Best Picture #45: The Godfather

Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is The Godfather (1972).

As with so many other cinephiles, in many ways, The Godfather served as my introduction to the wider world of cinema beyond the realms of the interchangeable blockbusters that we’re inundated with every year, and pushed me to start looking for more that could actually speak to me personally and not me as part of the collective pop culture consumption machine. It’s been quite a few years since that introduction though, and a still substantial time has passed since the single time I had rewatched the film. I feared it would go the way of so many other films from my childhood, doomed to fail through the more critical lens I have now and better left to the lofty status nostalgia affords them, especially having recently read the book The Godfather was adapted from and being somewhat disappointed it didn’t live up to my ideal of the film. The Best Picture column doesn’t allow me any comfort though, forcing me to rewatch such abominations as West Side Story and American Beauty and soon causing me to lift my lifelong avoidance of Woody Allen films. Luckily, The Godfather really is that good. Not the greatest film of all time to be sure, and I would be disappointed if it were and I had wasted my time watching thousands of films since and never finding something better, but it is so much more than a film I would only appreciate as a young kid or the “Film Bro” icon that so many now hold it up as. It’s something of a cinematic relic, a film from a time where a standalone crime movie could become the highest grossing of all time, and the content depicted is still within the bounds of the sensibilities of the time, but it doesn’t shy away from violence and sex either. Its incredible lineup of some of the greatest performers to ever grace the screen keep it vibrant and engaging even for modern audiences who don’t already have a penchant for watching older films. The Godfather is an expansive work with so much going on and so many long speeches that it sometimes feels more like a literary work than the book itself, and hours and hours could be spent discussing the plot but it never gets hard to follow or uninteresting. Lofty ideas and skillful filmmaking drip through every frame, but in a way that remains accessible half a century later and will continue to inspire many to broaden their film horizons for years to come, while still prompting discussion among the most knowledgeable of film buffs. 

The Real Best Picture:

This year, like the ones that followed, had an exceptional lineup of nominees and not a real loser in the bunch, but The Godfather was absolutely the right choice. 

Best Picture Winners

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