2. The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
Did you think the second one would make the list and not the first? No chance. To many people, the second film is the better film. I disagree. First, The Godfather, Part II is in many ways just a rehash of sorts of the first one, this time with Michael playing the role of Don rather than Brando. This is a simplification, but still true. Also, as great as the cast was for the second film, you just can't beat Brando, Caan, Duvall, Pacino, Shire, Cazale and Keaton in the same cast. Then add Richard Castellano and Abe Vigoda as Don Vito's capos and it's a dream. Each and every performance is a gem, from Pacino's success with minimalism (which he stopped using until Donnie Brasco) to Caan's overheated Italian stud, to Duvall's quiet, business-like lawyer all the way to the masterpiece of the movie - Brando. When I first saw this movie, I did not realize Brando was that fat. Turns out he wasn't but he makes you believe (and of course, now he is that fat.) His voice, his mannerisms, the business with the cat, when he starts to make fun of Johnny Fontane with that fake crying, playing in the garden before he dies and the bit with the orange slice. His performance is a tour de force beyond belief and should be studied by every single acting student before graduating.
Of course, Francis Ford Coppola had a little something to do with the movie as well. The original book by Mario Puzo is a good book, but Coppola takes that story and builds it into the great family drama of the 20th century. As the movie begins, we are less interested in the mafia than we are with this family and this never changes. Sure, there are underworld activities going on the whole time, but in the end the film boils down to father and son - family. It's about Michael's decision to follow in his father's footsteps in a way that no other son could. Sonny gets killed, Fredo is too weak, Tom not really Italian - it's Michael that must take over. It's Michael that ends up having the right head and temperament to handle the business. This is what makes this movie different than any other crime drama ever made. The camera work, the lighting, the sets, the costumes - all of it lends to telling this main story. Every bit of it is a perfect compliment to what is happening on screen. At first, I understand Coppola wanted to cut it down a bit more so that it did not run too long. Robert Evans stopped him and said that it was perfect as is, that the care put into it showed. Perhaps this led Coppola into thinking he had to overindulge on all films, he certainly did on Apocalypse Now, but on The Godfather, it's a work of perfection. There is simply no flaw in the film that I can see.
Further, this movie leaves an indelible mark on anyone who has ever seen it. I don't know anyone that doesn't like it though I'm sure they exist somewhere. But who can forget the horsehead, who can forget Luca Brasi, who can forget Sonny kicking the hell out of Carlo or Sterling Hayden's McCluskey, especially the way he dies? And who can ever forget Apollonia? My God, what beauty! There are a million great parts ranging from the opening wedding scene to the taking care of business ending. Every bit of it is powerful, meaningful and entertaining. Both The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II make for an incredible 6 or so hours of great drama. Even the third film has it's merits, but nothing compared to the originals. The Godfather can stand against any movie considered to be the greatest whether something by D.W. Griffith all the way to Coppola's contemporaries. It is truly a work of art and I consider it to be something that will be looked at far into the future as a guide to what life was like in the 20th century. It is now a primary document of history as true art always becomes.
Only one film do I consider to be better than this film, and that will have to wait until tomorrow. I'll give you a hint though, "Mary Ellen Moffet - she broke my heart." Good luck. You can find 25 through 3 here. That is all.