The phenomenal success of the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde revived interest in the crime‑gangster‑film. More crime films were nominated in the 1970s than in any other decade, and three won Best Picture: the action‑thriller The French Connection, and the two Francis Ford Coppola crime sagas, The Godfather in 1972, and The Godfather, Part II, in 1974.
Of the two, The Godfather, Part II was more critically acclaimed, but the first one was more popular, grossing over $80 million dollars.
Less honored by the Academy than its sequel, The Godfather won a second Best Actor for Marlon Brando, as Mafia boss Don Vito Corleone, and screenplay, written by Coppola and Mario Puzo, upon whose best‑seller it was based. Its major competitor in 1972 was Bob Fosse’s musical Cabaret, which captured the largest number of awards, eight, including Best Director. Breaking new grounds in both thematic and artistic ways, the two Godfather sagas are still the only crime‑gangster movies to have won Best Picture. The Godfather, Part II, which won the largest, six, number of awards in 1974, is the only sequel to have received the Best Picture Oscar.
Despite anxious anticipation and public pressures, it took sixteen years for Coppola to make The Godfather, Part III (1990), which garnered Best Picture and other nominations.
Again teamed with Puzo, Coppola extended his history‑making Mafioso saga into an absorbing tale of an older and disillusioned Michael (Al Pacino), now attempting to remove himself from the world of crime, and how fate and circumstances draw him back in, with his trigger‑happy nephew (Andy Garcia) and the rest of the family in tow. Longish (191 minutes), but masterfully told, the film had one nearly fatal flaw: the casting of Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, in the pivotal role of Michael’s daughter and Garcia’s love interest.
In the same year, Martin Scorsese made one of his best films, GoodFellas, which swept all the critics awards but lost the Oscar to Dances With Wolves. Joe Pesci won a supporting Oscar for playing that year’s “worst human being” in the movies, Tommy DeVito, a Mafia killer who gleefully enjoys his pasta while a dying victim is locked in his car trunk. As written by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, based on the latter’s book, Wiseguy, GoodFellas provides a fascinating look at the allure–and dark reality–of “routine” life in a Brooklyn Mafia family, based on experiences of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who wound up in the Federal witness protection program. The violence was almost necessarily harsh–and inevitably divisive–but GoodFellas was brilliantly realized by Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Pesci and Oscar‑nominated Lorraine Bracco stood out in an exceptional cast that also included Robert De Niro.
As accomplished as they were, The Godfather, Part III and GoodFellas didn’t break new grounds thematically or artistically. And neither did the 1995 Casino, a crime picture that reunited director Scorsese with De Niro, his favorite, quintessential actor, and co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi.
Oscar Nominations: 11
Picture, produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Gray Frederickson, and Fred Roos
Screenplay (Adapted): Coppola and Mario Puzo
Actor: Al Pacino
Supporting Actor: Michael V. Gazzo
Supporting Actor: Lee Strasberg
Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro
Supporting Actress: Talia Shire
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Dean Tavoularis and Angelo Graham; George R. Nelson
Costume Design: Theadora Van Runkle
Original Dramatic Score: Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola
In 1974, two movies were nominated for 11 Oscars: The Godfather, Part II and Polanski’s Depression-era, well-crafted noir “Chinatown.” While Coppola’s second installment won the largest (6) number of awards, “Chinatown” received only one, for Original Screenplay.
The three other nominees were Coppola (again) for “The Conversation” with 3 nominations; Bob Fosse’s biopicture “Lenny” with 6 nods but no wins; and the disaster-adventure flick, “The Towering Inferno,” which won 3 technical awards out of its 7 nominations.