Dir: Damien Chazelle
Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture. Supporting Actor. Adapted Screenplay. Film Editing. Sound Mixing.
Usually, review-filled posters like the one below should be taken with a pinch of salt, but in this case, all that praise seems to me to be well-deserved.
Andrew (Miles Teller) is a promising young drummer in a prestigious conservatory, picked to join the conservatory’s top jazz band by its demanding conductor Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) who picks out only the very best students. In the quest for perfection, the two begin pushing each other to the limits, and beyond.
I love how the film goes straight into drumming, kicking off a drum-fronted jazzy score that’s very in keeping with the story. and the story begins immediately with the two leads meeting almost instantly. There’s no labouring setting the scene, and it keeps that pace throughout, it doesn’t really stop much to explain, there’s no tedious exposition, as just expects the audience to keep up as things develop and gets very intense quickly. It’s just like Fletcher’s demand that his students keep on his time, the film sets its own tempo and makes no apologies for requiring that the audience stays with it.
There’s some really great casting, firstly, in the smaller roles it was again lovely to see Paul Reiser, now seemingly focusing on the ‘dad’ role in films and getting pretty good at it having much better material to work with than his recent turn in ‘Life After Beth‘. Also I enjoyed seeing Melissa Benoist from Glee as the romantic interest, though her role is quite small she was one of the best (now jettisoned) cast members during her time on the TV musical, and so it’s nice to see her getting a role in such an excellent film. In fact, just this week she’s been cast as the lead in the upcoming ‘Supergirl’ TV series, so if that ends up being as good as it has the potential to be, she could be really set for continued success.
Miles Teller is really excellent in the lead. You could be forgiven for thinking at one point that his career might not include films like this when he was regularly appearing in things like ’21 and Over’, ‘Project X’ and ‘That Awkward Moment’, but for a youthful looking actor who can play late teens convincingly, this is the kind of quality role that’s far better to go for. His real drumming skills are put to use with good effect, albeit with extra help edited in, but his familiarity with drums comes across clearly. Just as with something like ‘Chef‘ where the film’s premise hinges on someone with an extraordinary skill, you’ve got to be fully convinced that the actor in the role has that skill or it just won’t work. There wasn’t a minute in this film where I stopped to think about if it was him that was playing, I only thought to check after seeing it once and before going back to see it a second time.
Then there’s J. K. Simmons, his presence is so intense, steals the whole film, hardly a scene when he doesn’t. Really good to see him getting the nomination, and after recent wins he’s thought to be in with a very good chance. Either way, he’s not going to be easily forgotten. In fact, I know that often actors are put forward for consideration in the categories in which they have a better chance of winning, but this role is so close to being a joint lead with Miles Teller he could’ve almost been considered for best lead actor, as he has almost as much time on screen and his performance is not supporting it’s completely focus-grabbing.
Simmons gets the character just right, with a lovely range in his performance. Every time we see a softer side of him, it’s followed almost immediately by a bout of his most vicious harsh behaviour, and you’re left wondering if what we saw was really him or just some clever manipulation. I think the Oscar could be his, it’ll take something really incredible to beat him, especially as he has all the momentum from winning nearly every award he’s been nominated for so far.
The film is also nominated for ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ after a little bit of controversy over whether or not it could count as original. The Academy deemed that it was adapted as Damien Chazelle had already made a short film with the same idea and title almost as a warm-up. Most awarding bodies felt that allowed the feature to still be classed as original as it was all by Chazelle, and the feature is merely an expansion of his own work, but AMPAS disagree. In the adapted category it’s up against much tougher competition than it would’ve been with ‘Original screenplay’ and so less likely to win. Damien Chazelle has won a number of other awards already and there are even more pending, leading him to be hotly tipped for even more great things.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but the final act is simply wonderful. Things don’t play out quite as one might have expected, but it ends up being completely compelling through to the very end. This could be a dark horse in the upcoming awards, I think it’ll take more than a few prizes home, and is doubtlessly going to have a lasting legacy.