Monthly Archives: January 2015

Review – Whiplash


Whiplash is not a “horror film”. It’s a drama about musicians. I repeat: it’s not “horror” in the sense that anyone would define the genre. I feel the need to point that out, because this little student/teacher drama is the most terrifying “non-horror” movie I’ve ever seen.

Warning: I’m going to overuse that word here– “terrifying” – because there’s simply no better description. But before I go too far down that road, let me just point out that I truly believe Whiplash is the greatest film of 2014. (See my Top 10 Films of 2014.) Every single aspect of this production is perfectly calculated, expertly crafted, and the result is an experience that drives into your soul and stays there.

I don’t cry much in real life, but I have been known to leak a little at the occasional movie. No big heaving sobs or anything. Just the kind of overwhelming spine-shivering wave of emotion that involuntarily activates the tear ducts. They’re usually happy tears, or for the scrappy underdog giving their last, best attempt against insurmountable odds.

But never, in my entire memory, have I ever been LITERALLY SCARED TO TEARS by a movie. That changed while watching Whiplash.

You know that dream where you go to school, and there’s a big exam, but you never studied for it, never even actually went to this class, and, oh yeah, you’re also naked? Remember the awful feeling of that nightmare? Multiply that by 10, and you MIGHT come close to the climactic scene of this movie.

(I have other good analogies, but I can’t write them without spoiling the moment.)

Miles Teller plays Andrew, a young jazz drummer in his first year at the most prestigious, cutthroat conservatory in the country. JK Simmons plays Fletcher, Andrew’s teacher, director of the top ensemble, and a maker of the greatest musicians in the world.

But Fletcher’s techniques don’t just border on the sadistic; they thrive there. He wields psychological torture like a sculptor’s scalpel, using it to mold his students into an absurd level of perfection. Every word and action is a carefully crafted piece of an elaborate mind game that takes “winning” and “losing” to more extreme conclusions than you can possible imagine.

Simmons plays Fletcher with a terrifying confidence. I physically winced every time he was onscreen, which was most of the time. That meant I spent the vast majority of this movie in as much of a fetal position as the theater seat would allow. He is as scary as all the classic screen villains you can think of… combined.

For his part, Teller did an amazing job of playing Andrew as a young musician who sacrifices everything in his life, even his own blood – I have never seen so much blood in a movie about musicians before – to become the greatest. It’s sad that his performance might be overshadowed by Simmons, because they are both at the absolute top of their game.

Full disclosure time: I am a musician. It occurs to me that I might’ve had a more visceral reaction to this movie in part because of my personal background. I never studied jazz, and no I never had a sadistic coach like Fletcher. But anybody who has ever studied any form of art will know that these teachers really do exist. Maybe not quite to this extreme, but pretty damn close. We may even know one personally, and if not we know colleagues who have.

What’s more, we know that special relationship that forms between student and teacher. Fletcher is a personal mentor, coach, director, idol, and parent all wrapped up in one. The abuse he inflicts is all the more painful, because I can feel exactly where the stings land from each precise lash of his whip.

And finally, speaking of the title: Whiplash perfectly describes the form of the film. 95% of it is one long painful whip, but just you wait for that lash.

Whew, there’s that spine-shivering wave again!

[Check out more reviews by clicking the “REVIEWS” link at the top of the page.]

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2015 Oscar Nominations

Oscar statues

Nominations for the 87th Annual Academy Awards were announced this morning.

Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel lead the way with 9 nods apiece. I find it interesting that the two films with the most nominations are both comedies. That’s a bit unusual, I think. We have 8 nominees for Best Picture this year. This is a slight change: ever since the new rule that allowed anywhere from 5-10 nominees depending on the voting, we’ve always ended up with 9. I’m sure there will be countles article on the various snubs and surprises, but for now the biggest surprise, in my opinion, is The LEGO Movie being left out of the Animated Feature race, where I think most people considered it the frontrunner.

Scroll to the bottom to see a breakdown of total nominations per film.

Best Picture
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Best Director
Alexandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Best Actor
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything

Best Original Screenplay
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Animated Feature
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Best Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins, Unbroken

Best Costume Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Best Film Editing
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Original Score
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song
“Lost Stars,” Begin Again
“Everything is Awesome,” The LEGO Movie
“Glory,” Selma
“Grateful,” Beyond the Lights
I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me

Best Production Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Best Sound Editing
American Sniper
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Best Sound Mixing
American Sniper

Best Visual Effects
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best Foreign Language Film
Wild Tales

Best Documentary — Feature
Finding Vivien Maier
Last Days of Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth

Best Documentary—Short
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth 

Best Animated Short
The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

Best Live Action Short
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
The Phone Call

Total nominations per film:
Birdman – 9
The Grand Budapest Hotel – 9
The Imitation Game – 8
American Sniper – 6
Boyhood – 6
Interstellar – 5
The Theory of Everything – 5
Whiplash – 5
Foxcatcher – 4
Mr. Turner – 4
Into the Woods – 3
Unbroken – 3
Guardians of the Galaxy – 2
Ida – 2
Inherent Vice – 2
Selma – 2
Wild – 2

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Top 10 Films of 2014


And here it is: my Top 10 for 2014!
(In case you missed the rest, check it out here.)

  1. Whiplash (read the full review)
  2. The LEGO Movie (read the full review)
  3. Nightcrawler
  4. Birdman
  5. Gone Girl
  6. Boyhood
  7. The Babadook
  8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  9. Snowpiercer
  10. The Boxtrolls

The Films of 2014


Was 2014 a bad year for good movies? The list below kinda seems that way. I mean, yes I did see a handful of really wonderful films, but nowhere near the massive output of the past few years, where I struggled to keep my Top 10 list to just 10. This year I had the opposite struggle. Only the top 3 or 4 could have made it into my previous lists.

Full disclosure: this has been an insanely busy year personally, and my movie habit – not to mention this blog – has had to take a back seat to other ventures. Put simply, I haven’t even watched a fraction of the number of movies I usually catch in a year. And there’s a fair number of films I missed, or haven’t gotten around to yet, that have been getting some really good press. Still others haven’t even made it to Grand Rapids yet. (See list at the bottom of this article)

Then again, I’m not the only one proclaiming 2014 a weak year. Even the greatest films seem not quite as great. And maybe that partially contributed to my lack of movie stubs. I just wasn’t as excited about this year’s crop. At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself, so I can feel better about not seeing most of them.

So here you go. Ranked simply “Good,” “OK,” and “Bad,” and in no other particular order, here is the list of all (minus my new Top 10up next) the 2014 Films I’ve seen so far…

Muppets Most Wanted
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Big Hero 6
The Imitation Game
The Theory of EverythingGodzilla
The Hunger Games: Monckingjay
22 Jump Street
Edge of Tomorrow
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Into The Woods
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Monuments Men
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Giver
Under the Skin

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Into the Storm
The Expendables 3
The Interview

And here are the ones I would like to see, but still haven’t…

American Sniper
Big Eyes
The Hobbit: The Babble of the Flies Swarming
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Inherent Vice
A Most Violent Year
A Most Wanted Man
Mr. Turner
Obvious Child
Only Lovers Left Alive
The Rover
St. Vincent
Top Five
Under The Skin