The case for and against ‘Whiplash’

We’ve arrived at our final nominee under The Jam Report’s spotlight, and it’s potentially the real dark-horse of this year’s race. Whiplash has received enormous critical acclaim since it debuted at Sundance last year. It has racked up five nominations, and could potentially win three or four of those awards on the night. With so much focus on films like Boyhood, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, could it be we’re not paying attention to the little film that could cause a massive upset?

Why it could win Best Picture:

The nominations. Unlike Birdman and The Theory of EverythingWhiplash has that all-important nomination for Editing, and it’s highly conceivable that it could actually steal that prize from Boyhood. The winner of Editing generally seems to take Picture as well. Likewise with the Screenplay award where it has a huge chance to upset The Imitation Game in the Adapted category (even though it should be in Original). It has Sound Mixing essentially sewn up, and J.K. Simmons is the biggest lock of the night for Supportin Actor. That’s a potential win in every category it’s nominated for. How does a film enjoy a winning streak like that and not go on to take the big one at the end? Beware the dark-hose.

It’s about the industry, sort of. While Whiplash isn’t about the film industry as much as something like Birdman or The Artist, it is about the world of art in general, and fellow artists will connect to that in a huge way. What actor or writer or cinematographer hasn’t had an experience with a maniacal teacher like Terence Fletcher? And similarly, what artist hasn’t wanted to give every fibre of their being to become the best at their craft just like the ever-tortured Andrew? The film is their painful story of what it takes to become a great in your chosen field of art. Whiplash speaks to them unlike any other film in the Best Picture category. Yes, Birdman does something similar, but that’s really only a film a fellow actor will connect with on this level, whereas Whiplash is making a statement on art in a broader sense. Connecting with a film is obviously the easiest path that a voter takes in deciding their final vote i.e. which film spoke to me the most? That could very easily be Whiplash for a lot of voters.

The preferential ballot. I’ve made this point numerous times, so I don’t really need to go over it in great detail again. Whiplash is a film that’s very difficult to hate, namely because of how phenomenal J.K. Simmons’ performance is, and the above mentioned connection many will feel to the film. It will very likely be ranked highly on the ballot of a huge majority of voters, and that makes it a strong chance to steal the prize at the end of the vote. If there is one film to really look out because of the preferential ballot, it’s Whiplash. It will be a shocker if it can pull it off, but not that huge a surprise in the end.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

It’s the least weighty film of the bunch. When you compare it to the masterful achievement of Boyhood, the artistic brilliance behind Birdman, the glorious production that is The Grand Budapest Hotel, the social commentary of films like American Sniper and Selma, and the historical epics of The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, Whiplash looks just a tad too light to be a real contender here. If you want to be vicious, it’s really just a story about a boy who wants to play the drums and gets upset when a teacher dares to be cruel to him, due to failure to accept anything other than perfection. By comparison, It’s not exactly the meatiest of plots, and that will make it hard for a lot of people to vote for. Best Picture generally has to have some sense of epic quality to it, and as great a film as it is, Whiplash just doesn’t have that quality.

Lack of important nominations. Yes, it managed to nab that ever-mentioned important nomination for Editing, and it’s even very likely to take it home, but Whiplash failed to receive nominations in other key areas. No directing nomination for Damien Chazelle. No lead acting nomination for Miles Teller. It’s not represented in Cinematography, Production Design or Score, despite it being a music-heavy film (it was ridiculously deemed ineligible). That makes it difficult to justify giving it Best Picture, when other nominees are represented in those fields. It screams out that this film contains one great performance, and it’s well edited, both visually and sound-wise, but it’s not a particularly amazing production overall. Without that support, it’s difficult to justify ranking it above the other nominees.

Lack of precursor awards. Once again, I’ve made this point with other films, so you know the drill. Whiplash hasn’t taken home a single Best Picture prize this season. It wasn’t enough nominated for Best Picture at major awards like BAFTA or the Golden Globes, nor was it nominated for Ensemble at the SAG Awards. For it to take out the Oscar for Best Picture would break all kind of records and rules. Sure, it’s plausible, but so is anything on Oscar night.

Can the dark-horse of this year’s race shock everyone and steal the prize from those big B movies? Is an award-winning performance enough to carry a film to take out the big one as well? Am I actually predicting Whiplash to win Best Picture? Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday February 22.