Clenching the Nomination - Whiplash - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Clenching the Nomination – Whiplash

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Andrew discusses the scene in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash that he thinks secured the film's Best Picture nomination. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2015 here.

Whiplash nomWhiplash is full of so many gripping moments that I could arrange them on a dart board, throw something sharp, and make a case for whatever scene I land on. The introduction between drumming prodigy Andrew (Miles Teller) and harsh conductor Terence (J.K. Simmons) is built out of the stuff myths are made from with Andrew’s harsh angelic glow seemingly attracting Terence from the darkness. Or there’s the first full-on confrontation between Andrew and Terence where the elder conductor toys with the naïve drummer before exploding into Terence’s words of violence. I could even build a case around the dinner scene with Andrew, his father (Paul Reiser), and extended family as Andrew finally has the strength and accomplishment to stand up to his yuppie bloodline.

But the scene which grabbed the Academy’s attention and earned its Best Picture nomination is likely to be the same one on everyone’s mind – the climactic confrontation between Andrew and Terence. Andrew reached the point where he will not be humiliated anymore after Terence fed him the wrong music notes for a performance. Andrew’s father meets him backstage to console him with a face that says, “It’s ok you didn’t win, we don’t all get to win.” Instead Andrew defiantly walks back onstage, glares at Terence, amused and angry at Andrew’s sudden reappearance, and interrupts Terence’s speech with a drum fill that leads into “Caravan”.

This scene is so potent, and shows how smart writer / director Damien Chazelle is, because we finally discover that Terence hasn’t been torturing his students to produce a lone genius – but because he wants a partner. The eye-lines as the camera cuts back and forth are important as Andrew queues the rest of the band in with Terence begrudgingly having to accept Andrew’s temporary dominance. Andrew is still looking up at Terence with Terence glaring down at Andrew as the scene starts but as Terence slowly realizes the genius welling up within Andrew the camera starts matching their eye-lines.

By the time we get to the much ballyhooed whip pan sequence with Andrew playing and Terence conducting they are seeing each other as equals. Dramatically this is almost impossibly thrilling as we are catching the beginnings of a genius pair in a technically masterful way. The whip pan between Teller and Simmons required perfect precision between the camera operator and the focus puller due to the difference in distances between the camera and Teller, then the camera and Simmons. Combine that with the rollicking peaks that “Caravan” is hitting at this point and it becomes instantly clear that this one scene has the potential to leave a lingering mark on cinematic history.

However, I can narrow it down to the exact shot that Whiplash earned its Best Picture nod and it involves neither Teller nor Simmons. But there’s one moment where we see Andrew’s father, hidden behind equipment and a half-closed door, with a look on his face which realizes that his son is going to achieve the greatness he never did. This adds an additional layer of emotional resonance to the entire onstage battle as it shows the other familial battle concluding offstage. Andrew will not be his father, and may be better off for it.

There’s plenty of flashier scenes in Chazelle’s film that could have earned the Best Picture nod. But nothing compares to the shared realization onscreen of a father whose son will feel so far away, and the offscreen of an audience watching filmmaking that will rarely be this good. Whiplash will not win Best Picture, but it’s easily the best picture nominated.   That’s the sort of second-place acceptance Terence would not tolerate – but for me? It’ll do.

Posted by Andrew

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