#2 – Citizen Kane and The Godfather (TIE)
The Plot(s) in Brief: Both Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) and Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) come from great wealth. They both begin their adult lives full of promise, pursuing their passions—yet their personalities, circumstances, and luck transpire to slowly turn them both into cold, distant, lonely, controlling, violent pricks. What profits a man to gain the world and lose his soul?
Why is this a popular theme? Because even though art, both low and high, has been tackling this theme since the days of the Ancient Greeks (Oedipus Rex, anyone?) the fate that befalls these unlucky protagonists continues to rear its ugly head (Donald Trump, anyone?) Why does history repeat itself? Because people don’t listen the first time.
Both films benefit immeasurably by the deep bench of supporting players that Welles and Coppola cast flawlessly. The following actors improved every film they were ever in, not just the two being discussed here: Agnes Moorhead, Joseph Cotton, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore, William Alland, Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Al Lettieri, Sterling Hayden, and Richard Conte. Both films are feasts for movie fans that love great acting.
Both films feature technical breakthroughs, from Welles’s manipulation of the soundtrack and cinematographer Gregg Toland’s use of deep-focus photography to Coppola’s meticulous eye for detail in every shot and cinematographer Gordon Willis’s use of dark, chiaroscuro lighting. These two films were a sensation on every level: narrative, performance, technical, and exhibition.
Five years ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay, poking fun at movie fans that do not like Citizen Kane. You can read it here.
Two years ago, I jotted down some observations during a Cinemark “Classic Matinee” series screening of The Godfather. You can read that column here.
In nomine Welles, et Coppola, y spiritu Cinema, Amen.
NOTE: The Pope of Film has been counting down the 50 Best English-Language Films for almost a year now. What might the #1 film be? Have a guess? Make your case in the comments section below!