Is “The Godfather” the Best Movie Ever Made?

An Amazon gift card from my sister turned into four awesome Blu Rays: “The Godfather,” “The Godfather Part II,” “Gladiator,” and “There Will Be Blood.” Thanks, Little Sister.

So! Is “The Godfather” the best movie ever made? Well, think about your personal favorite movie. Take your time. . . .

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Are the two best actors as good as Marlon Brando and young Al Pacino? Does it have as many big, classic, climactic moments? Classic characters? (The first time we meet Don Corleone, he’s playing with a happy little cat in his lap, then he manipulates a man who’s afraid of him into kissing his hand and calling him “Godfather.”) Classic lines?* Is there death scene upon death scene upon death scene in your favorite movie?

Director Francis Ford Coppola called “The Godfather” “a romance about a king with three sons.” This is helpful for framing, and sounding Shakespearean (King Lear had three daughters). If great stories are told in three acts, then consider the structure of “Godfather.” Its first act ends with the brutal killing of Luca Brasi and the attempted hit on Godfather. (A huge crowd of bystanders watched the filming of this scene, gasping when Brando took the shots and fell amidst all those oranges, then applauding the performance.) The second act is a gang war beginning with Michael’s killing of the Turk and McCluskey, ending with the insane machine-gun death of Sonny at the toll booth. (James Caan wore 110 little casings of blood on his body for that scene; some exploded, others were popped off by crew members pulling fishing lines from behind the camera.) The third act is Michael’s ascension, featuring the Godfather’s death and ending with a juxtaposition of Michael renouncing Satan at his godson’s baptism while his henchmen are out in the streets killing every enemy he has. And he has a lot of enemies.

Patton Oswalt was talking to an Esquire interviewer this year who has not watched “Breaking Bad.” “I’m genuinely envious of you,” Oswalt said, “because someday you’re going to get to sit down and watch this giant crime epic that is better than ‘The Godfather’ films in terms of scope.”

F*ck that. “Better than ‘The Godfather'” is something that should only be said as a joke.

“Breaking Bad” is some amazing gangster intrigue and action, but it’s 80 hours long. “The Godfather” takes less than three hours to savor all that excellence, and then you can go about the rest of your happy, productive day. I love “Breaking Bad,” but it simply does not have what “The Godfather’s” got.

They go to the mattresses, dude. Shotguns leaning against the lamp-lit walls all around them.

Michael makes his bones in spectacular style, murdering a crooked cop and a rival gangster to propel himself on a transitional journey from decorated World War II hero into soulless, unhappy, supremely powerful gangland kingpin** That’s how you break bad, homey! Then he travels to Italy to bask in the land and meet the love of his life, only to watch her explode in a car bombing meant for him.

The Godfather, after a lifetime of violence, dies in his garden, playing with his small grandson. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” he’d said.

And Sonny. Of all the lessons espoused by The Godfather, none is more powerful than his reaction to the blockbuster killing of his oldest son. “I want no inquiries made. No acts of vengeance. . . . This war stops now.” If only our politicians could be so wise.

Michael stands at the baptism—which forms a triumvirate of life-transition scenes along with Connie’s wedding a Vito’s funeral—and renounces Satan as Mo Green is getting shot through the eye. (“I made my bones while you were still going out with cheerleaders!”) So many men are being killed by Corleone-family gangsters while he stands at the front of his church like a gargoyle.

Is “The Godfather” the best movie ever made? If we’re really talking about this, if you really want to debate this issue and try to reach a conclusion and aren’t just talking to talk, then I’ll take Brando and Pacino and this amazing gangster saga with all its timeless scenes and characters (Clemenza, the fat-and-lovable mentor, teaches Michael to make spaghetti sauce in one scene, and then, in another, how to shoot two men and get away clean). I’ll take all that against anything you got.

If these are my cards, I know I’m winning.

* “I believe in America.” “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” “Leave the gun, take the cannolis.” “Senators and presidents don’t have men killed.”-“Now who’s being naive, Kay?” “I refuse to be a fool, dancing on a string held by all those big shots.”

**In college, I took a film class with a lesson on sound, and we watched this scene. Before Michael raises out of his chair to shoot Sollozzo and McCluskey, we keep hearing the sound of a train screeching on its tracks. Is that sound real, happening outside the restaurant as part of the movie’s physical universe, or is it taking us inside Michael’s mind? I’ve watched this movie so many times, and I still couldn’t tell you.


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