The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)My very favorite movie of all time is yet another one that didn't hit me on first viewing. I'm not quite sure what it is about some movies, but many of the greats tend to grow on me. I don't remember when I first saw The Godfather, it seems like I have always seen it. But it didn't become my favorite movie until a few years ago, when its combination of amazing photography, mesmerizing acting, and flawless script catapulted it to the unquestioned #1 spot. I read the book while I was in the 8th or 9th grade, and had been disappointed when revisiting the movie, since it didn't go into the entrancing detail that the book went into. Over time, I realized that what Coppola and author Mario Puzo did when writing the script was to pare away the fat from the book and focus simply on the Corleone mafia family as the balance of power shifts through the generations. In fact, I had to read the book to find out some of the motivations for things that I didn't understand in the movie. As it turns out, the motivations for every action are there in the movie, we've simply not been conditioned to movie's as densely constructed as this. However, even if you're not concerned with the intricacies of why everything happens, you can still be enthralled with the overall story, or at least with this incredible assembly of actors, all doing some of the best work of their careers.
There's no reason to relay the plot, or the famous quotes, or the things that have become part of pop culture since the movie's release. But one thing I find continuously fascinating is that honestly there aren't many "good" people in the movie. Coppola keeps things completely contained within the world of the mafia. Really only Diane Keaton's Kay is a good person, but she's not our protagonist. Somehow, storytellers have always been able to get us to identify with the less desirable members of our society. Vito, Sonny, Michael, Tom, and even Fredo are perpetuating the evil cycle of crime that the Corleone family is a member of. No matter that these aren't people we would necessarily want to know in real life, we worry for Vito's safety, Sonny temper, Fredo's weakness, Michael's descent, and the future of the family. I never fail to be saddened by the final shot of the movie, as Michael finalizes himself and his family in the position of power in the mob world. I plan on writing a bit more on this one over time, but for now we'll just suffice it to say that I think The Godfather is the greatest of all movies, the highest high cinema has achieved.