Which Is The Better Best Picture: The Godfather or On the Waterfront?

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ON THE WATERFRONT

Even today, nearly 60 years later, there’s no denying the intensity of On the Waterfront. The story focuses on Terry (Marlon Brando), a corrupt New Jersey dockworker who grows a conscience and blows the whistle on the crooked union boss who ruins his life — both destroying his career as a boxer when he orders Terry to throw a fight and murdering Terry’s brother in a campaign to eliminate enemies. But in many ways it is the particulars of the production that have insured Waterfront’s longevity. Immediately upon the film’s release in 1954, critics identified the central theme as director Elia Kazan’s response to those who criticized him for naming names and identifying Hollywood communists to the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities. When Brando’s working stiff shouts down a union boss at the docks by declaring “I’m standing over here now, I was rattin’ on myself all those years, I didn’t even know it,” one can almost hear Kazan defending his radical turn against communism. Far more important than the politics, however, was Brando’s breakthrough performance. Working with Kazan both here and in 1951′s A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando introduced the Method into mainstream Hollywood, and movie acting would never be the same again. Not surprisingly, On the Waterfront scored a handful of acting nominations (nods for Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger and Eva Marie Saint); the film would go on to win for best picture, director, actor, screenplay, supporting actress, art direction, cinematography and film editing.

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THE GODFATHER

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” The horse’s head under the bedsheets. “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” The toll-booth slaughter of Sonny. And the immortal “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” From the opening wedding to the climactic baptism of gunfire, The Godfather provides three hours of greatest hits, while certifying the killer machismo of the Mafia and, by extension, of American business. Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel had been a sensational best-seller, but making a movie about organized crime was no sure thing in 1971. Wunderkind Francis Coppola cast Marlon Brando, box-office poison at the time, as Vito Corleone (Laurence Olivier was too ill to take the part) and launched dozens of movie careers (starting with Al Pacino as the Godfather II). The director made sure that this grand opera of family values was also a photo album of the Coppola family: Francis’ sister played Connie, his daughter Sofia was the baptized baby, his father Carmine is briefly seen playing piano and his mother Italia doubled for Mama Corleone in the casket. Nominated for 11 Oscars, The Godfather won for Picture, Screenplay and Brando. It was also one of two ’70s movies that defined a generation of boys-t0-men, who were either Godfather kids or Star Wars kids.

See the results of yesterday’s match—The Return of the King v. Gone with the Wind

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