100 Movies to See Before You Die- “The Godfather” (I and II)

Ask any film lover worth their stripes to make a list of the greatest movies of all time and they would most likely include the first two “Godfather” movies. I’m reviewing them together because the stories are so tightly meshed that it just makes sense to look at them more as one long movie rather than two separate films. The films star such big names as Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, and Robert DeNiro. The films were directed by Francis Ford Coppola. They were critical and box office successes and also went on to win a number of awards. “The Godfather” (1972) won Academy Awards for Actor (Brando), Picture, and Screenplay. “The Godfather: Part II” (1974) took home six Oscar trophies including: Supporting Actor (DeNiro), Picture, and Director. So these two films, having made numerous “best of lists,” do they deserve the hype? Are they truly classics?

Should these films be considered classics? There is no doubt in my mind that these films deserve all the accolades. There is a reason why successive generations of film buffs have watched these and subsequently declared them among the greatest films ever created. On a technical level, they are as close to perfection as any film can get. The camera work is truly breathtaking. There is a very organic feel to the way cinematography in these films was done that make the viewer feel like they are not just viewing the scene on a screen but are actually observing the events as they happen. There is a great variety in the close ups and wide shots. Most of the indoor shots are framed tightly and make the viewer feel like they are in the room, with the characters, and taking part in the hushed conversations of family business. The outdoor shots are often much wider and make viewers feel like they are observing the action from a safe and out of sight range of the characters. Some scenes have very little dialog  and rely on the expressions of the actors and the camera to tell the story and it is very effective.

The pacing of the films is very slow, but by the end of the second film you really feel like you know the people on the screen. You’ve seen the back story of the Corleone family and watched the family rise to greatness and then begin to fall apart. It ends up being over six hours of film and even though the pacing often slows to a crawl, it never feels wrong.

I could go on. The set pieces are magnificent. The color palette effectively moves from the bright and happy moments early in the first film to drab and dark as the second film draws to a close and Michael Corleone descends ever further into despair at the betrayals of those around him.

Would I own this film? Most certainly. The first two “Godfather” films are truly masterpieces of cinema. They tell their story so effectively that you can’t help but be drawn in. The acting and production of the film are as close to flawless as there exists in a movie. Watching Brando, Pacino, and DeNiro on screen are absolute joys. DeNiro especially does an outstanding job as a young Vito in part II. If you haven’t seen these films and enjoy fine cinema, you should get a copy of these movies posthaste! You won’t regret it.

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