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Two Excellent Films That Could Not Win an Oscar

Copyright © 2006 Ed Bagley

Secondhand Lions - 4 Stars (Excellent)

A masterpiece of storytelling written and directed by Tim McCanlies (remember the name). Near as I can tell, this film generated little stir when made in 2003, and had absolutely no nominations for Oscars (what a shame).

Secondhand Lions was released the same year many other more familiar films won Oscars or nominations of some sort, including Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Mystic River, Cold Mountain, Whale Rider, Something's Gotta Give, Seabiscuit and Finding Nemo among others (well, you get the picture).

These were some great pictures that won Oscars or nominations, and I personally saw 6 of the 8 mentioned. Of the 6 that I saw, only Whale Rider had a real life message to give beyond the glitz, gadgetry and computer-generated wizardry of Hollywood at its best.

These Oscar-nominated movies were great entertainment but none of them are as good as Secondhand Lions, which was notable for its lack of attention by movie reviewers, and apparently movie goers. Either this film had a limited release, or it is the best kept secret of movie making in 2003.

The story of a poor excuse of a mother forcing her teenage son to spend the summer with his great uncles seems simple enough. What the teenage son (Haley Joel Osment) learns about his uncles (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall) is almost beyond belief and the viewer is left wondering if the stories he hears are a figment of someone's imagination or the real deal.

Tim McCanlies plays this "violin" with the skill of a concert performance, leading the viewer in and out of apparent reality without losing real interest in what is happening (this is called masterpiece storytelling).

In the process, the viewer is getting some life lessons in the importance of integrity, courage, honesty, independence, love, compassion, values, morals, manners and belief (the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" variety, and the belief that comes from living the belief others doubt).

Despite its superb presentation, Secondhand Lions came up with no Oscar nominations; it did win a Heartland Film Festival Award of Excellence, and should have received much more acclaim in my judgment. Secondhand Lions is a very impressive film and an excellent piece of storytelling.

In terms of storytelling and teaching the lessons in life that can be best appreciated by those who have experienced them, Secondhand Lions gets my highest rating next to "A Christmas Story" and "Waking Ned Devine."

Secondhand Lions is a truly classic movie. I knew instinctively this was going to be a great movie when the boy opens the trunk in his room and its contents are covered with sand (you know this when you spend a year in Libya, North Africa, just above the Sahara Desert), and when the first time the boy follows his Uncle Hub outside at night and looks at the steps he has to go down before he does so (wouldn't you, if you were going down the steps in darkness for the first time?).

You might consider this small stuff; I consider it the results of a master at work. Someone needs to bankroll Tim McCanlies, and let him create more movies. With proper distribution and promotion, everyone involved will tell a great story through Tim McCanlies and become millionaires in the process.

The Chorus (Les Choristes in French) - 4 Stars (Excellent)

First time French Director Christophe Barratier has given us an incredibly good movie in The Chorus.

I was forced to read the subtitles as I cannot understand French, but it mattered little as this film is illustrated and demonstrated with so many important values in life, including understanding, compassion, trust, appreciation, love, acceptance, challenge, vision, determination, integrity and justice.

Instead of a stupid, empty, meaningless action flick like Mr. and Mrs. Smith with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, this film will warm your heart if you have any heart worth warming.

The Chorus finds music teacher Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot is excellent) landing a job at a boys' boarding school populated by delinquents and orphans, and a misguided and mean headmaster named Rachin (Francois Berléand), who reminded me a lot of Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey's gem of a novel one flew over the cuckoo's nest.

Mathieu uses his love of music to mold a few rambunctious ruffians and some really lost, neglected students into basically a coherent unit with purpose and hope. Mathieu discovers the singing talent of Pierre Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Maunier), and finds an assistant in the little Pépinot (Maxence Perrin).

The Chorus was the No. 1 movie at the French box office in 2004, selling 8.6 million tickets. Gérard Jugnot mortgaged his Paris apartment to help finance the film, and proved his sense of choice in accepting scripts and accepting bets as he ended up making 5+ million euros (easily more than 6 million in American dollars) as actor and co-producer of the film. He became the highest paid French actor in 2004 by doing so.

The singing by the chorus in the film will stop you and amaze you because it is so stunning, and rightly so. Jean-Baptiste Maunier's was selected for the role as Pierre Morhange precisely because he is an actual boys choir soloist for Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc, the choir who also sang the songs in the film.

While The Chorus was nominated for two Oscars, it came up empty handed at the presentations. No matter. If you have a shred of decency and integrity within you, see this movie because it validates that what you do and who you are in life matters--especially if you will never even sniff fame and fortune--as you will find out what really matters and just how good people can be.

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About The Author: Ed Bagley is the Author of Ed Bagley's Blog, which he Publishes Daily with Fresh, Original Articles on Internet Marketing, Jobs and Careers, Movie Reviews, Sports and Recreation, and Lessons in Life intended to Delight, Inform, Educate and Motivate Readers. Visit Ed at . . .

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