Best Picture #47: The Godfather Part II

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 Part II (1974).

Though The Godfather is not a small film by any means, The Godfather Part II feels far more expansive. With two parallel stories that span decades and countries, the literary feeling sprawl is greater than the first film’s but, despite so many claims that it is the greater of the two and there being many parts I preferred, the original film still reigns supreme in my mind. Now that we know all these characters, becoming acquainted with their world feels less profound, and the changes they go through are smaller than in the first film, despite still being incredibly compelling to watch unfold. Where the film finds its greatest success is during the storyline that follows Vito Corleone as a young man coming to America and establishing his family’s hold on organized crime. Perhaps not coincidentally, this part, unlike the ‘50s set portion, was included in the novel the first film was based on. I would never say Robert De Niro looks at all like Marlon Brando but here he manages to evoke Brando so strongly that I could believe they were the same actor playing the same role years apart. Interestingly, they did become the first duo of actors to win Oscars for playing the same role, as if to say they did become one. Beyond his performance, these earlier set scenes do show us more of a grounded struggle and introduce us to a world we don’t yet know because it precedes the one we’ve seen, so they evoke the first film more than the other segment. In fact, the part set in the ‘50s finds its best moments in the relationships between the Corleone family members, but the strongest part of that comes from another flashback scene that makes everything that happened all the more devastating. Like the first film, The Godfather Part II is not just a film to be respected but one that remains vibrant and engaging all these years later and, though the story itself may not always be up to the same standard, it finds more emotionally charged moments and ends on an equally upsetting note. Both films truly earned their status.

The Real Best Picture:

In typical ‘70s Academy fashion, this was another year with an incredible lineup of nominees and they absolutely chose correctly.

Best Picture Winners

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