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Whiplash (#110 of 14)

Toronto Film Review Damien Chazelle’s La La Land

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Toronto Film Review: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto Film Review: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land

The latest bit of movie-musical pastiche from Damien Chazelle could be alternatively titled All the Oscars!, eager as it is to please those who might vote it into the AMPAS pantheon. But gilded statuettes aren’t the only thing on this Los Angeles-set film’s mind. La La Land is also out to win over the cinema-savvy and, to a lesser degree, the jazz aficionados who likely complained about Whiplash’s bebop point of reference being white guy Buddy Rich. (Based on co-star Ryan Gosling’s painfully inadequate basso warbling, though, vocal coaches aren’t on the writer-director’s list to impress.)

Chazelle wears his influences proudly. As in his first feature, 2009’s charmingly slight musical romance Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Jacques Demy hovers over the proceedings like a patron saint. The French director loved melancholy as much as he loved music. In films like 1964’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and 1967’s The Young Girls of Rochefort, he fused the fancifulness of old Hollywood song-and-dance productions with the soul-searing emotions brought on by broken hearts and dreams too big to bear fruit.

The Knick Recap Season 2, Episode 5, "Whiplash"

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The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 5, “Whiplash”

Mary Cybulski

The Knick Recap: Season 2, Episode 5, “Whiplash”

Anyone who had an allergic reaction to the hokey old-flame subplot between Abigail Alford (Jennifer Ferrin) and John Thackery (Clive Owen) in The Knick’s first season will be let down by the opener of “Whiplash,” which offers yet another meandering push-and-pull conversation between them, this time about how much care Abigail needs in recovering from her syphilis treatment. For Thackery, there’s no such thing as too much. But after a wordless encounter between him and Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson), who’s appointed by the hospital to check him for needle marks, the episode opens in earnest, with one of those scenes that make The Knick pretty much unlike any other TV series right now.

Oscar 2015 Composite Winner Predictions

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Oscar 2015 Composite Winner Predictions
Oscar 2015 Composite Winner Predictions

Below is a complete list of our predicted winners at the 2015 Academy Awards.

Picture: Birdman
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash
Foreign Language: Ida
Documentary Feature: Virunga
Animated Feature Film: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Documentary Short: Our Curse
Animated Short: The Dam Keeper
Live Action Short: The Phone Call
Film Editing: Whiplash
Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Cinematography: Birdman
Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Makeup and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Score: The Theory of Everything
Song: “Glory,” Selma
Sound Editing: American Sniper
Sound Mixing: Whiplash
Visual Effects: Interstellar

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions Picture

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Picture

Tempted though I might be to end an Oscar season I began so long ago quoting Into the Woods’s Witch by dropping another choice lyric from “Last Midnight” (namely the one that would allow me to blithely shrug off the Academy’s fickle tastes with the dismissal, “Oh, why bother? You’ll just do what you do!”), there’s a legitimate three-way race to call this year. Make it four if you naïvely believe the monstrous box-office success of American Sniper is enough to overcome the same partisan resistance that stymied Zero Dark Thirty two years ago. Which means that figuring out exactly what the Academy will do is an even trickier errand than collecting a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions Adapted Screenplay

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

We could make this one easy on ourselves and buy the narrative that every film nominated for best picture will win at least one Oscar next Sunday and call this one for The Imitation Game. But this presupposes that AMPAS members actually fill out their ballots with the intent of “spreading the wealth around” (how many Oscars did American Hustle win again?), and that Graham Moore’s adaptation of Andrew Hodges’s Alan Turing biopic isn’t one of the dullest soft balls to be pegged as a frontrunner in this category since Jason Reitman’s screenplay for Up in the Air, which lost—shockingly, if only in retrospect—to Precious.

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

If best animated film, best documentary feature, and best director begat the year’s most conspicuous snubs (for The Lego Movie, Life Itself, and Ana DuVerny, respectively), best sound mixing boasts the most controversial nomination: Interstellar. Personally, we’d like to thank the trio of Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker, and Mark Weingarten for doing all they could within their power to drown out the Nolan brothers’ pompous dialogue in favor of Hans Zimmer’s IMAX-sized music cues, but even we’d draw the line at giving them the actual trophy, and there’s little doubt that the Academy’s sizeable ear trumpet-hoisting constituency will too.

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions Editing

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Editing
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Editing

Last year we accurately predicted 23 out of 24 Oscar categories. And because the chances of our literally one-upping that record now that this year’s AMPAS dog and pony show has emerged, and so late in the game, as one of the wiliest to pin down in some time, we’re inclined to give less of a fuck than usual. Which is why we’re going out on a drumstick and calling this for Whiplash. Most are understandably rallying behind Boyhood, which won the Eddie for best edited dramatic feature and doesn’t have to compete in this category with our new presumptive best picture winner, Birdman. The effect of that film’s one-shot magic trick is just as dependent on its editing as it is on its cinematography, but such nuance clearly went above AMPAS’s collective toupee. To be honest, we wouldn’t have been surprised if the Richard Linklater film, given its conventional editing style, had failed to come up short here, as it did when the BAFTAs announced their own shortlist at the beginning of the year. And given the vast overlap between BAFTA and Oscar’s voting bodies, the win across the pond last Sunday for Whiplash is likely a prescient one. In the words of our own Eric Henderson: “Whiplash is basically a demonic musical—neo-Fosse attenuated to the misanthropic rhythms of homophobia. (Which is definitely NOT to say it has Fosse’s razor-sharp sense of timing. Not by a longshot. But it thinks it does, which, to quote J.K. Simmons’s character, is even worse. But certainly not a mark against its chances.)” More to the point: When in doubt, go with the film that most belligerently tests, for better and for worse, the audience’s patience.

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

It may be a moot point since he actually got nominated in the lead category, but many wondered why Foxcatcher’s Steve Carell didn’t attempt a campaign in supporting actor, which is where BAFTA slotted him. In other words, his thinly drawn portrayal of John du Pont as an unstable, homicidal cuckoo would be competing in a category more welcoming of that particular kind of role. Best supporting actor has recently gone all-in for sociopathic, antagonistic wild cards (Anton Chigurh, the Joker, Jared Leto’s sense of self-satisfaction), making it the most predictable Oscar category of them all. (The surprised reaction greeting Christoph Waltz’s repeat win two years ago was less a reflection of the quality of his performance and more a reaction to the nobility of his proto-civil rights gunslinger character.) It, in part, explains why Patricia Arquette is widely considered to be the frontrunner for her award, but her hirsute Boyhood counterpart Ethan Hawke is at best running a fairly distant second or third for turning in equally nuanced work as an only part-time functional father figure—and why Oscar voters gave Robert Duvall’s far more flamboyantly flawed, piss-n’-vinegar patriarch a free pass to just be happy for the nomination once again. You have to assume Carell’s handlers took note of how frequently J.K. Simmons’s profane performance as Satan in Whiplash (which, despite all the seasoned professionalism the actor brings to the set, still emerges as the barely human equivalent of the all-staccato soundtrack to Birdman) earned comparison to another prototypal best supporting actor: An Officer and a Gentleman’s Lou Gossett Jr. And then promptly ran for the hills.

2015 Oscar Nomination Predictions

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2015 Oscar Nomination Predictions
2015 Oscar Nomination Predictions

The critics have spoken. The guilds have spoken. The Golden Globes have spoken. And here we are feeling the ennui of another three months’ worth of Mondays weighing unusually heavy this year, though it really shouldn’t be. Not all Oscar seasons boast presumptive frontrunners as stubbornly unique and personal as Boyhood or The Grand Budapest Hotel, both of which seem at this point like they would’ve cracked the lineup even in the old (and correct) days of five-deep best picture slates we’ll be telling our grandchildren about. Not all Oscar seasons are gifted by the original, cantankerous spirit of the National Society of Film Critics, which is to say the spirit of the group as it was initially conceived, as a staunch, vanguard opponent to staid groupthink. (Try to ignore the remaining instances of “ditto” among their roster of winners and savor everyone flipping their shit over Godard’s surprise victory.) So why aren’t we in a better mood than usual? Probably because we’ve seen it all go south in so many horrifying ways time and time again, and thus this year’s left us feeling a bit like the Witch staring down the “Last Midnight.” Oscars aren’t good, they’re not bad, they’re just nice. We’re not nice, we’re the hitch, and we’re definitely right.