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EW Picks ‘Whiplash’ as the Year’s Best, ‘Nymphomaniac’ as the Worst

EW Picks 'Whiplash' as the Year's Best, 'Nymphomaniac' as the Worst

Entertainment Weekly’s film critic Chris Nashawaty has thrown his hat into the best of the year conversation, naming Damien Chazelle’s jazz thriller “Whiplash” as his favorite film of 2014. Here’s the full list:

1.”Whiplash” (Damien Chazelle)
2. “Boyhood” (Richard Linklater)
3. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Wes Anderson)
4. “Life Itself” (Steve James)
5. “Selma” (Ava DuVernay)
6. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (James Gunn)
7. “Gone Girl” (David Fincher)
8. “Snowpiercer” (Bong Joon-ho)
9. “Birdman” (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
10. Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich)

Here’s what Nashawaty has to say about his number one film of the year:

With his bullet-shaped bald head, mad-dog eyes, and bite that’s every bit as bad as his bark, Fletcher is like a vicious Marine drill sergeant at Parris Island. His latest recruit is Andrew Neiman (brilliantly played by Miles Teller), a cocky jazz-drummer prodigy whom he puts through a meat grinder of physical and verbal abuse. We’ve all seen movies like this before: A naïve kid is beaten down only to then be built back up. But Chazelle has more on his mind than 106 minutes of bebop, bleeding palms, and bluster. He’s grappling with Big Ideas—ambition, alienation, and the psychological toll of pursuing perfection—via two actors who boil over with bare-knuckle intensity. “Whiplash” is a film that electrifies you with its live-wire beat. 

But where’s “Boyhood,” the likely favorite for most other critics’ number one list? It had to settle for number 2:

Richard Linklater has always understood that life is a collection of small moments. Occasionally they feel meaningful. But more often than not, they seem unremarkable…trivial. Those are the ones that end up shaping who we become. Episodically shot with the same cast over 12 years, “Boyhood” is a movie of small moments. It’s an epic in miniature. And Ellar Coltrane, the young actor at the heart of Linklater’s time-lapse cinematic experiment, slowly grows up before our eyes like a photograph being developed in the darkroom. His story is the centerpiece of Linklater’s greatest and most humane film. 

Not sure I can get on board with the “Linklater’s greatest” sentiment (not when “Before Sunset” and “Dazed and Confused” exist), but “most humane” fits a film that tries so hard to make the perspectives of both children and parents wholly understandable even when they’re acting selfish or unreasonable. Linklater’s supreme empathy is as key to the “Boyhood’s” greatness as the film’s 12-year conceit.

Like many other critics, Nashawaty makes a connection between his number five pick, “Selma,” and the recent injustices in Ferguson and New York City.

Directing a Great Man biopic can be a treacherous high-wire act. If you genuflect too deeply, you risk hagiography. If you show too many warts, you can lose sight of what made the subject great in the first place. In her soaring snapshot of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., director Ava DuVernay walks that wire with the grace of a Wallenda. She wisely avoids the temptation of chronicling the full sweep of the civil rights leader’s eventful life—a mistake of comprehensiveness that too many filmmakers make. Instead, like Steven Spielberg did with “Lincoln,” she zeroes in on one brief chapter of King’s legacy: the explosive three-month period in 1965 when he led a campaign of civil disobedience to force LBJ to sign the Voting Rights Act. As King, British actor David Oyelowo reclaims the man from the myth, showing us his humor, self-doubt, and all-too-human faults. Though it takes place 50 years in the past, “Selma” never feels like an old, yellowed newspaper. It burns with a relevance that, considering today’s tragic headlines, is urgent.

That said, Nashawaty isn’t so focused on modern political relevance that he can’t have a little fun. At number 6, he picks James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

When it comes to superhero movies, I have become an agnostic. I have neither the faith of a fanboy nor the knee-jerk derision of a men-in-tights heathen. But if there’s one movie that’s come the closest to making me a believer, it’s James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Marvel’s merry band of squabbling misfits goosed anarchic life into a genre that tends to get mired in existential heaviosity. And what’s not to love about a posse of anti-heroes that includes Chris Pratt’s cocky Star-Lord and Zoe Saldana’s green-skinned assassin, plus a mound of muscles, a foulmouthed raccoon, and a grunting tree named Groot? “Guardians” works precisely because it’s so unlike every other comic-book movie. At last, an excitingly unpredictable blockbuster.

Finally, Nashawaty also included his bottom five of the year, and his pick for the worst, “Nymphomaniac,” is sure to be controversial (if not as controversial as the film itself):

I don’t know what’s more depressing: the tepidly transgressive, petulant-child posturing of enfant terrible Lars von Trier in his two-part slog, or the critics who bent themselves into knots looking for a non-existent feminist subtext in the Danish auteur’s art-house provocation. Then again, maybe it’s just Shia LaBeouf’s dodgy British accent. What I’m certain of is this: “Nymphomaniac” is, was, and shall always be pretentious hooey and hackwork.

Not quite sure I saw too many critics bending themselves into knots looking for feminist subtext in “Nymphomaniac” myself (though John Semley had an interesting take on it), as many of its admirers concede that it displays von Trier’s typical sadism as often as it displays any humanity. Films considered slightly less terrible than “Nymphomaniac” are, from top to bottom, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (come on, this has to be worse than “Nymphomaniac”), “Let’s Be Cops,” “Transcendence” and “The Monuments Men.” 

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