2015 Oscar Nominees – Whiplash

22 Feb

Every year, the list of Best Picture nominees includes at least one or two “smaller” movies, films which the casual moviegoer might not recognize but which have distinguished themselves within the nominating community.  This year, a number of films at least partially qualify for that distinction, but Boyhood has received quite a bit of attention due to its unorthodox filming schedule, and The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game are biographies of scientists known (at least in theory) to the public at large.  Which leaves us with Whiplash.

Whiplash is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s story of a promising drummer and his relationship with an abusive, drill-sergeant of a band director at a prestigious New York music academy.  Andrew Niemann (Miles Teller) is working in a practice studio when he’s approached by Terrance Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) to join Fletcher’s studio jazz band, the premiere band in the school.  From their first meeting, Fletcher’s style is apparent to Andrew; the director is arrogant and alternately abusive and dismissive.  In band rehearsal, this behavior is even more pronounced, as Fletcher openly berates and humiliates the band members, with special attention devoted to “squeaker” (new member) Niemann.  Still, Andrew is determined to be the best he can be, and is inspired to learn at Fletcher’s hands.

I’ve been a J.K. Simmons fan for years, from his appearances as Dr. Emil Skoda on the Law & Order shows, through to the father in Juno, and straight on to J. Jonah Jameson in the Ted Raimi Spider-Man movies.  Here, he fills Fletcher’s skin as a person who’s charming in public and a monster in private, oozing charisma in both.  His Best Supporting Actor Oscar is being viewed as something of a fait accompli, and deservedly so.  As his foil, the fresh-faced Teller makes an appealing outsider, a talented performer who evaluates the best course to achieve his goals and pursues them steadfastly, even if such a pursuit might be against his best interests.

Chazelle keeps the film moving at a breakneck pace, the percussion-heavy jazz soundtrack a beating heart and driving force.  Its naturalistic style is fitting for the subject matter, and the film even attempts to answer one of the most obvious questions that many abusive teacher/student films fail to answer: How does this guy keep his job?

I thoroughly enjoyed Whiplash.  You may not have heard of it, but you’d be very well advised to seek it out.

I give it 8 Cheeseburgers

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