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MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2014) ****

I have to say that Magic in the Moonlight was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2014. After the critically acclaimed, but essentially cold and turgid Blue Jasmine, I went into Woody Allen’s latest with next to no expectations. What I got was not only one of the best films of the year, but it’s also Allen’s all-time best. I know that’s a pretty bold statement, and sure, I’ve only seen about half of Woody’s output, but I enjoyed this much more than many of his better-known works.

Colin Firth stars as a renowned magician in the Roaring ‘20s who is out to debunk a mystic (Emma Stone) expose her as a phony. As he spends more time in her company, he slowly becomes more and more enchanted with her beauty. Pretty soon, Firth comes to believe she might be the real McCoy, which throws his uptight world into a tailspin, and eventually he falls in love with her.

I loved how Allen perfectly captured the time and place. Firth’s stage act was extremely well done and Stone nicely embodied the flapper girl mentality of the era. The banter between the two is some of the funniest stuff Allen ever wrote, and Stone and Firth’s chemistry was really something to behold. The last third of the flick is where it really gets you. Allen throws in a bevy of plot twists (some expected, others less so) that in lesser hands would’ve seemed cheesy.

The reason it all works as well as it does is Firth. He is the man in this movie. Firth manages to do something rather tricky: He is extremely likeable, even when doing and saying increasingly dickish things. Even when he finally overcomes his own ego and professes his love to Stone, he still sounds like a pompous jerk, but a rather hilarious one at that. There’s a terrific sequence when the self-professed “man of reason and science” actually turns to prayer that is equal parts hilarious and heartfelt that ranks as some of the best acting you’ll see all year. Firth also perfectly takes the cadences of Allen’s dialogue and gives them a deft English twist, which makes for a match made in Heaven. Woody, Firth needs to be your go-to leading man for now on, if you want my two cents.

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