al pacino

Worst Best Picture: Is The Godfather Part II Better or Worse Than Crash?

the godfather part 2

Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1974 winner The Godfather Part II. Is it better than Crash?

All the discussion of The Godfather Part II centers around a more difficult question than if it is better or worse than Crash. People want to compare it to the original, and the comparison makes me wish I were older to be able to give a first-hand answer about hype. It’s much easier to tell you how something was received if you, well, were alive to receive it. I don’t have that luxury, but what I do have is the perspective of history and the sole negative review for what many people consider to be the greatest movie ever made.

There’s no way of knowing what people will like, and it can be alienating to hate something that everyone else loves. I imagine it must have been very difficult for Vincent Canby, the New York Times critic who hated The Godfather Part II. Apparently he was something of a curmudgeon, as the list of “movies he was critical of” could be a reasonable top 10 list for all-time great films. He’s also apparently one of the all-time greats in reviewing, something that I (clearly) don’t know much about.

Canby criticizes the two stories of the sequel as not fitting together. He says that a movie shot to be dark on purpose is “so dark you wonder if these Mafia chiefs can’t afford to buy bigger light bulbs.” He criticizes Pacino for looking “glum” in his portrayal of one of the saddest men in film history facing the inevitability of a life he’s built and destroyed. I would say “glum” is a prerequisite.

It’s a little unfair to take a movie review from 1974 and pick it apart. It’s the only review from this lion of the industry I’ve ever read, and I don’t excerpt it here to point out how stupid or wrong it is. I do so because it’s always interesting what time does to opinion. A huge, huge number of the 86 current Best Picture winners aren’t even remembered as good movies, much less the best of their era. When I’ve been doing this all year, people continually ask me what I thought of movies they think won Best Picture, only to be shocked that they aren’t on the list.

This isn’t a list of the best movies of all time. It’s not even a list of the best movies each year. It works as a tool because it’s the same body of people (or at least, their contemporaries in different times) picking movies on the same criteria, supposedly. That’s precisely what the list offers us: historical perspective.

In 1974 this was likely an unpopular opinion and in 2014 it is unheard of. He’d be labelled a troll now, a person baiting clicks by titling something with an outrageous title, like, say, “Worst Best Picture” or something equally odious. In all seriousness, I use this review in lieu of talking about The Godfather Part II because it’s not important that I sit here and tell you that one of the greatest achievements of acting, storytelling, and composition is incredible. It’s important that we consider that we are all capable of being wrong — so, so, so wrong — on a long enough timeline. Reviews are still a net positive, and this guy is no worse for being wrong, but that kind of thinking will explain things like The ArtistBraveheart, and Gladiator 50 years from now, when people wonder how we were ever so wrong. We were because we are human, and art hits us all differently. This is one you should see — dark light bulbs and all — for yourself. The odds are very low (but not impossible, apparently) that you’ll be disappointed.

The Best Part: Pacino’s Michael Corleone, who is just trudging towards whatever is happening next. He’s the engine that drives everything, but The Godfather Part II is just as much about what the powerful can’t make happen as it is about what they can. The sadness engulfs him and he walks around both about to explode in anger and about to dissolve in resignation, and the result would be enough to carry a much, much lesser movie.

The Worst Part: I really struggled to find something for this space. I love the structure of telling one story inside of another one, but I guess you could take issue with it. I don’t think there are problems with this movie, as much of a cop out as that may be.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? It’s very possibly the greatest movie on this list, even if it isn’t my favorite. If you disagree, that’s okay, but you no doubt still hold the achievement of The Godfather Part II in high esteem. If you don’t, well, I know a guy in 1974 that would love to have a drink with you.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The GodfatherCasablancaGrand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker | The Life of Emile Zola | Slumdog Millionaire | The Deer Hunter | Around the World in 80 Days  | Chariots of Fire | Mutiny on the Bounty | Argo | From Here to Eternity | Ordinary People | The Lost Weekend | All the King’s Men | Rebecca | A Beautiful Mind | Titanic | The Broadway  Melody | The Sound of Music | On the Waterfront | Unforgiven | Million Dollar Baby | My Fair Lady | HamletBraveheart | Oliver! | The English Patient | Lawrence of Arabia | Cimarron | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest | All Quiet on the Western Front | The Great Ziegfeld | Out of AfricaSchindler’s ListGandhi | Ben-Hur | The Godfather Part II

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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Worst Best Picture: Is The Godfather Better or Worse Than Crash?

godfather_2467471b

Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1972 winner The Godfather. Is it better than Crash?

Have you ever met someone who hated The Beatles? You meet those people every now and again, and it’s always a strange experience. Personally, I have to rationalize it by saying that they must just be rebelling against something that they’ve always been told to like. They must be responding to a world that says “this is the stuff we all like” by not liking it.

They’re wrong, of course, in the same way that anyone would be wrong if they hated The Godfather. If you ask anyone to make a list of the best American movies of the last 50 years, you can judge them harshly if they exclude The Godfather. Its place in the canon is secure.

It also holds up. It’s amazing even in 2014, mostly because the performances all play up to the source material. Everyone is complicated, which matters. Al Pacino shows how a man’s principles can be broken by extreme circumstances, and by the time he’s shooting a police chief with a gun stashed in a restaurant bathroom, you already believe his transformation from a simple son not looking for trouble into Michael Corleone. James Caan’s Sonny is the breathing example of “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In The Godfather‘s world, where everyone has to constantly reaffirm their manhood, Sonny figures throwing a guy around in the street is as good a way as any to do so. It’s the contrast between Michael and Sonny that’s so fascinating, because that’s the contrast of human experience.

Is it better to be strong or to appear strong? At certain points of The Godfather, they’re both valuable. One of the many messages of the movie, though, is that you have to know which is more valuable in the moment. If you’re capable of both and of knowing which you should be in that situation, well, then you might be able to jump the line, even if you’re just some college kid. And to boot, Sonny is there to remind us that anger gets you what anger always gets you.

It is impressive that The Godfather still feels massive in 2014. It has the same electricity about it that Gone with the Wind and Casablanca do. You know you’re watching something special, even among a list of solely “special” movies. There are a million things going on in it that I haven’t touched on here, but this doesn’t exist as a full exploration of one of the greatest films of all time. This exists to wonder how it compares to Crash, which I’ll get into below. This also exists as a call to action. If you’re one of those people that hasn’t seen it, go shell out the three bucks and watch it online. If you have seen it, go watch it again. If you’re already watching it while you’re reading this, well, you should at least pay closer attention.

The Best Part: The ending montage is fantastic and iconic, but I’m going to go even simpler: Brando. My favorite Brando is still Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire, but Don Corleone is just about everything. He’s controlled rage, he’s measured response, he’s tough-but-fair counseling. He’s the heart of the movie, even as he’s confined to his sickbed. The sequel is all Pacino’s movie, but this one is all Brando.

The Worst Part: I’m going to save the discussion of gender for the sequel, which also won Best Picture, because it will make more sense there. For The Godfather itself, it’s hard to pick a “worst part. I suppose I’ll go with the scenes in Italy. It’s an important part of the plot, but it’s never been my favorite to watch when I watch The Godfather. Fine, you don’t like that, you tell me what the “worst” part of arguably the greatest Best Picture winner ever is, you’re so smart?

Is It Better or Worse than CrashI’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Crash lately. As I get close to the halfway point, I’ve started to wonder if Crash deserves a rewatch. I’m going to give it one — reluctantly, angrily, with a heavy heart — and I’m going to try to not compare it to the dozens of incredible movies listed below. In this brief moment, however, I have to compare Crash to The Godfather. I suppose they both offer looks at worlds that aren’t enviable. The Godfather doesn’t offer a positive view of masculinity or the mob and Crash doesn’t offer a positive view of… Earth. The Godfather is about Michael’s decision to opt out of a violent life and then the external forces that compel him. I could just type “Marlon Brando” 45 times here, but I’d rather make the case that The Godfather is hopeful, because Michael gets so close. Crash offers only a brief hope at escape, and it essentially closes all of those doors on its characters. Michael nearly escapes with Diane Keaton. Isn’t that basically what we all want?

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind| Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The Godfather

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.