is the local media's foremost controversialist, and is famed for delivering cruel and aggressively negative film reviews.
The mood of Monday night's event duly turned ugly when film director Darren Aronofsky – whose most recent film Black Swan was dubbed "a ridiculous psychological thriller" by White – ventured to the microphone to deliver a gong to the winner of the Best Cinematography award.
"I actually thought I was giving White the compassion award, because if you don't have something, you should get it," he announced, to gasps of disapproval from the be-suited audience. "Seriously, though, keep it up because you give all of us another reason not to read the New York Press."
White couldn't resist the opportunity to respond, with interest, to Aronofsky: "That's all right. Darren reads me," he said, upon returning swiftly to the microphone. "That's all I want. And because he reads me, he knows the truth."
From there, things swiftly deteriorated. Inviting the playwright Tony Kushner to present an award to The Social Network, White (who recently compared the Facebook movie to a "fake-smart, middlebrow TV show") said: "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."
He then introduced the actress Michelle Williams by praising her role in the 2004 flop Land of Plenty. "I made that movie almost 10 years ago," Williams said tartly, when she arrived on stage. "I can't imagine what you've said about me since then if you had to go back that far to say something nice."
The bad feeling was all too much for Annette Bening, whose role in The Kids Are All Right (a film White also hated) won the Best Actress prize. "Bening, tearfully, came close to lecturing critics for being mean little shits," one attendee told the website Gawker. "She said something like, 'Can't we all just get along?'"
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