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#111 - Whiplash
Damien Chazelle, 2014

A first-year student at a prestigious music college wants to be a great jazz drummer, but when he is invited to join the college's top ensemble he has to contend with its incredibly harsh and obsessive conductor.

It becomes clear very early on that Whiplash is supposed to be a deliberate deconstruction of a very specific type of narrative - namely, that of a teacher using unorthodox methods to unlock a student's untapped potential, driving the student to achieve by any means necessary. Conventionally, this narrative has a tendency to produce films that could be considered inspirational and/or heartwarming. Whiplash, on the other hand, is a completely different kind of beast. Miles Teller plays student Andrew, who could have just been the sort of timid young man that lacks confidence and just needs to be brought out of his shell - if only it weren't for the instances where his drive to become a legend alienates virtually everyone around him (just check that one scene at the family dinner table or even the final scene he spends with his presumed love interest). Certain scenes even serve to make you question whether or not he is genuinely unhinged as opposed to just obsessive (what did happen to that folder?). As good as Teller is, anyone who watches this movie will definitely come away remembering J.K. Simmons above all else. A solid and memorable character actor, Simmons gets the role of a lifetime as Fletcher, a perfectionist conductor who is not above blatantly manipulating or abusing his students in order to achieve a seemingly incomprehensible ideal of perfection. Whether he's hurling chairs at less-than-perfect students or calmly divulging the rationale behind his actions, he always commands every single frame in which he apepars. Though the rest of the cast is solid, it is of course Simmons that sticks out above all others (not like the recent Oscar win wouldn't have tipped you off).

Even if you were to discount the strength of those two performances, Whiplash is still a very impressive film. The cinematography emphasises some striking use of colour - it helps a lot that Fletcher's rehearsal room is constantly soaked in a very hellish shade of yellow, while other scenes also emphasise striking contrasts between bright colours so as to create some fairly foreboding atmosphere. The powerhouse editing on display is brilliant, especially in any scene involving musical performances as the frantic cutting perfectly matches up to the high-tempo jazz being played. It all builds up to an amazingly powerful ending that I obviously don't want to spoil but makes for the perfect capper to what I'm starting to think might be my favourite film of 2014. Highly recommended.