We are spoilt. Two weeks into the New Year and we've already had two of the films of 2015 opening in consecutive weeks: Birdman and Foxcatcher. Now they have company, and for some nothing else they see in the next 12 months will come close to the thrills of Whiplash, a dazzling and breathless exploration of male ego, the creative process and just how far you should push someone to get the best out of them. Whatever the genre, if you love music and movies you need to be in the cinema for this.
Andrew Neyman (Teller) is a gifted jazz drummer enrolled as a first-year student at America's premier music school, the Shaffer Conservatory. Bright-eyed and Buddy Rich-obsessed, Andrew is desperate for validation as a player and gets his chance when legendary teacher Terence Fletcher (Simmons) hears him practising. Their first encounter sees Fletcher radiating charisma and paternal warmth, but Andrew is soon to discover that the master is a completely different person when it comes to conducting the Shaffer Studio Band.
There's a great saying that there are only two tragedies in this life: not getting what you want, and getting what you want. Chazelle's film is that aphorism made celluloid. It's beautifully paced and shot and is powered by Teller and Simmons' brilliant two-hander chemistry as masochist and mentor.
After throwaway fare like Footloose, Project X and 21 and Over, Teller showed real leading man depth in the little-seen but hugely rewarding romantic drama The Spectacular Now opposite Shailene Woodley. As impressive as his work there was, Whiplash is the making of him.
And then we have Simmons. A familiar face in Law & Order, Oz and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, the character actor gives a star-making turn as Fletcher, one of the truly great grotesques in movie history. The beauty of his performance is that you can actually see the man behind the monster, leading you to wonder whether Fletcher was just another Andrew who got lost, or perhaps was found, along the way. He's already won the Golden Globe - now to the Oscar.
An underdeveloped/unnecessary romance and a father-son relationship are really the only missed beats in an otherwise perfect film. Like the piece of music it takes its name from, you can enjoy Whiplash again and again, finding something new to excite you every time.