Whiplash is the best movie of 2014. Just shut up about everything else. There was no other movie last year with the balls and intensity possessed and expressed by Whiplash. I consider myself fortunate to have watched Whiplash early when it came out in select theaters in October, but I didn’t want to review the movie until I could watch it again. It’s too good to let go. Whiplash doesn’t disappoint on repeat.

Sure it’s a cliché to say a movie starts with a bang, but Whiplash literally begins with Miles Teller’s character (Andrew Nieman) banging away on the drums. From the opening scene, the tempo of the movie is established. When your heart starts pounding with the rhythm of the drums, J.K. Simmons’ character (Terence Fletcher) walks in and immediately puts him through the wringer with an impromptu test before promptly exiting without any explanation. Let the psychological warfare ensue

Prepare to immerse yourself in a world where nothing is perfect. Whiplash delves into the dedication and passion necessary for the pursuit of being great. Not good. Great. One of the greatest of all-time.

While Whiplash’s focus on greatness is through the lens of drumming, understanding the quest is a universal. Whether the subject is art, music, science, sports, or anything else, the recipe always includes the same ingredients. Andrew is already internally motivated to achieve true greatness. But Fletcher is the teacher who wants to externally motivate him by pushing his buttons so he goes beyond his breaking point.

Drum Punch

Is it possible to achieve greatness on your own?

At this point, J.K. Simmons might sadly be more known by the general public as the Farmers Insurance guy. However, the man has been an incredibly versatile, talented character actor his entire career. With a diverse background, J.K. Simmons can pull off a technical performance in a theatrical play and he also has the chops to seamlessly transition on-screen from serious drama and absurd comedy. And he’s an accomplished voice actor. Whiplash probably won’t win Best Picture despite being the best movie, but J.K. Simmons at least deserves to run away with the Best Supporting Actor award.

If you were a fan of Oz on HBO, you’re familiar with J.K. Simmons as Vern Schillinger—the most evil and feared Nazi character ever created for television or film. As the aggressive and enigmatic conductor of Shaffer Music Academy’s competition jazz band, Terence Fletcher is basically Vern Schillinger minus all the Aryan Brotherhood and butt rape. Although not quite to R. Lee Ermey’s historic onslaught of insults in Full Metal Jacket, here’s a taste of what Fletcher dishes out to his young pupil:

“You are a worthless, friendless, faggot-lipped little piece of shit whose mommy left daddy when she figured out he wasn’t Eugene O’Neill, and who’s now weeping and slobbering all over my drum set like a fucking nine-year-old girl!”

The chemistry between J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller is electric and dynamic. It’s not hyperbole to claim it carries the movie. For the most part, Whiplash is boiled down to the interaction between these two characters and the overwhelming impact on Andrew Nieman. Miles Teller’s performance is impeccable, which should be expected by now. As the audience, you truly believe Andrew strives to be great because Miles Teller embodies that desperate, relentless pursuit. You can see it in his face, nothing else matters. It’s no surprise to learn that was actually Miles Teller’s blood on that drum set.

There Will Be Blood on Drums

In 2013, my favorite movie was The Spectacular Now—primarily due to Miles Teller. It’s another Miles Teller performance that makes Whiplash my favorite movie in 2014. Remember his name.

Along with amazing acting—seriously, even Paul fucking Reiser is good—the movie is also spot-on with its tempo. No slap is necessary, it is neither rushing nor dragging. That’s a credit to writer-director Damien Chazelle who uses a deft hand to delicately guide the narrative. Whiplash was a labor of love for Chazelle as it initially started out as a short—still starring Miles Teller—since he could not get funding for a full-length feature film. It all worked out. There is no version of this movie that could make it better.

Without both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons performing their respective roles as Andrew Nieman and Terence Fletcher, Whiplash would not be anywhere near the same movie. As an intense character study, you need charismatic actors playing off one another to elevate the script to the next level.

Teller and Simmons

This interplay between two captivating characters is a shining example of what Jake Gyllenhaal was sorely lacking in Nightcrawler. If Whiplash was just J.K. Simmons acting like a sociopath abusing a bunch of faceless, no-name students without spines, then the movie would have been a complete bore and I would have snoozed through it despite the loud sounds. Thankfully, this is more than a character study.

Whiplash has everything you want in a movie—blood, sweat, and tears that begins with a bang and ends with an equally loud bang. You will feel physically uncomfortable and awkward at some moments. You will laugh maniacally and then feel bad for laugh so hard at some awfully cruel insults.

Embrace each scene and enjoy the best movie of last year—exceeding every lofty expectation. I wish I could carve out your eyes and experience Whiplash completely new like it was my first time again. I would congratulate Damien Chazelle on a phenomenal movie, but we all know how Fletcher feels about praise.

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”

Good Job

5 out of 5 stars

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