new york times

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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Space Dandy: The New York Times is Reviewing Anime Now?

Alex Russell

In 1998 Shinichiro Watanabe created what turned out to be a very accessible anime series for American audiences when he developed Cowboy Bebop. Bebop was a big hit in the United States, even for people who weren’t devotes of the artform in general. It was an easy to watch, action-packed show with a soundtrack that was “cool” in the way “cool” is supposed to be used. It was flashy, but not bright like Dragonball Z or Pokemon. It was soaked in booze and smothered in cigarette smoke and it was a perfect introduction in style and content to a world that a lot of Americans had never given much thought.

The show ran on the very first night of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of shows in 2001 and continued to rerun through the end of last year. It would be a mistake to say that Watanabe took America by storm and became a household name just as much as it would be a mistake to blindly assume everyone knows the first damn thing about Cowboy Bebop. It’s just more likely that you’ve heard of the show that was supposedly going to be adapted to a live-action version with Keanu Reeves than you have heard of, say, His and Her Circumstances.

You don’t need to know everything about the world of anime to understand Watanabe’s new show that runs on Adult Swim on Saturday nights, but it’ll certainly help. Space Dandy is the story of a man named Dandy who travels the outer reaches of space in search of new species of aliens. He needs to report them to a more-than-global database to make a living and to fuel his real purpose in life: visiting every location of a Hooters-parody restaurant called, well, “Boobies.”

Stay with me.

Bebop isn’t super-serious all the time. The series begins its 26-episode run with episodes about chasing a dog through busy street markets and cheating dealers in casinos. As the story develops the emotional core of the show grows darker and darker until it’s so gritty it gets almost maudlin. Around the sixth flash of a character dropping wrapped roses to the far-away tune of a music box, it brushes against the line between sad and sappy. It doesn’t cross it, though, and in that line lies the ability to make an animated show feel more real than a live-action one.

It’s assuredly unfair to compare Dandy and Bebop. For one thing, Bebop is done. It became much more than the sum of its episodes by the end. Dandy has only had one episode air so far (“Live With the Flow, Baby” which you can watch here) and has a long way to go to develop into whatever it’s going to be. Should you watch it develop? That all depends.

The New York Times praises the animation and calls the worst of the humor “cringe-inducing.” There’s two important things to mention here:

  1.  The New York Times is talking about what is essentially a style parody running at almost midnight on Adult Swim.
  2.  They (for the most part) are doing so correctly.

Dandy (the show and the character) is ridiculous. It’s designed as a parody of traditional anime, which the Times gets right and you can read their piece to read about influences. The first half of the first episode is some of the broadest television that’s ever been broadcast. Dandy’s sidekick (an android vacuum cleaner…kinda) shrieks and worries that they are “breaking the fourth wall” too early. The characters are all ridiculous and if you don’t constantly remind yourself that they’re ridiculous to mock an existing style then they might feel too slapstick to handle.

The parody is so direct that it reminded me of a terrible movie I saw as a kid. Mafia! was ahead of its time in a bad way. It’s also a genre parody that’s the same joke as the Scary Movie franchise. You know mob movies? Here’s every mob movie. That’s the joke! If you don’t know the source material it can feel like it’s just bad jokes.

You should stick around for the second half, though. Dandy captures what he thinks is a rare breed of cat alien, but it’s just a cat. The cat takes Dandy to where the real weird creatures are and the episode picks up from there. There’s no need to ruin the ending, but the variety of creatures and inventive art style are worth the price of admission that the weird opening charges you.

If it sounds like I’m wavering it’s because I am. The bad jokes in the first half are really bad at times and I’m hesitant to recommend this to people as it stands right now. I can do so only because the final animation sequence got an audible “wow” out of me, and it’s really not that often that animation does that anymore. If the show strikes a better balance between the goofs and the interesting universe itself, it will probably find an audience on Adult Swim. For now, though, it’s odd territory on American television that you should still see to believe.

Space Dandy airs Saturday nights on Adult Swim.

Image source: awn.com