Terence Fletcher is a movie monster for the ages. Like all the greatest big-screen fiends, he is so loathsome that you’re desperate for the hero to defeat him, yet so charismatic that you don’t want that defeat to come too soon. He’s got the cruel sense of humour that every classic villain needs, as well as the iconic uniform (shaven head, black T-shirt, black jacket). And, crucially, he believes in the virtue of his evil deeds, so he is sympathetic, and even a teensy bit admirable. Not bad going for a music teacher.
In “Whiplash”, the exhilarating debut from the writer-director Damien Chazelle, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) presides over the best jazz band in a leading New York conservatoire. His latest student is a 19-year-old drummer (Miles Teller) who is eager to become the next Buddy Rich. The question is, is it worth it, if it means being bullied by a tyrannical perfectionist who can crescendo from sotto-voce flattery to fortissimo fury in a few breathtaking seconds? For adrenaline-pumping thrills, “Whiplash” matches any monster movie. But it also has a big-band soundtrack that deserves a Grammy, and a leading man who deserves an Oscar. We always knew that the Devil had all the best tunes; this particular Devil conducts them, too. ~ Nicholas Barber
Whiplash opens in Britain Jan 16th
FILM AT A GLANCE
The Theory of Everything (out now). Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) explores love, the universe and everything. Read our Nov/Dec issue cover story.
Birdman (out now). Michael Keaton is a former Hollywood superhero (any resemblance to himself is purely uncoincidental) directing a Broadway play. Take a deep breath before the start of Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu’s feverish backstage farce: you may not take another one until the end. See our At the Cinema column.
Enemy (out now). One Jake Gyllenhaal was disturbing enough in “Nightcrawler”. “Enemy” has two of them: a pair of doppelgangers who meet in Denis Villeneuve’s chilly Canadian mystery.
Foxcatcher (out now). A delusional multimillionaire (Steve Carell, under a mountain of prosthetic make-up) sets himself up as a wrestling coach, wrenching apart two brothers (Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo) who are both Olympic champions. A muted true-crime tragicomedy from Bennett Miller, director of “Capote”.
Testament of Youth (Jan 16th). As Vera Brittain, the war nurse turned pacifist writer, Alicia Vikander makes the most captivating English rose since Carey Mulligan in “An Education”. But looks, and accents, can be deceiving: Vikander is actually Swedish.
Love Is Strange (Feb 6th). Love is also complex and cosy in Ira Sachs’s tender comedy-drama. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are a New York gay couple, newly married and homeless after almost 40 years together.
The Duke of Burgundy (Feb 6th). Never mind “Fifty Shades of Grey” (Feb 13th)—what really happens when the spark goes out of a sadomasochistic relationship? Peter Strickland, of “Berberian Sound Studio”, fashions another mischievous tribute to obscure 1970s cinema, trapping his characters in a softcore porn film. ~ NB