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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 5:57 am | Fair 50º


Tim Durnin: Wandering Through Some Favorite Movies

Most of the films I like best aren't found on top 10 or even top 100 lists

I’ve been talking a lot with friends about movies. We are at that point in our lives where our experience of cinema easily covers 75 years when we include those films made before we were born. Our conversations are always lively, even if my friends’ blind spots prevent them from appreciating my eclectic taste.

My friends, wife and children can watch the same movie over and over while I am perfectly content with just one screening. I tend to forget most of the movies I watch anyway, creating a lot of frustration for all of them. There are movies that have stayed with me, though, lingering in my memory to be recalled in shadowy and connected moments.

Ordinary People comes to mind. I return to the garage scene before every funeral I attend. I hear Donald Sutherland’s haunting voice in the role of Calvin Jarrett: “I was crazy that day. We were going to our son’s funeral and you were worried about what I wore on my feet.” I want to write lines like that — lines so layered with meaning they transcend any one message a movie could convey.

Shadowlands is another favorite that offered audiences the brilliantly bewildered C.S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) falling in love. His wife, Joy (Debra Winger), facing a terminal illness, tells him in a moment of utter, well, joy, “The happiness now is part of the sadness then,” foreshadowing her end. In so doing, she captured the essence of living and life. Later Lewis reflects, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I get it.

Most of my favorite films are not found on top 10 or even top 100 lists. The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Peter Sellars’ Being There have slipped into near oblivion, although both are brilliant films in their particular way. Cinema Paradiso shares a similar fate.

With shame I admit that Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction make it on my list. Apocalypse Now and American Beauty are there, too. I am also drawn to westerns as a guilty indulgence. Doc and Tombstone are two of my favorites.

My top five movies are more familiar. I love Fargo and put it at No. 5. In so doing, I offer a nod to Best in Show, but there is something about Fargo that captivates and enthralls me.

My wife was the first to inflict The Godfather series on me — parts one and two. Part three remains an anomaly. It is difficult not to be passionate about The Godfather films; they are movie making at its finest.

The Shawshank Redemption weighs in at No. 3, another great flick. Casablanca, a film that held the No. 1 spot for most of my life, comes in at No. 2. I love it because it so brilliantly captures an era, one excessively romanticized yet eternally appealing.

My favorite movie is an obscure Bill Murray film that was panned by critics and has garnered just 6.2 stars on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) scale of 1-10. The Razor’s Edge (1984) offers a journey of the heart hopelessly entangled in the journey of the soul.

I used this film in my classroom for 15 years, and the insight it offered was a perfect reflection of the changes occurring in our culture. There are three main characters — Larry, Isabelle and Sophie. Larry is the dreamer, the seeker, the sage. Isabelle is the caricature of a woman of means. The things around her, define her. Sophie is the longing, lost soul looking for redemption and to gain a foothold in the world after losing her husband and child.

Early in my career, students identified most with Larry, Sophie and another well-developed archetype, Piedmont, a gruff and irreverent incongruity in the world. Later, and amazingly to me, it was with Isabelle that students most identified, painfully missing the point.

My students were always surprised to find that it was not for Larry’s character that I most sympathized but for Sophie’s. Sophie found herself in a world that no longer made sense. When she was able to find some order in it, the world retaliated and shook the fragile foundation that kept her sane. In the end she surrenders.

At the end of the movie, Larry talks about the man who had saved his life, dying in the process: “When Piedmont died I had to pay him back for my life. I found out there’s another debt to pay — for the privilege of being alive ...”


— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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