The Best of the Decade series looks back over the most popular and beloved films of the past ten years. Each author chooses a film they believe to be the definitive film of the year, along with a wildcard favourite film of their own. For 2014, Luke Bradley has chosen Whiplash as the definitive film of the year, and Nightcrawler as his personal favourite.
Best of 2014: Whiplash
Written by Luke Bradley
In what I consider to be one of the best years for cinema in recent memory, it is impressive that the best film of the year is such an easy pick. Anchored by two of the best performances in recent memory, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is a truly extraordinary film. In equal parts a study on mental health and an exposé on the struggle of pursuing musical greatness, Chazelle delivers an exhilarating experience that earns its acclaim as an instant classic.
Whiplash exemplifies the cinematic potential of a genre-clash done right. The film proudly displays its adoration of music, while never betraying its premise as a dramatic thriller. The litany of orchestral sequences never cease to amaze me, constructed in a manner as intense as a nail-biting action scene. The service paid to Miles Teller’s drum solos in particular is awe-inspiring. The film’s success in investing me in the landscape of backstage music school politics is perhaps its greatest triumph: what can be considered a niche subject matter feels instantly enthralling.
Miles Teller delivers a fantastic performance as Andrew Neiman, as he captures the anger and sense of inferiority present in any abuse victim. He’s electric on the drum set and effectively reserved during confrontations with JK Simmons’ Fletcher. Simmons himself is on another level, exploding on screen with chilling torrents of physical and verbal abuse. Fletcher’s ideology of how artistic perfection is achieved through trial-by-fire feels believable. Simmons triumphs where less nuanced actors would have failed, turning in a performance deserving of the awards season sweep that followed. The film’s standout scene (“Are you rushing or are you dragging?”) is carried by a raw intensity that Simmons is now known for.
Simmons triumphs where less nuanced actors would have failed, turning in a performance deserving of the awards season sweep that followed.
Damien Chazelle, for my money, pulled off one of the greatest directorial debuts since Orson Welles made Citizen Kane. Based on his proof-of-concept short film of the same name, Chazelle came out of film school with a bang. His zesty, energetic camera techniques make standard music sections thrilling. Equal attention is paid to the psychological effect on Teller’s Andrew under Fletcher’s constant berating, as Chazelle finds time for the subtleties of human drama. Composer Justin Hurwitz deserves the same credit in the film’s success, turning in a gorgeous jazz soundtrack to accommodate the plot. His adoration of jazz music is unquestionable, later exemplified in La La Land’s similarly fantastic score. Chazelle and Hurwitz’s dynamic partnership as geniuses on opposite ends of the filmmaking spectrum build a fundamental support on which Whiplash soars.
Whiplash, quite simply, is a cinematic masterpiece. It explores familiar territory with its ‘pursuit of dreams’ narrative, yet it does so with exciting originality. The narrative’s focus on the realities of achieving perfection and the toxicity that stems from this is fulfilled thanks to world-class talent in all aspects of production. The snappy jazz soundtrack is realised by brilliant work from Teller, Hurwitz and the film’s musical talent. It’s a gripping experience that plays with your emotions as ferociously as its lead plays the drums, and is undoubtedly one of the decade’s best.
Whiplash is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Critic’s Choice: Nightcrawler
Written by Luke Bradley
The mantra of Nightcrawler’s lead character, Lou Bloom, rings true in the case of this film: “If you want to win the lottery, you have to earn the money to buy the ticket”. A simple but clever premise is propelled to cinematic greatness thanks to a world-class performance by Jake Gyllenhaal: a cameraman takes to filming increasingly shocking accidents and crime scenes as they happen in order to make money.
Gyllenhaal earns the film its lottery jackpot by delivering a career-best work. In order to believably portray the soul-sucking cynicism of news stringers in Los Angeles, Gyllenhaal lost over thirty pounds to appear gaunt and coyote-like. His wide-eyed, well-spoken demeanour is striking, and excellently reflects the nature of his work as well as his sociopathic behaviour. The Oscar snub for his performance is bordering on criminal.
Dan Gilroy soars as writer/director, presenting razor-sharp satire that is at its strongest when airing on the side of disturbing. Supporting performances from Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed play off of Gyllenhaal’s burning ambition terrifically. The cinematography is gorgeous, the score appropriately melancholic. Nightcrawler cuts close to the bone, standing confidently amongst giants of social-critique-cinema.
Nightcrawler is available to stream on Netflix.