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The Academy Awards are three weeks away, and with nominees home after the Oscars’ annual luncheon, there are a few categories with predictable winners, while others are up for grabs.

Regardless of what happens, each category is loaded with talented performers and technical masterminds who will leave the ceremony empty-handed.

This week is the first in a three-part weekend edition series highlighting the lesser-known, underdog nominees. This week, we’ll look at director Damien Chazelle’s riveting story about a young musician seemingly willing to put up with anything to become one of the greatest drummers of all time.

“Whiplash” is one of eight films nominated for best picture, but will most likely fall short of the evening’s most anticipated award, regardless of it receiving better reviews than most of the other films in the category.

With films such as “Birdman” and “Boyhood” gaining so much award-winning momentum, it’ll be hard for the rest of the pack to compete.

“Whiplash” squeaked into the category after actor J.K. Simmons started earning some attention for his electrifying role as an abusive jazz band instructor. Simmons’ performance has already earned him a Golden Globe for best supporting actor, and he is the front-runner for the same award at the Oscars.

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Simmons plays alongside the young Miles Teller, an actor who starred in “21 and Over” before “Whiplash.” The casting decision might have been odd at first, but there is little fault in Teller’s captivating performance, one that will no doubt earn him several intriguing roles in the coming years. The 26-year-old has already landed a high-profile role in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot as Mr. Fantastic.

Andrew Neyman (Teller) is a young, up-and-comer at a prestigious music school on the east coast. While his father’s failed writing career lingers in his mind, Neyman is powerfully driven to become one of the greats, even if his own family doesn’t appreciate his craft.

Aggressive instructor Terrence Fletcher (Simmons) roams the halls as a godly figure, one who can stand outside of a lower-level band practice and make each player’s hair stand up at the thought of playing in his distinguished studio band. After infiltrating one of Neyman’s rehearsals looking for players to help him perfect his studio band, Fletcher finds Neyman’s spirit appealing and takes him under his wing, forever changing the young man’s life.

His passionate love for drumming quickly turns into an obsession, and Fletcher’s brutal and often cruel teaching methods don’t help Neyman’s diminishing mental stability. The more Fletcher pushes, the more Neyman tests the limits of the human spirit.

The acting is what gives “Whiplash” its kick, but there’s a lot to be said about the film’s stunning cinematography.

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When a movie about drumming in a studio band can be genuinely stressful, leaving the viewer utterly stunned by the protagonist’s drive to succeed, one can only look at how it’s made.

The camera work is constantly shifting during each musical scene, quickly cutting from musician to teacher at one moment. Then, with one quick halting motion of Fletcher’s hand, paired with a longer take of the forceful instructor’s critique, it instantly changes the mood of the setting.

“Whiplash” offers an insight into the world of competitive jazz playing, but with its own darkly unique twist. Hidden under the unhealthy relationship between teacher and student, master and apprentice, is an odd connection the two of them share, one that binds them together in the pursuit of their individual goals.

“Whiplash” is full of uncomfortable moments and strenuous drama, but the rigorously triumphant finale will without a doubt win over any viewer’s heart.

Next week, don’t miss the second part of “Oscar Underdogs,” where we’ll look at some lesser-known nominees in the best actress and best supporting actress categories.

Fun fact: The director and writer of the film, Damien Chazelle, could not get funding for the movie, so he instead turned it into a short film and submitted it into the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. The short film ended up winning the Short Film Jury Award, and he got funding soon after.

Run time: 107 min.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent

Published by The O’Colly: http://www.ocolly.com/blogs/article_439f408c-ad9e-11e4-b37e-33499fc8a19e.html

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