The horror: the best of Francis Ford Coppola

This brief list shows the consequences of remaining tethered to Hollywood after gonzo success. I have no idea whether Francis Ford Coppola would have made better films as a John Cassavetes. I suspect not. He needed big dough from foreign tax shelters. He needed to fail. Even when he returned to his fiction of independent filmmaking with 2010’s fascinating curio Tetro, the film had, like 1983’s Rumble Fish, a cramped rhythm: beholden to a conception of Art Film irreconcilable with the screenwriter of Patton and The Great Gatsby.

The eight films below are all I need, and I even struggle after Apocalypse Now, itself a struggle by the time the tattered gunship reaches Marlon Brando in the jungle mumbling T.S. Eliot (yet the most affecting moment is G.D. Spradlin’s blank, haunted look over an officer’s feast of Budweiser and lamb, contemplating the fate of his comrade Kurtz). The Coppola Legacy, it’s clear, is the application of grandeur, his debt to Luchino Visconti, to material that often rejects it like bodies rejecting kidneys. Watching The Godfather movies forty years later — thinking about The Godfather movies — is revisiting a congeries of received ideas; I don’t want to read platitudes about Coppola’s conflicted relationship with gangsterism and family. I’m similarly uncomfortable with The Conversation’s place in my list. The second act dawdles; the secondary characters, particularly the women, are directed to sound fresh and casual in ways that reveal the meagerness of the parts. Gene Hackman acts in a machine of extraordinary technical competence, aided by a contemporary political landscape that threatened to outpace the released films (Hackman’s Harry Caul even looked like a Haldeman aide).

1. The Godfather, Part II
2. The Conversation
3. The Godfather
4. Apocalypse Now
5. Rumble Fish
6. Tetro
7. You’re a Big Boy Now
8. The Rainmaker

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