Saturday, February 22, 2014

Oscar Month: The Godfather (1972)

Oscar Month continues today with one of the greatest of all films, Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. The 1972 Paramount crime epic collected Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Coppola) and Best Actor (Marlon Brando) for a total of three Academy Awards. The Godfather was also nominated for an additional seven Oscars (the eighth additional nomination was disqualified) including Best Adapted Screenplay (Coppola and Mario Puzo), three nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and James Caan) and Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Sound for a total of ten nominations. The Godfather is undoubtedly a classic and one of my personal favorites. It's a masterpiece.

The Godfather tells the story of a Italian Mafia family in New York. The don of the family, Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is a powerful man in the Mafia landscape. He's assisted by his sons Sonny (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale) and his adopted son/consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). His third son, Michael (Al Pacino) is a decorated war hero and wants nothing to do with the "family business." However, when Vito gets in trouble because of his resistance to dealing with drugs, Michael must rise to power in the family and become the new head of the family.

I reviewed The Godfather back in July after watching it for the first time a couple months before that. I very much enjoyed the film and thought that it was a great movie, but I didn't really get the buzz about it. I didn't see where everyone was coming from when they named The Godfather to be the greatest film of all time. However, after watching it a couple more times, I can assure you that my opinion has changed. I do see where people are coming from. The Godfather is one of greatest of all films. It's three hours long, but you don't want it to end. The film is so well made and well acted and above all, is entertaining. The Godfather is an engaging and interesting story at its center and that's why it has stood the test of time and that's why it will be around forever.

The Godfather is a wonderfully acted film, first and foremost. Marlon Brando gives a terrific performance as Vito, but the supporting cast is even stronger in a way. Al Pacino is also spectacular in this movie as Michael, and although he's even better in Part II, his performance in this film is still great.

My favorite critic, the late Roger Ebert, wrote this in his Great Movies essay about The Godfather: "All of the other roles are so successfully filled that a strange thing happened as I watched this restored 1997 version. Familiar as I am with Robert Duvall, when he first appeared on screen, I found myself thinking, "There's Tom Hagen."" Ebert is so right. The rest of the supporting cast is so great because they fully embody their characters. That's what great acting is and all of the actors (Duvall, Caan, Cazale) commit to their characters 100 percent of the time.

The screenplay for The Godfather won the Oscar in 1972 and deservedly so. It's a complex film, but I was never confused during the entire film. Puzo and Coppola create such great dialogue and make the plot so compelling. They fully detail each character so meticulously that you feel close to all of them. This is a long film as well. It's nearly three hours, but it feels like it's over in one. That's how great this movie is. Every single moment is important in one way or another. Every scene develops either the characters of the plot and I can't think of a single scene that I would cut out of this movie.

The Godfather is also a technical achievement. It truly shocks me that the fantastic cinematography was not nominated for some sort of Oscar. Nonetheless, the camera work sets the mood for this film and captures so many brilliant shots. The score for this film is iconic and brilliant. It's a shame that Nino Rota's Oscar nomination was rescinded. This is a truly great score that, like the cinematography, sets the mood and the tone for the film.

In my opinion, a movie can be technically brilliant and well acted, but if its story doesn't compel and entertain me, it's not a movie that I really care about. The Godfather is a movie that connects on so many levels because the story is so rich and interesting and the characters so brilliant. The Godfather is one of my absolute favorite films and will be a classic forever. The Academy made the right choice in 1972. Just imagine if they hadn't named this movie Best Picture. Now that would have been crazy.


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