Conflict is the bedrock of storytelling. Without conflict, there is no story. And without interesting characters, there is, naturally, no real reason to care.
Perhaps the best movie of 2014 (and certainly in contention for best of the decade), Whiplash not only has as much conflict as many summer blockbusters but also features two of the most interesting, intense characters in recent memory. Andrew, a music student, aspires to be the next Buddy Rich. Fletcher, his instructor, considers greatness not good enough and abuse the same as inspiration. What follows is one of the most unorthodox, fierce, intense student-teacher relationships ever brought to screen. Anchored by J.K. Simmons’ profanely brilliant performance that alternates between terrifying and hilarious, often in the same scene, Whiplash brims with conflict. Fletcher pushes Andrew further than most would willingly tolerate, but most don’t have aspirations to become legendary at any cost (even friends, family, and physical well-being). As Andrew puts it, “I’d rather die broke and drunk at 34 and have people at a dinner table somewhere talk about it than die rich and sober at 90 and have no one remember me.”
Although the story and characters are pitch-perfect, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s greatest strength is the passion he has for the story. Chazelle himself aspired to become a jazz drummer in high school, and his beautifully written descriptions share the same intensity as its two main characters. The axiom “Write what you know,” which should be read as “Write what you’re passionate about,” certainly applies to Whiplash and helps make it one of the greatest viewing and reading experiences in recent memory.