Well, the time has come, my friends, to put a period on Reel Deal, this yearlong immersion in movies, and an exclamation point on a year of fantastic films. This, a top 10 rundown, is my last Reel Deal review. Counting the late, great entry I watched for this week’s column, 105 flicks have gotten the thumbs up or down over the last 52 weeks. These are the best of the best.
Well, the time has come, my friends, to put a period on Reel Deal, this yearlong immersion in movies, and an exclamation point on a year of fantastic films.
This, a top 10 rundown, is my last Reel Deal review. Counting the late, great entry I watched for this week’s column, 105 flicks have gotten the thumbs up or down over the last 52 weeks. These are the best of the best.
• ‘The King’s Speech’
I hung on every word Colin Firth (as Prince Albert and later King George VI) struggled to get out in this eventual Best Picture winner (a prediction I’m comfortable with) co-starring Geoffrey Rush as the king’s speech therapist and eventual lifelong friend, Lionel Logue.
Logue, not lineage, is the man who made Albert (Bertie) king – and at just the right moment.
The moment is 1939, with Great Britain on the brink of war with Germany, as King George VI delivers a speech that strengthens his colony’s resolve and unites them in service to a monarch they had little faith in before.
Logue helps the stuttering royal find his voice. Because his debilitating stammer isn’t just an impediment to speech, but to greatness.
His father (King George V) is a great orator – becoming accustomed to the intrusion of microphones, radio and newsreels as a link to his subjects – and viciously prods and pressures the son he wishes could assume his throne to overcome his disability.
That son, Bertie, gets discouraged when all the efforts of the king’s men don’t put his speaking voice back together again.
But Bertie’s wife, the duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth, or “Queen Mum” as she would affectionately be known in her twilight years), won’t give up and finds in the dingy depths of an office building the unorthodox Mr. Logue, a failed Australian actor with a passion for diction and Shakespeare.
Their daily therapy sessions eventually develop into a unique friendship – the first Bertie can claim to have had – though it’s rough going for a while as Lionel tries to crack the hard shell that has grown around his royal highness.
Meanwhile, King George V dies and the crown is passed to his other son, Edward, who eventually steps down to marry his thrice-divorced lover, Wallis Simpson. (The church and kingdom frown on such things.) The pair remained in the public eye long after their significance faded, as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
That puts Bertie, father of Queen Elizabeth II, on the throne before he is ready.
But with Hitler and Germany pounding on the door, he hasn’t much time to finally shine, which means Bertie’s counting on Lionel more than ever.
Firth masters the stuttering king – making everyone within earshot feel the pain and frustration in each aching pause and stammer. Rush is equally awesome and surprisingly funny as the protector of his legacy.
You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You might even stutter a little. But you’ve gotta see it.
• ‘True Grit’
Directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s re-imagining of the classic John Wayne Western, starring Jeff Bridges as the raucous Marshal Rooster Cogburn, is a sure-fire success. The Coens toss into the air and shoot a hole right through whatever doubts those faithful fans of “The Duke” might’ve had about this “remake.” Co-stars Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld (as Mattie Ross) are more than just along for the ride; they’re excellent.
• ‘The Fighter’
This movie’s more about family (and fighting family) than boxing. Mark Wahlberg’s “passion project” has passion to spare – mostly thanks to outstanding performances by its cast. Wahlberg plays boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, second-fiddle most of his life to lovable loser and crack addict Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), who once “knocked down” Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring. Melissa Leo as his mother/manager and Amy Adams as his tougher-than-expected bartender girlfriend also deliver powerful punches.
• “The Social Network”
The (true or fictionalized, depending on who you ask) story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, like the social networking site itself, took the world by storm. Directed dynamically by David Fincher (who knew a couple of smarmy geeks hammering away on a computer keyboard could be so dramatic and compelling?), it stars Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg, the role he seems made for. Justin Timberlake also turns heads in his performance as paranoid, power-hungry Napster mastermind Sean Parker. Like? Yes!
“Dark Knight” Director Christopher Nolan bends the mind, and the boundaries of movie magic, again with this dreamy heist drama with a major twist. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, an invader of dreams and thief of ideas, who is hired by a powerful Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe) for an impossible job: Inception. Instead of stealing an idea, he’s supposed to plant one – perfectly, so that his mark thinks the idea was his own. He assembles a team that includes a dream “architect” (Ellen Page), a forger (whose talent is becoming someone else in the dream), a chemist, and his partner and researcher (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The special effects are game-changers (as revolutionary as the slow-motion bullet-dodging in the first “Matrix”), and the complex premise is giddily confusing. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have scratching your head.
• “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”
This love-it-or-hate-it comic book adaptation that’s told in the style of a 1980s-era video game has a very specific audience in mind (and not even all of them are won over). Its rapid-fire action/comedy, though, scored major points with me. As the bass-playing title hero, Michael Cera faces off with the seven evil exes of his newfound love interest, Ramona Flowers. He advances through his mission like Mario through Koopa’s kingdom, collecting coins and wisdom with each level. Cha-ching!
• “Toy Story 3”
Playtime will never be the same after this fitting (and emotional) farewell to Andy and his faithful toy pals. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the gang find themselves packed off to a daycare, where danger lurks around every corner. New in the toybox this time are Barbie’s beau Ken (Michael Keaton) and a deceptively devious purple teddy bear, Lotso (Ned Beatty). We knew the Disney/Pixar series that made us feel like kids again – like childhood itself – couldn’t last forever. Fifteen years after the first “Toy Story,” this final chapter swaddles and carries us (gleefully and sobbingly at the same time) toward the inevitable: Growing up.
Disney’s on a roll (returning to its pedestal of the 1990s when it cranked out masterful animated musicals like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin”) with this “Tangled” princess fairy tale. Mandy Moore sings and speaks for the long-haired Rapunzel, who lets her hair down for an adventure with a wanted bandit (Flynn Ryder, voiced by Zachary Levi) that might reunite her with her royal family. Broadway starlet Donna Murphy is the villain, Mother Gothel, who locked the stolen princess away in a tall tower to take advantage of the magical, youth-restoring powers of her hair. The story is sweet; the songs sensational and Broadway-worthy. All in all, this one’s easy to get tangled up in.
• “Hot Tub Time Machine”
John Cusack returns, awesomely, to his 1980s-goofball-comedy form, and Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke join him on the trip in the hands-down funniest film I watched all year. The four friends drunkenly ride a mystical ski-resort hot tub back to 1986, when Cusack (Adam), Robinson (Nick) and Corddry (Lou) were cool and out-of-control youths, and Duke (Jacob) hadn’t been born. Time-travel movie parallels and references hilariously abound (among the best is the casting of “Back to the Future” dud/dad Crispin Glover as the one-armed attendant). And it’s hard for anyone who grew up in the 1980s to miss the return of Cusack’s signature “Say Anything” trench coat. This blast from the past is, simply, a blast.
• “The Town”
Ben Affleck stars as the latest in a family line of bank robbers, but his true tour de force is in the director’s chair on this cool crime caper that co-stars shadow-caster Jeremy Renner (Oscar-nominated for “The Hurt Locker”). The two play misguided friends and thugs (Doug and Jem) who grew up together in the bank-robbing capital of the world, the Boston ’burb known as Charlestown. But everything starts to change when Doug falls for the female bank clerk his crew took hostage on a heist. Meanwhile, an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) is hot on their trail. Stick ’em up – thumbs that is, both of them.
Robert McCune loves movies, and thanks readers for entertaining his movie rants and raves over the past year. He hopes they’ve entertained you, too. See you at the movies.