THE Best Picture: “The Godfather” (1972)

By Christian DiMartino

Alright, so for the next month or so, on every Saturday and Sunday until Oscar Sunday (April 25th), I’m going to discuss random movies that happened to nab the Best Picture Oscar, and I’ll dive into whether or not these movies were actually worthy/ what their competition looked like. Some of these choices were right on the money… others raised a few eyebrows. In any case, I thought this would be a little fun and a nice little stroll down memory lane… or, well, I’d have fun.

Francis Ford Coppola, in the 1970s, was a force to be reckoned with. Think about it, he had three masterpieces (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and Apocalypse Now) and one that was, well, pretty damn close (The Conversation) within the course of seven years. From 1970-1979, he nabbed 12 Oscar nominations and won 5, for writing Patton, for writing The Godfather, and for writing, producing and directing The Godfather Part II. Not to mention, in 1974, both The Godfather Part II and The Conversation were nominated for Best Picture, which means he was competing against himself. If you’ve ever seen Anchorman, you’ll recall that the narrator claims that Ron Burgundy was “the balls.” Yeah, you could easily say the same about Francis Ford Coppola in the 70s.

As we know though, the dream didn’t last come the 80s. Coppola filed for bankruptcy and pretty much for the rest of his career made a string of movies that he clearly had no interest in making, despite a few of interest. Yet those 4 movies in the 70s were, sort of, enough to wash the taste of a movie like Jack out of our mouths (yes, Coppola made the Robin Williams catastrophe where he plays a 10 year old). So for today’s “THE Best Picture,” we’ll look at the one that pretty much put him on the map: The Godfather.

Coppola’s The Godfather is among the greatest films ever made. Watching it, we know that many of us could never relate to the characters on screen, nor their experiences, and yet the film is still rich. It’s rich because its characters are so rich; its writing is so rich. Coppola pulls us into the world of the Corleone family without a hitch, and like its sequel, it’s really hard to find three hours that go much faster than this. It is a film that has, and probably always will, stand the test of time.

The film follows the Corleone family, and what’s interesting about them is that each of them are pretty well aware of the business that the matriarch, Vito (Marlon Brando) is apart of, yet they want nothing to do with it… but they still accept it. The film opens with seeing Vito’s business as usual, on the day of his daughter Connie’s (Talia Shire) wedding. Basically, Vito is a mobster of the most intimidating sort. People come to him with a favor, he takes care of it, and expects a favor in return. He is essentially the king of the criminal underworld; you got a problem, he’ll solve it, and then some. Also attending the wedding is Vito’s son Michael (Al Pacino), fresh out of the war and recently married to Kay (Diane Keaton). Michael, unlike his other family members, has done his best to estrange himself from his family.

Everything is as it should until one afternoon, Vito is gunned down in an assassination attempt. Seeing a vulnerable side in his old age, and fearing for his life, Vito asks Michael to keep the family business thriving after, or in case, he passes. Michael wants nothing to do with it- he never did, which is basically why he estranged himself from the family. His brothers, Sonny (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale) are more into taking on the mantle, yet they’re not as ideal of candidates- Sonny is a bit hot-headed, and Fredo is considered weak and fragile. So Michael comes to terms with his fate, and is forced to alter his life and become what he never aspired to be.

In writing this synopsis, I promise you that I didn’t have to look up a single character’s name. That’s just the thing about The Godfather: after you see it, you remember it, and its characters, and what happens to them. The film is so iconic, if you close your eyes, you can picture footage from it as clear as day. It is three hours, but man do those three hours zoom by, because once Coppola gets his hooks in you, you can’t take your eyes off of it. Not to mention, the acting is just fabulous here. I’ve always gotten the vibe I would loathe Brando as a person, but man as an actor, it’s hard to find someone as magical… and then there’s Al Pacino, who might be just as magical. Caan is great here too, and frankly, I’ve never understood the lack of recognition for Keaton here. Especially in Part II, she’s really remarkable.

This wasn’t Coppola’s first film (imagine if you strike this kind of gold on your first go?). I have seen one prior one called Finnian’s Rainbow, a bizarre musical starring Fred Astaire and featuring blackface (it was… interesting). This was, however, his first great film, and even perhaps still his masterpiece… but that title is a toss-up for me. It can be said though that this was one of the times where the Academy got it right in terms of Best Picture. The Godfather would win 3 Oscars, for Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Actor. Best Director, shockingly, didn’t go to Coppola, but it went to Bob Fosse for Cabaret, which won 8 Oscars. Fosse was an amazing filmmaker, in fact, All That Jazz, Star-80, and Lenny are all really, truly brilliant films that you must see before you die. Cabaret is really good too… but it’s not The Godfather. Yet it was a time where the Academy did have quite the hard-on for musicals, so it is kind of surprising knowing that that Cabaret didn’t win Best Picture. On this particular occasion though, they made the right choice. Coppola made them quite the offer, and even they, with their love for musicals, couldn’t refuse it.

The Godfather: A+

Note: On the last segment, I did a breakdown of what won the major Oscars and what should’ve won. Looking through the ballot for the 1973 Oscars, it turns out that I don’t know enough about that year in film, so for this one, I will not bother to recap. Better luck next time, I suppose.

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