The Godfather Part II (1974) – Film #0122

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1993 
I first watched it on May 9th, 2019 

What It’s About:

The continuing story of Michael Corleone as he struggles to maintain the crime family that was built up by his father, Vito Corleone (whose rise to power is told in parallel via flashbacks.)

My experience with the film:

The Godfather Part II is generally considered one of the best film sequels of all time, and some even consider it to be superior to the first film. Surprisingly, this was not always the case. When the film was first released, many of the reviews were mixed. Some, including a particularly biting New York Times review (linked below), indicated that the film felt like an unnecessary sequel (among other things). After my first viewing two years ago (when I flat-out didn’t enjoy it), I would have definitely agreed. And while I found more to enjoy and appreciate this time around, it still felt a bit unnecessary to me. The first film detailed the tragic downfall of Michael Corleone, while this film confirmed: “yep, that downfall continued after the credits rolled on the first film. Likewise, Vito’s backstory also felt somewhat redundant after the first film—while we learned more about his personal history, I didn’t feel that we learned anything new about the essence of his character.

That said, I understand and appreciate the symmetry that they created in Part II by showing how Vito’s actions were all about protecting his family, whereas Michael’s actions (seemingly unintentionally) only ended up tearing that very family apart. Everything that Vito worked so hard to build was undone by Michael just one generation later. (Also, does anyone else feel like Tom would have been the best Don out of everyone in the family? Had Tom been made the Don in the first film, it seems like most of the family members would have had happier lives by the time we reached the second film. That’s not meant to be a criticism. I understand why the story of both films were structured the way that they were. It’s just some “what if?” speculation on my part.) And speaking of Vito, my other minor gripe with this film is that it had a giant Marlon-Brando-sized hole in the middle of it. Again, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why he wasn’t able to be in this film, but he’s the one that stole the show for me in the first one, so this film wasn’t quite the same without his strangely menacing charm. 

Concerning other things that weren’t the same, despite the fact that some claim that this second film is better than the first, I think one thing that could probably be universally agreed upon is that the first film is far more iconic. It seemed to me that virtually everything about The Godfather series that has permeated pop culture (including most of the famous quotes) came from the first film. Watching the first film made me constantly feel like the Leo-Dicaprio-pointing-at-the-TV meme every time I saw a scene that has been heavily referenced in pop culture. There were few, if any, such moments when watching this second film.

All in all though, despite my gripes, The Godfather Part II is well-crafted, and even if I don’t respect it quite as much as so many others do (and what does my opinion matter really, in comparison with all those others?), I think it definitely deserves its place on the National Film Registry.

Availability:

The Godfather Part II (1974) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-godfather-part-ii 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

Follow the NFR Completist on Twitter and Instagram

If you’re reading this in the future, and want to see whether I’ve made any updates to the original entry, you may check here.

Current tally: Written 33 out of 800 entries

The Godfather (1972) – Film #0046

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1990 
I first watched it on May 8th, 2019 

What It’s About:

Despite his best efforts to remain uninvolved, Michael Corleone finds himself getting more and more immersed into his family’s crime business, after a rival mafia family attempts to assassinate his father, Vito Corleone, known to his fellow mob members as “The Godfather.”

My experience with the film:

“Everything I know about ‘The Godfather’ I learned from ‘You’ve Got Mail’.” – Me, up until about two years ago. I first watched The Godfather in 2019 as a part of my ongoing quest to watch every Best Picture winner (first mentioned here), and I watched it again most recently to discuss it in one of my movie clubs (first mentioned here). My thoughts upon my very first viewing were: “Phenomenal acting, and a well-crafted tragic story detailing the slow descent of a man who started out wanting to be virtuous, but was eventually corrupted. It reminded me of Citizen Kane, but with more violence.” (This was back when I wrote one-tweet reviews of movies that I watched). 

At this point my whole “I love this NFR project because learning about the context surrounding the movies helps me to appreciate them” schtick probably sounds like a broken record, but that is once again quite applicable to this movie. It was only upon diving into the Blu-ray extras and my other typical internet resources that I learned interesting tidbits like how the lighting in this film was not only a breakaway from the norm (it was a sign, more than a cause, of the death of the drive-in, since the film’s extremely shadowy look did not play well on outdoor screens), but it was also used to tell the story, and to symbolize the duality of man (as pretentious as that may sound), based on who had faces lit or in shadow (or both simultaneously) or when scenes were brightly or darkly lit. 

Another interesting aspect that I learned is that, aside from two brief shots, all of the camera angles used in the film were meant to feel natural: with little-to-no movement (which allowed characters to enter and exit the frame, as though we were watching a stage-play), and with many of the shots set up at eye-level, which allows the viewer to feel like they are immersed in the world of the film, standing and observing the events as though they were really there. 

One of the many other reasons that this film is considered one of the all-time-greats is the almost-Shakespearean quality to the story as Michael slowly succumbs to the dark world of his family that he initially tried so desperately to escape. I do recall that the very first time that I watched this, the tragedy aspect of the story didn’t really quite click for me until the final shot of the film. Immediately beforehand, Michael had blatantly lied to his wife about his involvement in Carlo’s death, which seemed to assuage her fears that Michael may not be trying to make his family’s business “legitimate,” as he promised. However, as we build to the very last shot of the film, and as we see more and more “business partners” file into the office of their new Don to kiss his hand, we see someone close the office door, shutting Kay (Michael’s wife), out of the “family business.” The very last shot is from the POV of the person closing the door, and we see the look of despair on Kay’s face as she realizes that everything that Michael had reassured her of moments ago was a lie, and that he has truly taken his father’s place as the head of the Corleone crime family. That look of despair, and the visual image of the film ending by literally shutting her out is when it clicked for me. That’s when I finally realized “ah, so this is a tragedy—and a darn good one.”

Availability:

The Godfather (1972) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-godfather-part-i 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

Follow the NFR Completist on Twitter and Instagram

If you’re reading this in the future, and want to see whether I’ve made any updates to the original entry, you may check here.

Current tally: Written 32 out of 800 entries

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Film #0573

Directed by Jonathan Demme 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2011 
I first watched it on June 24th, 2019

What It’s About:

When a serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill” abducts the adult daughter of a U.S. senator, a young FBI-agent in training is assigned to interview Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer in police custody, in the hopes that he might provide them with insights into Buffalo Bill’s deranged mind.

My experience with the film:

I have a friend who has repeatedly said that the biggest snub in Oscar history is the fact that Silence of the Lambs beat Beauty and the Beast (the first animated film ever nominated for Best Picture) for the top prize at the 1992 Oscar ceremony. Having now seen The Silence of the Lambs twice (first in 2019 as a part of my still-ongoing, and partially sidelined, quest to watch every Best-Picture-winning film, first mentioned here, and again more recently for my monthly Oscar movie club, first explained here), I can now say that I respectfully disagree. 

I actually mentioned his position on the film to my movie club during our meeting a couple days ago, and we all unanimously agreed that Silence of the Lambs was the more deserving winner (also notable: this was one of the rare instances where we were all in agreement about liking the film, as there’s usually at least one or more dissenters). 

However, since I personally consider induction to the NFR to be a higher, though less flashier, honor (at least for American-made films, since foreign-made films are rarely, if ever, added to the Registry) my friend may have the last laugh: Beauty and the Beast was inducted to the NFR in 2002, just one year after it was eligible (films can’t be inducted until they’re at least 10 years old, and most films are usually inducted several years after they’re first eligible). It took nine additional years for The Silence of the Lambs to be inducted, a sign that the NFR potentially considers Beauty and the Beast to be more “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” to American cinema, when compared to Silence of the Lambs. Regardless, I think they’re both great films.

(For the record, my pick for the actual “biggest snub in Oscar history”, at least in recent memory, is the fact that The Lego Movie, which absolutely deserved to win “Best Animated Feature”, wasn’t even nominated for that category. I will most definitely be nominating it for the NFR in 2024.)

Returning to Silence of the Lambs, I can’t say much more about Lambs than has already been said: Anthony Hopkins’ acting is absolutely phenomenal and sticks with you long after the film is over (especially when you consider how little screen time he actually has in the film—supposedly only 16 minutes according to some of the sources linked below, though I never used a stopwatch to determine if that was accurate.) Jodie Foster’s acting shouldn’t be overlooked either—there’s a reason she won Best Actress for this film. (Apparently the two actors were so intimidated by each other, that they rarely spoke to each other off camera until their final day of filming together, when they finally struck up a conversation and got to know each other.) The fact that the film is shot mostly from Clarice’s POV, and includes several uncomfortable extreme close-ups is also noteworthy, as is the editing (especially in the scene where it seems that the FBI is about to raid Buffalo Bill’s house only for it be revealed that they are at the wrong location, and that it is Clarice, alone, who is on Bill’s doorstep). 

One last note: Anthony Hopkins ends the film with an extremely memorable quote, “I do wish we could chat longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner.” Not satisfied with haunting us only at the end of the regular version of the film, in the audio commentary on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray, the final thing that Anthony Hopkins says, in his Hannibal Lecter voice, is “To those of you who are watching this movie: pleasant dreams. Bye.” 

Availability:

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-silence-of-the-lambs 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory

Follow the NFR Completist on Twitter and Instagram

Pulp Fiction (1994) – Film #0624

Directed by Quentin Tarantino 
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2013 
I first watched it on Jan. 27th, 2021 

What It’s About:

A collection of three intersecting stories: two mob hit men who must collect a mysterious briefcase for their boss, the wife of the mob boss who spends an evening with one of the hit men, and a washed-up boxer who is on the run from the mob boss. 

My experience with the film:

This movie was … an experience. Much has been said about the film’s artistic merits and its continuing impact on cinema (see several of the resources that I’ve linked below). And I have to agree with a lot of it: the acting is fantastic and the writing is both incredibly witty (there is a reason that this film is the source of many memes and other pop culture references) and incredibly engaging (it manages to make you care about a cast of characters that are, let’s say, “less-than-virtuous.”) 

However, my personal enjoyment levels of the film felt somewhat like a roller coaster. The film opens strong, with a great conversation in a diner that leads directly into the start of a robbery before the film freezes and goes into some incredibly fun opening titles music (at this point, my thoughts were essentially “I think I’m going to love this film.”) Then, this high of enjoyment continued with two absolutely iconic scenes involving fantastic dialogue that starts in a car ride and continues in an apartment (not to mention the fact that the somewhat supernatural glow of the briefcase’s contents had me intrigued.) 

Then, my enjoyment started to dip, as we moved into the first major segment, since there was some extensive drug use throughout the storyline (call me a “boy scout” if you want, but pretty much all of the drug scenes made me uncomfortable). For me, the dancing scene was a major highlight during the otherwise uncomfortable and/or tense Mia and Vincent segment. 

Once we shifted to the Butch segment, I was hooked by the opening performance from Christopher Walken, and even the brief scene with the Colombian taxi driver was enough to make me think “wow, Tarantino excels at making interesting characters.” Eventually, once Butch realized that he had to go back for his father’s watch, I found the segment delightfully suspenseful … until we came to the pawn shop. From there, the rest of the Butch segment became intensely uncomfortable for me to watch, and I was quite glad when the story was over. 

As we came back around to Jules and Vincent, I again found myself engaged with their story (and I quite enjoyed the character of The Wolf), but I was also somewhat grossed out by the gory gag at the center of the segment. 

The film ends on a high note though as we find eventually ourselves back at the diner that opened the film. I quite enjoyed this final scene, which I also found to be “delightfully suspenseful.” Overall, as the film ended, I found my general thoughts to be “wow, parts of this were great, but other parts were pretty dang uncomfortable to watch. I don’t know that I’ll rewatch this any time soon.”

However, as I started researching this film, and reading/watching all of the resources that are mentioned below, I found my appreciation for the film increasing (especially as I was reminded of all of the aspects that I enjoyed.) As I approached the end of my research, I found myself wanting to watch the Blu-ray commentary so that I could experience the film a second time. … And I was surprised that I was genuinely disappointed when I realized that the Blu-ray had no such commentary. However, on further examination, I saw that there was a text-based (rather that audio) trivia commentary track, so I decided to use that as my excuse for a second viewing … only to find that a second viewing left my feelings on the film mostly unchanged. The great parts were still great, but the uncomfortable parts still weren’t my cup of tea. This was an interesting film, and I’m glad I watched it, but now I think that I can say (with certainty this time) that I probably won’t re-watch it any time soon.

Also, a disclaimer-ish statement that I should probably put in here somewhere: Prior to this, I had seen three other Tarantino films: The Hateful Eight (which I similarly enjoyed several aspects of, but ultimately didn’t enjoy the violent end of the film), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (which I also enjoyed … except for the violent ending), and Inglourious Basterds (which I genuinely enjoyed, with no reservations.) 

Availability:

Pulp Fiction (1994) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/pulp-fiction 

To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:

For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory