Welcome to the Larry411.com Guest Columnists! April 27, 2013
In my travels to the best film festivals in…
On Tuesday, September 9, 2014 I attended the highly-anticipated Canadian Premiere of Whiplash at the Toronto International Film Festival. The sold-out screening was held at the state-of-the-art TIFF Bell Lightbox. The film was a selection in the Special Presentations section.
Whiplash is only the second feature Damien Chazelle has directed, but he's no stranger to the film festival world. As a writer, Chazelle penned the scripts for his directorial debut, Tribeca Film Festival 2009 favorite Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, along with two pictures in 2013, The Last Exorcism Part II and Eugenio Mira's triumphant Grand Piano with Elijah Wood and John Cusack. That film was one of my Fantastic Fest 2013 favorites. His script for Whiplash was on the infamous Black List in 2012 for top unproduced screenplays. He first developed it as a short with J.K. Simmons and Johnny Simmons, which won the Short Film Jury Prize for Fiction at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, "For its wicked sense of humor, fantastic ensemble acting and razor sharp directing." Those words apply to this stunning feature, as well, as J.K. Simmons returns in the role of taskmaster music teacher Terence Fletcher along with wunderkind Miles Teller as drummer Andrew Neyman.
J.K. Simmons is a staple of my annual film festival Top 10 lists. He's had seven winning performances in my nine years on the circuit, including First Snow (Tribeca 2006), Juno (Toronto 2007), Burn After Reading (Toronto 2008), The Vicious Kind (Sundance 2009), Jennifer's Body and Up in the Air (both at Toronto 2009), and The Music Never Stopped (Sundance 2011). The incredibly prolific character actor has worked on a staggering 75 movies in just the past 20 years. In 2009 alone he had 11 films released. He's done close to 30 just since 2010. Then there are the 437 television movies and episodes he's done, including 277 shows just since 2010 (on top of those 30 films from 2010-present). And, of course, numerous TV commercials, currently appearing as spokesperson for Farmers Insurance. In Whiplash, Simmons turns in a frighteningly shocking performance which could be his best. This drill sergeant with a baton is nothing like any character he's ever played.
Fletcher's student/victim is played by Miles Teller. The 27-year-old began his feature film career in 2010 with Rabbit Hole, followed by the remake of Footloose (2011), Project X (2012), and 21 & Over (2013). But he came to prominence in James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now, for which he won the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Acting in a Drama. Since then he's been one of the most sought-after young actors in Hollywood, appearing in Get a Job, That Awkward Moment, Divergent, and Two Night Stand, along with the upcoming Insurgent, The Fantastic Four, La La Land, Bleed for This, and The Fantastic Four 2. Even though he's been playing since the age of 15, and has been in several bands along the way, this doesn't explain how the modest Teller has the amazing ability to be totally believable as one of the greatest young jazz drummers in the world -- and he plays completely live on screen, with no hand doubles or camera trickery. In order to sell his performance he actually has to be able to play on that level, and he does. He's so shockingly talented that one wonders whether acting is the right profession for him. He's that good.
Simmons and Teller are ably supported by Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Max Kasch, and Damon Gupton. Israeli-born cinematographer Sharone Meir's two dozen credits include several festival favorites. He was a camera operator on Manic (2001), with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Director of Photography on Mean Creek. That 2002 release stands as one of my all-time favorite indies and is a benchmark against which I measure all others. He also worked on, and appears in, Wristcutters: A Love Story. That film was one of my favorites from Sundance 2006, my very film festival as a journalist. Meir's other credits include Coach Carter, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, and Last House on the Left. The creative team is rounded out by editor Tom Cross and Production Designer Melanie Paizis-Jones.
Whiplash debuted as the Opening Night Film at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it nabbed a rare double win with the Grand Jury Prize as well as the Audience Award for Dramatic Feature. It premiered overseas in competition for the LGBT-themed Queer Palm at Cannes in May. The movie received a rare standing ovation here in Toronto and was one of my few "wow" films in the lineup this year. Jaws dropped as the credits rolled.
Executive Producers were Jason Reitman for Right of Way Films, Jeanette Brill and Couper Samuleson for Blumhouse Productions, and Gary Michael Walters for Bold Films. Whiplash was produced by Jason Blum for Blumhouse, Helen Estabrook for Right of Way, David Lancaster for Rumble Films, and Michael Litvak for Bold Films.
For a synopsis see the festival's official page.
Writer/director Damien Chazelle conducted an entertaining and informative post-screening Q&A, joined by (left to right in photos) cinematographer Sharone Meir, producer Helen Estabrook, composer Justin Hurwitz, J.K. Simmons, and Miles Teller.
Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A:
NOTE: I selected Whiplash as one of my Top 10 from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Mongrel Media has Canadian distribution. In the first major deal of this year's Sundance Film Festival, Sony Pictures Classics picked up the film for the U.S.
A shocking clip is below.
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In my travels to the best film festivals in…