Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014). A well-made movie that wallows in masochism. On the surface, it might seem to be focused on sadism ... J.K. Simmons won an Oscar for his role as Fletcher, the abusive music teacher. But we experience Fletcher solely through his student Andrew. Andrew wants to be the best drummer, so he does what Fletcher tells him to do, until he can’t take it anymore. The happy ending comes when Fletcher’s methods are proven right: Andrew becomes a great drummer. On the way to that accomplishment, Andrew drums until he bleeds ... and Miles Teller, the actor who plays Andrew, bleeds along with his character, as if real blood could stand in for real acting. That’s not entirely fair to Teller, who is fine. But we never lose the feeling that the blood, as much as the drumming, proves Andrew has what it takes. And we can thank Fletcher for the blood. It should go without saying that Simmons offers an award-winning performance, even if for me, he will never top Schillinger from Oz. There is nothing wrong with Whiplash except that I don’t buy its message. #212 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10.
Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007). We were looking for something rather mindless to watch, something where we didn’t have to pay too much attention. We decided on a movie none of us had seen, Hot Fuzz. We thought it would be good because some of us had seen and liked Shaun of the Dead, and my wife I loved the related-in-spirit Attack the Block. Hot Fuzz was a lovely combination of parody and homage, always erring on the affectionate side. This is not a film that looks down on the dozens of movies from which it borrows heavily. It is also quite funny, with a knack for setting up jokes that pay off down the road. Finally, it features, in full roles or cameos, what seems like every living “Hey, it’s that guy” British actor. A partial list: Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Billie Whitelaw, Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Olivia Colman, Edward Woodward, Stephen Merchant, David Threlfall, Cate Blanchett, Steve Coogan, and Peter Jackson (OK, I admit I missed him). In sum, I liked Hot Fuzz quite a bit. But later, when I checked it on the IMDB, I found that I had indeed seen it before (on Halloween 2007, to be exact), and given it 7/10. I’m tempted to up that rating, except if I didn’t even remember seeing it before, it must lack that memorable something. #669 on the Best of the 21st Century list. 7/10.