New Canaan News film critic Susan Granger reviews the new movies, "The Theory of Everything" and "Whiplash:"

- THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Eddie Redmayne has a lock on a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his eloquent portrayal of renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

In this poignant, revelatory biopic, Redmayne realizes a challenging physical, mental and emotional transformation, comparable to Daniel Day-Lewis' in "My Left Foot."

Hawking's story begins in 1963 at Cambridge University, where he was a raffishly disheveled scholar who liked to build model airplanes and boats, shoot off fireworks and play board games. That's where he fell in love with fellow student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Then, at age 21, he was diagnosed with ALS -- a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease. Frustrated yet fiercely independent, he continued his study of cosmology, encouraged by his mentor Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis). In retrospect, Hawking has said that his body's deteriorating motor/neuron condition liberated his mind.

Hawking's fame increased with the publication of "A Brief History of Time," detailing his groundbreaking theories, and he embarked on a series of lecture tours. Although Stephen and Jane had three children, they drifted apart emotionally. Jane fell in love with choirmaster Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), while Stephen subsequently married and divorced one of his nurses, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake).

Adapting Jane Hawking's memoir "Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen," screenwriter Anthony McCarten and director James Marsh reveal the complicated, sensitive man behind the genius IQ -- and they were allowed to use Hawking's own speech synthesizer to replicate his iconic voice. It's astonishing how Eddie Redmayne ("Les Miserables") is able to communicate Hawking's emotions by mirroring the expressive, often mischievous movements of his eyes and eyebrows.

Whatever happens in the Oscar race, Eddie Redmayne has already received his highest compliment. After watching a London screening, now 72-year-old Stephen Hawking called the film "broadly true," saying there were certain points where he thought he was watching himself.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Theory of Everything" is an extraordinary, inspirational 10. "There should be no boundary to human endeavor," Hawking concludes. "However bad life may seem, where there is life, there is hope."

- WHIPLASH: Writer/director Damien Chazelle ("Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench") draws on memories of his own days as a music student to create this compelling coming-of-age drama about a prodigy whose ambition is to be a celebrated jazz drummer, another Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa.

Nineteen-year-old Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first-year student at a prestigious Manhattan musical conservatory. Obsessively driven to succeed, partly by the failure of his ineffectual father's (Paul Reiser) writing career, Andrew impresses everyone who listens to him, particularly instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), whose abortive music career has made him embittered and resentful of kids with potential.

Clad in black, Fletcher is an impatient, sadistic perfectionist who not only bullies and belittles his pupils, but also pits them against one another by ruthlessly forcing them to compete for a spot in the school's elite jazz band. So Andrew must contend with both a fellow newcomer (Austin Stowell) and an upperclassman (Nate Lang), while Fletcher cruelly accuses him of being a "retard," "pansy ass" and "tonal catastrophe."

Citing tough love, sociopathic Fletcher's excuse is that his job is "to push people beyond what was expected of them." He says the two worst words a teacher can say to a student are "Good job."

Succumbing to Fletcher's monstrous "practice" imperatives, Andrew relinquishes his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) and all semblance of a normal life. But it's odd that there's no scene showing the tormented students commiserating with one another, since 29-year-old Damien Chazelle stresses the "anything for art" theme that has propelled cinematic stories going back to Michael Powell's "The Red Shoes" (1948), starring Moira Shearer.

Likeable Miles Teller fulfills the promise of his work in "The Spectacular Now," while veteran character actor J.K. Simmons delivers a flawless supporting performance.

(FYI: the title comes from a compelling composition by the late Hank Levy, which Miles Teller plays, along with Duke Ellington's "Caravan.")

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Whiplash" is an abusive yet electrifying 8, defining the parameters of artistic sacrifice.