101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

A blistering two-hander about the costs of pursuing greatness to the exclusion of everything else, Whiplash was drawn from Damien Chazelle’s experiences as a drummer in an elite jazz band during high school. The band’s conductor was a taskmaster, so even though Chazelle grew under the man’s tutelage, dysfunction reigned. Years later, Chazelle tapped his memories for Whiplash, which he initially filmed as a proof-of-concept short, the festival success of which unlocked financing for the feature version. Just as protagonist Andrew Neiman’s relentless practicing echoes the obsessiveness that nearly led Chazelle to pursue music professionally instead of cinema, antagonist Terence (“Not quite my tempo!”) Fletcher’s viciousness offers a hyperbolic riff on Chazelle’s (tor)mentor. Cruel, demeaning, manipulative, and physically violent, Fletcher is such a fiend that his behavior rises to the level of metaphor—he personifies the voice inside every artist’s head proclaiming that painful sacrifice is the only pathway to excellence.

READ: Damien Chazelle stuns with Whiplash, the tale of a young jazz drummer’s descent into artistic obsession and sublime transcendence to greatness.