My Favorite Moments in the 2014 Best Picture Nominees: Whiplash

Our final Best Picture nominee is Whiplash.

Here’s how Oscar season works: from mid-December until mid-January, I go over what will and what won’t be nominated. Opinions are formed. It can get heated. Then they announce the nominations, and from then until Oscar night, it’s all about what’s going to win. And more opinions are formed. The problem is that nowhere during this do we actually stop and appreciate the films. They’re always seen through the lens of competition.

So what I do every year is, after all the analysis is done, and all the opinions are dealt with, I stop, take a minute, throw it all away, and just stop to appreciate the movies. I watch all the nominees again, and I pick my favorite moments (or elements) from each of them. The ultimate goal being to remind everyone that once you take away all the competition, the awards, arbitrary decisions of what film is better, what we’re left with is great cinema. And that’s what it’s all about.

Here are my favorite moments from Whiplash:

Whiplash - Title Card

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5. The Traffic Accident

This is the beauty of this film. You watch Miles Teller sweat, and bleed for his part. Literally, the scene before, he bleeds for it. He auditions with the other two drummers for five hours, and finally wins the part from JK Simmons. The only real validation he’s been given so far. And then, on the day of the competition, where he can show that he’s earned it, everything goes wrong. The bus gets a flat tire, then when he gets there, he doesn’t have his sticks. He argues to get enough time to get the sticks, even though he agrees that if he’s not there in time, or makes a single mistake, he’ll lose his spot forever. And he rushes to get there, and boom. Car accident. So what happens? He gets up and runs to the place, covered in blood, his hand all fucked up. Even JK Simmons has a moment where he’s like, “Goddamn.” He doesn’t show it, but that’s what he does. And then the song starts, and you think, “Oh man, he’s gonna do it. He’s gonna play perfect and really show him.” And then he drops one of his sticks. You want nothing more than for him to succeed, and it’s just fucking heartbreaking.

The other moment I considered for this spot is the moment near the end, when he gets off stage and hugs his father. But you’ll see why I didn’t choose that specific moment in a minute.

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4. An Out of Tune Player

How awesome is this moment? This is the first elongated moment where you see just how much of a prick J.K. Simmons is. You get glimpses, in the opening scene, and then when he makes Teller show up three hours early. But this is where everything kicks into gear. There’s an out of tune player, and he goes through, waiting for the person to come clean. And then he berates the one kid (who has that look of the one who gets killed in all of those movies), and throws him out because he doesn’t know if he’s out of tune or not. And then, after all of that, and the point was made, to the band and the audience, he says, nonchalantly, “He wasn’t out of tune. It was this other kid. But he didn’t know, which is bad enough.” And right there, that’s when this movie kicks into a whole different gear.

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3. Bleed for this

I was gonna say the editing here, but that’s a cop out. I love that this movie is about what one person is willing to do for their art. I love that Miles Teller is so dedicated, that even though he can barely function in society, and is being put through absolute hell, and being emotionally and physically abused by his teacher — he keeps pushing, and pushing. The amount of blood he puts into what he does makes you want to see him succeed. And that’s what makes this movie great. It’s a movie about a drummer and his teacher. Did you ever think it would be this thrilling? So yeah, I guess the editing is also my pick here too. Look, it’s been a long day. This movie is great.

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2. J.K. fucking Simmons

This is the most electric, nuanced, film-stealing, film-making performance I saw in 2014. He’s so good that even though your main character isn’t a completely likable person, you want to see this guy get his comeuppance. He’s so good in this role that the moment this screenshot above happens, you are convinced that he is the devil incarnate, and you just want nothing more than to see Miles Teller wipe that smug fucking look right off of his face. Which brings me to…

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1. The finale

Just from the moment where J.K. Simmons says, “I know it was you,” this movie just takes off. Then he announces they’re gonna do a song that Teller doesn’t know and hasn’t practiced, and you know he’s doing it just to fuck him over. And this was set up by him telling everyone how failure here could mean they’ll never work again. So the song starts, and Teller doesn’t even have the sheets, and he tries playing it by ear. And you’re thinking, “Oh, okay, maybe this is how he salvages it.” Nope. It’s embarrassing as all hell, and you think, man… J.K. Simmons won. And you think it’s all over. Teller goes off the stage, to his father, which is such a nice moment. And then… it snaps into place. He can’t give up. He can’t let him win. He’s gotta say “Fuck you.” And he does. And it’s fucking glorious. Is there no more satisfying moment in this movie than when he snaps the symbol in Simmons’ face?

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