NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: When it comes to cinema, there are often little gems in a sea of bigger spectacles, that can break through in the most proficient way. Last year, I pleaded to the entire film universe to discover and understand “Inside Llewyn Davis” from the Coen Brothers after seeing it for the first time at NYFF. This year, I’ve seem to already come to terms that the next film that will utilize all my energy and resources this year will be Damien Chazelle‘s highly intense psychological drama “Whiplash.” An impeccable and tightly wound experience that brings your anxiety to a feverish level. As small, and utterly different as I’m about to compare, I haven’t felt this uneasy with a film’s tension since Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips,” coincidentally also was a NYFF title. Two other similar traits that embody the two are the intense and completely submersible performances that inhabit them. Stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are absolutely astonishing, featuring two of the year’s very best turns.
Chazelle’s film tells the story of Andrew (Teller), a first year music student that seeks out and joins the prestigious school band, headed by an intense and frightening teacher Mr. Fletcher (Simmons).
Walking out of the screening I fully knew (though I fully hope to be proven wrong this year) that Miles Teller would be my “Oscar Isaac” this year. A performance that should shoot to the top of any awards consideration for a lead actor, but unfortunately will be passed over show after show. Teller is submerged in a way that we haven’t seen the young actor achieve at this stage in his career. After plowing onto the scene opposite Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole,” and then helming “The Spectacular Now” with complete ease and intensity, I was not expecting him to be the machine of fury and magnitude that is on display in “Whiplash.” There are moments where he channels the emotional aura of performances like Tom Hulce/F. Murray Abraham in “Amadeus,” as crazy as that sounds. I am so excited to see where Teller goes from here. It makes the future of film a lot more bright, knowing that someone like him will be rising up in the ranks.
Everything you’ve heard about J.K. Simmons is true and then some. A fully fleshed out supporting role, Chazelle doesn’t write Fletcher as a caricature. He’s a deeply acute individual, full of passion and acrimony. Chazelle doesn’t keep Simmons at a “10,” he and Simmons allow him to find a range of empathy, hatred, and cryptic allowances that will keep you at the edge of your seat. As I watched Simmons flesh out a performance that can only be described as magnificent, I kept coming back in my mind to Christoph Waltz in the Oscar-winning “Inglourious Basterds,” a role that found much heat on the awards circuit. The world/all film lovers will not be able ignore the stunning presence of Simmons. A Supporting Actor nomination (maybe even a win) seems all but assured (and deserved). Looking back at the veteran actor’s career that included memorable roles in “Juno,” “Burn After Reading,” and “Up in the Air,” a role like this could not have come at a better time. Already impressive in his brief work in Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children,” writers, directors, casting agents, and producers will be pounding on the actor’s door.
You can’t credit “Whiplash” without citing the words and control by writer/director Damien Chazelle. An amazing and outstanding sophomore effort (unfortunately have not seen his debut “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench”) that channels a young Bennett Miller. Vigorous, self-assured, and innovative, Chazelle is a brilliant auteur filmmaker that knows exactly what type of films he wants to make. He takes inspiration from his own life, his love of film and music, and other places I’m sure we don’t know about, and molds them into a gritty, layered experience, conditioned with rich characters, all realized through the writer’s story. It’s one of the best scripts of the year.
“Whiplash” features some of the best minutes of film seen in 2014. An ending that will bring tears to your eyes, dual performances that will have you applaud, and an experience that you surely will not forget. Drumming has never felt like such a personality. It acts as a visible tool for the viewer to understand and try. If you love music, appreciate education, and dare to be better than your current state, you will find something very real to latch onto. Hold on, and hold on tight.
“Whiplash” is being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and will be released October 10 in limited release (and then expanding after). A must-see for all movie lovers!