AFI Top 100: The Godfather Part II

In 2007, the American Film Institute revised their previous 1998 list of the 100 best American films of all time. This column will explore my thoughts on 35 films I’ve selected from this list, mostly following along with the Unspooled Podcast, which inspired my journey to complete the AFI Top 100. You can also follow my progress with my ranking and watchlist. This week’s film is The Godfather Part II (1974), #32 on the list.

The Godfather Part II‘s enduring legacy as the greatest sequel of all time deserves to be challenged. The easiest way of doing so is to revisit it in quick succession with The Godfather. The narrative is even more dense, adding in a parallel plot line that shows Vito Corleone’s rise to power in New York at the turn of the century, and the 200-minute runtime rarely drags, but there is a distinct lack of characterization and structure that made the first one (mostly) worthy of its reputation. Michael is the core of the film, so it’s fitting that his stoic cold-blooded attitude is reflected in the film itself, but this focus on cold calculation leaves a distinct void. The unwavering focus on narrative makes it hard to be emotionally invested in these characters, especially when the main character has no continued development from the first film; at the end of the film, he’s pretty much where he was at the beginning. The same is true for basically any character that survives to the end, except Kay who gives the film its most powerful scene with her admission to Michael near the film’s end. It’s a brief glimpse into the dynamic, powerful film that it could have been had Francis Ford Coppola not misunderstood what made the first one so great in the first place.

Does it belong on the list?

No. Even apart from my disappointment revisiting this, there really should only be one Godfather represented on the list, and the first film, in addition to being stronger overall, exclusively features Marlon Brando’s legendary performance.

Next Week: Annie Hall

AFI Top 100

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