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francis-ford-coppola

Francis Ford Coppola

Best known for revolutionizing the gangster film genre with The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (the latter movie has the added distinction of being the only film sequel ever to earn a Best Picture Oscar). He followed that up with Apocalypse Now, which is widely regarded as a classic American war movie.

You think you know the guy. After all, he pretty much laid everything out there in "Hearts of Darkness", the behind-the-scenes documentary of his making the epic "Apocalypse Now". The interviews of him on some of the DVDs are equally revealing.

But, you don't know him. There are too many contradictions about this artist among writer/director/producers. The press made Francis seem like a disorganized mess during "Apocalypse". But anyone who knows anything about the rigors of directing knows better, particularly in his having the courage to shoot without an ending". Megalomaniacal? Possibly as much as any director; but, he's known as an actor's director, which takes an infinitely generous spirit.

Family man? Yes, of course, Coppola's launched the careers of his sister, nephew, daughter (and a second career for his father), countless other family members and many of the age's best actors. One has an image of him forever sitting around a huge table, outside, under a grand oak and populated by his vast extended family, sipping, arguing, laughing and reminiscing.

But, then again, at his core, Francis Ford Coppola is a writer. And writers, by necessity, live most of the time alone (or maybe with a partner, like Mario Puzo).

Like famed director Billy Wilder, Coppola has virtually as many writing credits as directing credits, and won his first Academy Award as a writer. (Actually, Coppola won his first two as a writer: Patton and The Godfather.) Like Wilder, his directorial ambitions come primarily from the desire to realize correctly his written work. (Also, like Wilder, he is one of the few people to have won the big three Academy Awards all in the same year — 1974, for "Godfather II".)

In the sixties, Coppola got his start doing virtually everything for director Roger Corman, including directing his first film, "Dementia 13". Riding into the seventies on the success of his Patton" script and a few small well-made films, Coppola launched the alternative studio American Zoetrope. While he was busy ensuring his place in the director pantheon with the two "Godfather" films and The Conversation", he was launching, via Zoetrope, George Lucas's directing career with "THX 1138" and "American Graffiti". That was all before 1975. Coppola spent a large part of the rest of the '70s embroiled in the making of "Apocalypse Now", which premiered in 1979.

The ‘80s weren't as swell — which at worst means a lot of failures and at best means he just wasn't making some of the most important films ever ("Godfather" is the AFI's third greatest film of all time, behind "Citizen Kane" and "Casablanca").

Like the heroine of his "Peggy Sue Got Married", Francis Ford Coppola usually goes back in time to find himself. One would be hard-pressed to recall a Coppola film set in the present. "The Cotton Club" beautifully evokes Harlem in the twenties and "Tucker: The Man and His Dream", besides being a parallel to Coppola's own fight with the system, is a brilliantly realized evocation of the post-World War American Dream.

Since then, his major pictures have been "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "Godfather III", and if you thought he was through, think again. Coppola currently has no fewer than a dozen films in various stages of production.

And then there's the restaurant in San Francisco with partners Robin Williams and Robert De Niro; the vineyard; a line of foods; two hotels in Belize and one in Guatemala (you'd think he would have had enough jungle with "Apocalypse"); a literary magazine; and, well, who knows what else...

— Nate Lee

Great Scenes:

GREAT FILMS:

THE GODFATHER

There are so many brilliant scenes, but the ones that never get old are: the irony of Don Corleone's death in the garden while playing with his grandson — The intercuts of the baptism and the assassinations — The dark, mysterious opening in the Don's office, where you know you're being allowed entrance into an unfamiliar world.

THE GODFATHER PART II

When the landlord finds out who Robert De Niro is, his awkward fawning is a humorous interlude — In Cuba, Al Pacino discovers his brother betrayed him.

THE GODFATHER PART III

The finale intercuts of assassination and opera hal back to the famous end of Godfather I, which intercut a Don clearinghouse with a baptism.

THE CONVERSATION

Of course there are no words in the last scene as Gene Hackman literally tears his entire house apart looking for a bug.

PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED

Somehow this movie works in spite of Kathleen Turner's breathless over-acting and a completely miscast Nicolas Cage, either sounding like an old man or like Pee Wee Herman's littler brother. Watch Jim Carrey, as the class clown and the only one who looks completely comfortable in the scenes. When Turner asks her grandfather what he would do differently if he had it to do all over again, he replies, "I would have taken better care of my teeth."

BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA

Again, a film too rich in images to pick any three out. Every scene with Gary Oldman is exquisite, particularly the ones of him back at home.

BEST FILMS:

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