Yesterday I found myself having to decide whether to watch Birdman or Whiplash. Both recent additions to Netflix, both contenders for Best Picture at the 2015 Academy Awards and both vaguely associated with performing arts.
I opted for Whiplash. Mainly because unlike Birdman it didn’t win Best Picture so I had (slightly) lower expectations which (as I would soon learn) meant that if it was good the results would be all the more rewarding.
And boy, it was more than good.
It was awesome!
Seriously Birdman has a lot to answer for now.
Whiplash certainly sounds like a film with a niche fan base: it’s all about a jazz drummer.Now I don’t play drums nor do I have a particular penchant for jazz but this became trivial once I started watching.
Miles Teller plays Andrew Nieman the jazz drummer in question, he’s a freshman (fresher?) at the best music conservatory in New York and after being spotted by JK Simmons’ teacher Terrance Fletcher he gets a position in the school’s best jazz band. Fletcher is however, a complete psychopath teacher, he conducts the orchestra to such precision that they’re all terrified of him. The story is basically Fletcher pushing Nieman to the best of his abilities no matter what the cost.
Anyone who was ever in a school band or orchestra will undoubtedly enjoy the rehearsal scenes in this movie. They’re captured perfectly, every detail of band rehearsal is here, from Simmons’ vocab (there’s plenty of tempo, sharp and flat and five, six, seven *eights* being ushered here) to one of the brass players opening a valve to release a waterfall of saliva.
What I love most about this film was the scale. It feels very intimate, there are only a handful of named characters, limited settings (practically half the film is set in the rehearsal room) and the length of some of the scenes feels very theatre-like. This intimacy really pays off during many of the rehearsal scenes, it’s like you’re there with them and when Fletcher is trying to find out who played out of tune during one rehearsal you really start to feel as tense as the band looks.
The music is also great., and naturally plays an important role in the movie. Even if you don’t like jazz or drumming that much it’s easy to appreciate the skill involved in the music being performed and the final scene (which I don’t want to spoil) is just so, so, so good thanks to the music.
The acting is also superb. Miles Teller plays Nieman remarkably well and deals with his character’s change from naive and earnest to bitter and egotistical with ease. JK Simmons is a delight, he’s scary, he’s tough, he’s unpredictable and totally deserving of all the awards that came his way. As a side note it’s worth checking out his SNL stint on Youtube, this guy can really act! *cough* his Casablanca sketch *cough*
There’s little more to say other than: WATCH THIS FILM! It’s really genuinely so good and until I watch Birdman I can’t understand how it didn’t win best picture.