Great Endings (Pt. 1)

As with any narrative art form, crafting a satisfying ending to movie is a tricky proposition. Even the strongest works can fall victim to a last few minutes that don’t quite follow through on the promise that preceded them. And while I don’t think a weak ending totally ruins a good movie, it certainly can leave you feeling a bit cheated. One such example, for me, at least, involves Fred Schepisi’s The Russia House (1990), an adaption to John le Carré’s book of the same name, starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, both of them giving (in this humble reporter’s opinion) career-best performances.

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For two hours everything is just right–solid direction, beautiful ‘scope cinematography, a great jazzy score by Jerry Goldsmith featuring Branford Marsalis on the sax, authentic Soviet locations (Moscow and St. Petersburg–The Russia House was only the second American production to have permission to film in the Soviet Union before its dissolution in 1991), terrific supporting performances–and then, out of nowhere, the movie breaks from its source material and reunites two people who, in the book, remain lost to each other via the machinations of political intrigue. Worse still is how the happy reunion is handled, with a shot that, halfway through, slows to a funky slow-mo, the effect not unlike the ending credits of a Magnum P.I. episode. Not to tell Mr. Schepisi his business, but…ideally? What I would’ve done is follow le Carré’s lead: keep the lovers apart, but hint at the possibility, driven by detente, of an eventual reunion. Something bittersweet like this would’ve been about 100 times more effective than the drivel filmed, not to mention in keeping with the overall tone of the film.

There’s nothing wrong with ending on a bummer note. That’s why they call it “drama.” Anyone expecting The Russia House to be a romantic comedy needs to do a little more research before they head out to their favorite multiplex. In Schepisi’s defense, nothing in his other work (A Cry in the Dark, Six Degrees of Separation and Roxanne, among them) ever indicated a sentimental streak. So it’s not too great a leap to assume that the studio suits, in agreeing to finance a pretty tough-sell picture, demanded a more upbeat ending to get a few more butts in the seats.

So how does one define a great ending? It’s subjective, of course–something deeply resonant with The Conflicted Film Snob™ might come across as nothing but a manipulative groaner to someone else. That said, I hold my head high and look you straight in the eye as I present some of my personal favorites. Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen a particular movie listed, skip the write-up! I’ll be going into minute plot/ending detail!

The Godfather Part II (1974, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

Some context–Back in his most creatively fertile decade (the 70s), Coppola could do no wrong; the four movies he c0-wrote and directed in that period–The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part II (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979)–are all bonafide classics. Not surprisingly, each featured a profound ending: The Godfather closing the door on the newly minted Don, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), and, consequently, his wife Kay (Diane Keaton), who represents to him purity, an ideal that’s nothing but a pipe dream now that he’s masterminded the murder of his family’s key enemies…

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The Conversation with its protagonist, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), fearing the electronic surveillance tables have been turned on him, succumbing to a paranoid fit in which he literally strips his apartment down to the studs in an attempt to find a bug…

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…and, finally, Apocalypse Now, with Willard boating from the jungle compound, haunted by Kurtz’ dying words, “The horror…the horror.”

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The end–But my favorite wrap-up of the bunch comes from The Godfather Part II, in which Coppola, having just shown us Michael shunning his wife, and, worse, ordering the murder of his brother, Fredo, flashes back to two events from Michael’s earlier life, the first a surprise birthday party for his father, Vito, in which Michael announces that, in response to the breakout of WW2, he’s enlisted (which doesn’t go over well with his hothead brother, Sonny) and, second, a fleeting shot of Michael as a little boy waving goodbye to relatives from a train leaving Corleone, the town in Italy where Vito had traveled from New York to exact revenge on Don Ciccio, the man who, years before (and shown at the beginning of the movie), killed Vito’s father, brother and mother. How one interprets each flashback is subjective, of course: some posit that the birthday party scene demonstrates Michael’s break with the mafioso tradition of “family first,” his patriotism demonstrating that he plans to be his own man, which, in the end, couldn’t be farther from his ultimate direction. Others point to the irony that, of all the family members gathered that evening, only Fredo, the brother Michael ultimately ends up killing, offers support for Michael decision to enlist. Etc. Etc. As for the toddler Michael leaving Corleone, one could look at it as a demonstration of his innocence, now destroyed by murder and corruption. Anyway, after the flashbacks Coppola’s camera slowly pushes in on Michael sitting outside his huge compound, lost in thought. Here’s the country’s most powerful mobster and yet he’s utterly alone. What is he chewing over? The wreckage he’s left in his wake? Those friends and family he’s lost? The state of his soul? His next violent move to maintain a firm grip on his expansive kingdom? Just like Michael, we’re left to ponder. Coppola isn’t interested in wrapping things with a bow. This is a thinking man’s ending. Ambiguous. Profound.

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Citizen Kane (1941, dir. Orson Welles)

Some context–Newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane has died, causing a sensation around the globe. A newsreel company, New on the March, hoping to shape a story that gets to the essence of this famous and controversial man, sends one of its reporters, Jerry Thompson, to dig up more than just boilerplate, suggesting he focus on the Kane’s mysterious last word, “Rosebud.” By the time the movie wraps, at Kane’s immense compound, Xanadu, reporter Thompson, who’s crisscrossed the country interviewing anyone and everyone who was close or somehow connected to Kane, confesses to his bosses and co-workers that he’s no closer to unveiling the mystery than he was when he first set out:

“Maybe Rosebud was something he [Kane] couldn’t get, or lost. Anyway, it would’ve have explained anything. I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life. No, I guess Rosebud was just a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. A missing piece.”

The end–Welles dissolves from the New on the March people to a crane shot that slowly dollies above the multitude of belonging that Kane had acquired throughout his life, the camera eventually tightening on a wooden sled that’s unceremoniously grabbed by a worker tasked with disposing of things that seemingly have little value and then tossed into a raging furnace. The camera tightens in on the burning sled, revealing the word “Rosebud” painted across its front, a treasured toy from Kane’s childhood in Colorado, a time of innocence and true happiness.

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In terms of the kind of endings I dig, Welles gives me a 2-for-1 here, offering up the kind of ambiguity and profundity that allows a viewer draw his or her own conclusions as to what it means while also providing a surprising, yet satisfying, solution to the mystery (Who the heck is this Rosebud?) that has dogged the movie from the beginning.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, dir. Steven Spielberg)

Some context–Throughout the latter half of his career, Spielberg has taken it on the chin from critics for the way he choses to end his films, even acknowledged classics, the gripe being that they often depart tonally from what has come before (Minority Report, War of the Worlds, the penultimate scene in Schindler’s List where Schindler breaks down over not saving more) or are too treacly (Warhorse, Saving Private Ryan). One could even make a case that Lincoln, which is a pretty damn perfect movie, could’ve done without the scene revealing the assassination and its aftermath. Rather, wouldn’t it have been more profound to fade to black when Lincoln’s valet, William Slade, as if sensing his president’s impending doom, stops what he’s doing to watch Lincoln retreat in silhouette towards the carriage that will take him and Mary Todd to Ford’s Theater? 

And…fade to black. Or not.

Spielberg has had his share of classic endings, though. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, with its little vapor trail rainbow, ended on a perfect note, as did Jaws by showing us Brody and Hooper paddling towards, and eventually landing on, shore. And then there’s the warehouse of boxes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and ending which, rather than solving a mystery, like we saw in Citizen Kane, created one, which is another device I love.

The end–However, my all-time favorite Spielberg ending comes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE3K), which, like Raiders, is all about creating mystery rather than tying up loose ends. To jog your memory: everyman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), after a close encounter with a benign UFO, finds himself haunted by an image of a mountain, something he’s compelled to build in facsimile using pillows and shaving cream and mashed potatoes and, finally, half of his backyard, until finally he realizes the mountain is actually Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Despite warnings of a potentially fatal chemical leak in the area (a government plot to evacuate the population), Roy travels to our first National Monument and eventually witnesses the contact between humans and aliens at a specially designed base. A group of brave human souls are to leave with the alien ship to study the species. The aliens want one more to come with, however: Roy, with whom they share some sort of “psychic connection” in the words of head UFO hunter Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut). Roy accepts and is last seen crowded by excited aliens as he ascends the ramp into the mother ship, which soon leaves for wherever. Roll end credits. Although it’s somewhat sad–the guy’s leaving behind earth and his (somewhat estranged) family–the ending creates a kind of mystery that only enhances what had been a very–alliteration alert!–peculiar and perplexing previous two hours. What’s inside the ship? Where’s Roy going? How long will it take to get there? How long will he be gone? Will he ever again see his family again? Etc. Etc. As mentioned earlier when discussing The Russia House, it’s OK to leave the audience hanging a bit, wanting more, even feeling the slightest bit robbed. Everything in life (and the movies) doesn’t need a full explanation. A little wonder and confusion is just fine from time to time. It’s my humble opinion that Spielberg got the ending just right in CE3K.

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[Film Snob Aside: Of course, the ending was ruined when, in a deal with the studio to tighten up the editing of the movie, which was rushed back in 1977, Spielberg agreed to show the inside of the ship for the 1980 “Special Edition” theatrical re-release. This has since been remedied, though, via his “Collector’s Edition” edit, which was shown at select theaters back in 1998 (thank you, Music Box!) and is available, along with the two other versions of the movie, in an exhaustive 30th Anniversary Ultimate Blu-ray, the preferred film snob format.]

Chinatown (1974, dir. Roman Polanski)

Some context–In the course of his investigation into a mysterious California water crisis (among other things), tough, cynical private dick Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) discovers enough of his humanity to help Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), a woman caught up in the unfolding scandal, and her sister, Catherine, escape their father, Noah Cross (John Huston). The plan soon falls apart as Evelyn shoots her father and then attempts to flee in a car with her sister, who also happens to be her daughter thanks to being raped by the scumbag Cross. She’s gunned down by the police, however, her death both shockingly graphic and unexpected.

The end–An associate of the shaken Gittes pulls him away from the carnage, entreating: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” A truly messed up, tragic ending to a truly messed up, tragic tale of corruption, incest and murder.

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The Wages of Fear (1953, dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot)/Sorcerer (1977, dir. William Friedkin)

Some context–Clouzot’s French original is a classic, of course, but Friedkin’s remake is pretty damned good, too. The plots of both are similarly straightforward: a group of down-on-their luck losers/petty criminals, hiding out in a remote location (southern Mexican desert in Wages, South American jungle in Sorcerer) are recruited by an American oil company to deliver highly unstable cargoes of nitroglycerin to extinguish out-of-control refinery fires. In both versions, only one driver survives the adventure, Mario (Yves Montand) in the ’53 version and Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider) in the remake.

The end(s)–Instead of living happily ever after, however, both meet disturbing fates, as seen in each movie’s great ending: in Clouzot’s version we see Mario, giddy that he’s survived the ordeal and over the moon that he’s to receive all the reward money (even that earmarked for those who were killed on the trip), goofing around while driving to a party to celebrate his success, losing control of the truck and plunging to his death on the mountain road. (Fin, indeed!) Friedkin, on the other hand, has Scanlon celebrating in a bar when, just outside, a car pulls up and some undesirables emerge–hitmen for the mobster who Scanlon is running from (as seen in a prologue). Brutal and depressing, both endings track with the existential and nihilistic vibe of what had come before.

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One False Move (1992, dir. Carl Franklin)

Some context–If it weren’t for Roger Ebert raving about this flick back in ’92, I probably wouldn’t have seen it, which would’ve been a shame considering it’s a terrific piece of neo-noir starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, the latter a co-writer. The plot involves two thieves, neurotic Ray (Billy Bob), Pluto (Michael Beach), a borderline genius sociopath and Ray’s girl Lila (Cynda Williams), the three of them looking to make a drug deal in Houston after brutally murdering a household hiding a stash of coke back in Los Angeles. Houston being not too far from her hometown in Arkansas, Lila buses there to visit with her estranged son, a 5-year-old. On a hunch, a couple of L.A. detectives investigating the house murders also head to Lila’s hometown. There they meet the local sheriff, Dixon (Paxton), who tries to ingratiate himself with the big-city cops, who aren’t having it. Sick of being labeled a hayseed and desperate to do some real police work, Dixon is able to use his local knowledge to track down Lila before the L.A. team. When he confronts her it’s revealed that they’d had an affair years before and Dixon is the man who fathered her child. He makes her a deal: if she lures her conspirators into a trap, where Dixon can play the hero, he’ll help her escape the L.A. police. She does just that but Dixon, more adept at calming the local drunk, quickly finds himself way over his head with the murderers; distracted by Lila, he’s stabbed in the gut by Pluto. Dixon is able to remove the knife, though, and quickly return the favor, mortally wounding Pluto. He’s then after Ray, who’s fled through the front door. Dixon catches a bullet to the chest, but is able to shoot Ray dead. In the mayhem, however, Lila is killed via an errant bullet.

The end–Bleeding profusely, Dixon is able to call in the situation on his radio before stumbling towards the dirt driveway and collapsing. Lila’s son–his son–soon joins him and the two begin chatting, the youngster heartbreakingly unaware that the man is not just his father but also quickly fading away. As this quiet little back-and-forth plays out, Franklin’s camera slowly dollies in tighter on the two before the screen fades to black. A truly powerhouse ending to a disturbing film featuring great performances, especially Paxton, who couldn’t be further from his days as annoying big brother Chet in Weird Science.

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Blowout (1981, dir. Brian De Palma)

Some context–Many, including this reporter, think this is De Palma’s magnum opus, a story of murder, political intrigue, voyeurism and guilt. Inspired by Ted Kennedy’s travails at Chappaquiddick and Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow Up (except in De Palma’s version the protagonist uses audio recording rather than still photography), the movie tells the story of Jack Terry (John Travolta), a sound effects guy for cheap-o horror films who, berated by the director of the flick he’s currently working on (in addition to better wind effects, the guy wants an appropriately horrific scream), spends a night recording sounds from a bridge in a Philadelphia park. A passing car suddenly suffers a blowout and plunges into a small lake. Terry dives into the water and is able to save the car’s passenger, Sally (Nancy Allen), whom we learn later is an escort, but not the driver, who turns out to be the governor and front-running presidential hopeful. The governor’s aides are quick to have Terry smuggle Sally out of the hospital to sweep the whole sordid affair under the rug. Terry later listens to his recording of the event and, with the acute ears of a professional sound recordist, thinks he hears a gunshot just before the blowout. He soon learns that another man, Manny Karp (Dennis Franz), was at the park and just happened to be taking pictures, which he sells to a tabloid. Terry cuts out the series of stills from the tabloid and, in a great meta-scene demonstrating the techniques of movie-making, transfers them to film and then syncs his recording of the event. Despite the footage being very grainy, there’s no longer any doubt: this was an assassination–a faint muzzle flash can be seen at the edge of the frame and corresponds exactly to the gunshot Terry thought he heard. Unbeknownst to Terry, a killer named Burke (John Lithgow) has used both Sally and Karp as part of a conspiracy to murder the governor. However, Sally was supposed to die in the crash. So now Burke needs to track her down and kill her. Thus he begins killing any hooker who resembles Sally in hopes of eventually stumbling upon the right one. No one believes Terry’s story about the assassination despite his evidence, which is soon erased by Burke. In a last ditch effort to prove his theory, Terry wires Sally before she visits with a reporter who’s willing to discuss the incident. Terry doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to body wires–years back he’d been hired by law enforcement to wire a mafia informant who’s profuse nervous sweating shorted the batteries, causing a painful burn that revealed the deception and ended up contributing to the informant’s untimely demise at the hands of the mob guys. Things go just as badly when Terry wires Sally. The sneaky Burke poses as the reporter and Sally, not having met him before, falls for the ruse. Terry knows better and rushes to find her, the entire time able to hear Sally’s and Burke’s interactions, which soon devolve from civility to Sally screaming for her life. Terry locates the two just before Burke can stab Sally in the chest, redirecting the knife into Burke himself. But he’s too late–Sally’s already been strangled. Terry, crushed by guilt, spends the night in a park listening to his wire recording of Sally, the portion before she met up with Burke, where she told Terry that they could leave town together, start a new life.

The end–After the heartbreak of the park, De Palma cuts to Terry in the editing suite of that exploitation flick he was working on at the beginning of the movie. The director, once critical of Terry’s work, is beside himself with excitement at the nature of the scream Terry cut into the problematic scene, which is Sally in extremis just before she was murdered. A distraught Terry can’t listen anymore, covering his ears. This is, hands down, the most profoundly tragic, shockingly symmetrical and all-around perfect ending I’ve ever seen.

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Heat (1995, dir. Michael Mann)

Some context–Master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) plays cat-and-mouse with gung-ho L.A. cop Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) until McCauley, compromised by his own sense of duty (he needs to kill just one more guy, a traitor who’s gotten most of his crew killed), ends up on the business side of a bullet fired by Hanna in a terrifically tense one-on-one shootout just off an LAX runway, landing airplanes thundering overhead.

The end–Hanna approaches the dying McCauley, who whispers, “I told you I’m never going back,” harkening to a conversation the two had earlier in the movie, civilly and over coffee, in which McCauley notes that he’d never go back to prison and wouldn’t think twice about killing anyone who stands between him and freedom. Fading fast, McCauley holds out his hand, which Hanna accepts–despite being on opposite ends of the law, both men have come to greatly admire each other–they’re both the best at what they do. McCauley soon dies, but Hanna continues to grasp the other man’s hand, contemplating all that has transpired as he looks off in the distance. Moby’s “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” crescendos…fin!

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Once (2007, dir. John Carney)

Some context–An unnamed Irish busker (Glen Hansard) and an unnamed Czech cleaning lady who happens to have some serious chops on the piano (Markéta Irglová) meet on Dublin’s Grafton Street, make some great music together, fall in love and eventually part ways without consummating–he has unresolved issues with a girlfriend who’s moved to London and she has an estranged husband back in the Czech Republic, not to mention a toddler.

The end–The “guy,” heading off to London to reunite with this ex-girlfriend, decides to buy the “girl” a piano for the little apartment she shares with her mother, child and now husband (who seems to have finally made it to Ireland). As the song “Falling Slowly” (which they’d performed earlier in the movie, extemporaneously, at the same music store where he eventually buys her the piano) crescendos on the soundtrack, the “girl” excitedly fiddles with the keyboard before wistfully looking out her window, no doubt thinking about what could’ve been. A perfect finish, both bittersweet and hopeful.

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There Will Be Blood (2007, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

Some context–Like Coppola, Anderson has a knack for endings–Boogie Nights and Magnolia both finished very strongly, the former flashing us Dirk Diggler much-speculated-upon schlong before launching into the ELO’s “Livin’ Thing,” the latter featuring a slow, lovely dolly into the guarded and, ultimately, hopeful face of actress Melora Walters. There Will Be Blood takes the cake, however. Jumping ahead many years from the bulk of the movie’s action, we find oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) having transformed from eccentric to an alcoholic shut-in, a raving misanthrope passing out from drink wherever he pleases inside his mansion. He’s visited by an old acquaintance, a preacher named Eli (Paul Dano), who is desperate for money. Plainview, passed out mid-steak dinner in the home’s bowling alley, greets Eli with undisguised contempt. He hates Eli with a vengeance–among other things, Eli made Plainview humiliate himself in front of a revivalist congregation years before. Plainview now returns the favor, making Eli scream that he’s “a false prophet and that God is a superstition.” Plainview then explains to Eli, using the famous “I drank you milkshake!” metaphor, that the land Eli is hoping to sell no longer contains oil and thus is worthless. Tempers flare and Plainview ends up braining Eli with a bowling pin.

The end–Drunk, greasy and heaving for breath, Plainview sits on the lane near Eli’s corpse and, responding to his valet rushing downstairs to see about the commotion, barks, “I’m finished!”

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Michael Clayton (2007, dir. Tony Gilroy)

Some context–Attorney Michael Clayton (George Clooney in full grumpy-mode, which, in my opinion, is 50 times more interesting than his suave screen persona) has had a rough couple of days, culminating in a heated confrontation with the sweaty agri-business executive Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) who earlier had tried to have him bumped off because he’d stumbled onto some incriminating documents. Unbeknownst to Karen (and us), Michael has been wired by his police detective brother. With Karen up the creek and Michael gaining some semblance of revenge for his almost-murder and the death of his mentor/friend/co-worker Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), Michael heads out onto a busy Manhattan street and hails a cab.

The end–The driver asks “where to” and Michael hands over $50, telling the guy to just drive. The camera stay fixed on Michael’s face as the credits begin to roll, a full two minutes, 15 seconds of nothing but Clooney lost in thought, disparate emotions playing across his face as he chews over the last couple of days.

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“Give me $50 worth.”

The Shawshank Redemption (1994, dir. Frank Darabont)

Some context–Some time after his best friend, the wrongly accused Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), escapes from prison, Red (Morgan Freeman) is paroled and promptly visits the mysterious spot that Andy insisted would contain something “I want you to have.” Red unearths a box with an envelope full of cash and a note from Andy entreating the other man to come join him in Mexico. Red decides to take the chance and, breaking the terms of his parole, leaves on a bus for Fort Hancock, TX, the place Andy crossed over the border.

The end–I’m somewhat conflicted on this one. The way it plays out, we see Red on the bus heading down a country road, his voice over noting:

“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope…”

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The bus crests a hill and disappears. Now, in my perfect movie world, it wraps right here, as it did in Stephen King’s short story, leaving us with those beautiful lines about hope, a theme throughout the movie, and to wonder if indeed the two ever meet up. Beautiful, understated, perfect. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with a little mystery, something to debate over dinner after the flick.

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However, writer-director Darabont takes it a step further, dissolving to Red approaching Andy on a Zihuatanejo beach, where the latter is restoring a boat. The two spot each other and the camera, on a helicopter now, takes in their reunion from afar before turning its gaze towards the vastness of the Pacific.

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The reason I’m conflicted is, although I would’ve rather seen my ending, I have to admit that Darabont did a terrific job keeping his ending understated and elegant. And one could easily make the case for the need for some sort of closure after such an unflinching two hours of prison violence and rape. So hats off to Darabont, I guess!

Whiplash (2014, dir. Damien Chazelle)

Some context–In a film most definitely not intended for those parents who think their child deserves a trophy for just being on the team, drum prodigy Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a first-year jazz student at the prestigious New York conservatory, spends most of the running time being berated and physically abused by the school’s most demanding teacher, Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). Rather than say enough is enough, Andrew responds to the mistreatment by rededicating himself to his art, removing all superfluous baggage from his life, going so far as to dump his lovely new girlfriend and avoid his father, to better focus on becoming the best. Fletcher eventually pushes too far, leading to a physical altercation in which Andrew is expelled from the conservatory. Soon thereafter Fletcher himself is fired when it becomes clear that his obnoxious behavior has been ongoing and may have led to the suicide of a student. That summer the two run into each other at a jazz club. Fletcher attempts to explain his teaching methods, saying that greatness is only achieved when one is pushed to the brink. (“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.'”) Seemingly letting bygones be bygones, Fletcher invites Andrew to play with a band he’s put together at a competition. Andrew accepts. However, when the concert begins and Fletcher has the band play something different than Andrew was expecting, something Andrew doesn’t have the sheet music for, it becomes clear that Fletcher only invited Andrew to humiliate him. He says as much when he tells Andrew he knows it was Andrew’s testimony that got him tossed from his teaching post. Rather than fold from the embarrassing choke the first number, Andrew offers up the ultimate “fuck you” to his ex-teacher, launching into a rendition of “Caravan” that at first has Fletcher pissed, but soon agog at the skill being demonstrated.

The end–Andrew takes centerstage with a solo towards the end of the piece. Fletcher, now so invested (and excited) that he’s removed his jacket to conduct his ex-student, continues to push Andrew, giving him quality direction so that Andrew shines even further. As the solo approaches its crescendo, director Chazelle offers us a tight closeup of Simmon’s unique face. The teacher gives his pupil the slightest of congratulatory nods. Andrew acknowledges the compliment. The two of them bring the song to a rousing end. A perfect finish to one of my favorite flicks of last year.

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OK, I’m done. I could go on, of course. There are dozens more that deserve to be on the list. But my fingers are tired, so that’s it.

How about you? Have any favorites not mentioned above? Feel free to let me know in the comments section. Know that if you do comment, you’d be the very first to do so on this blog. Which would make you exceedingly cool.

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