“Secondhand Lions” Is a Masterpiece of Storytelling by Writer/Director Tim McCanlies

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 best be 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.

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