Francis Ford Coppola
(1939 - present)
Three Key Films: The Godfather Trilogy (1972-1990), The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979)
Underrated: Rumble Fish (1983). Widely known as the artsy cousin to Coppola’s previous film, The Outsiders (1983), Rumble Fish should be recognized as another superior sequel (sort of) from the commander of continuation (lest we forget the astounding achievement that is The Godfather Part II). Starring a never better Matt Dillon and a never better looking Mickey Rourke, the black and white teen noir carries a wallop of fierce nostalgia like nothing else Coppola has done. Perhaps the director’s most experimental film, Rumble Fish shows the director’s inclinations towards pushing the boundaries of Hollywood productions, a penchant he has recently resumed with his last few films.
Unforgettable: The complete first two Godfather films. Ok, ok, fine. If it has to be a shorter moment, I’ll take Don Corleone’s near-death outside the fruit stand. Though “the horror” scene from Apocalypse Now is certainly up there in terms of cinematic relevance, reverence, and parody, it’s hard to top Coppola’s grandly orchestrated assassination scene where Vito Corleone, while casually shopping for those ominous oranges, is shot 10 times in the back. Oranges spill. Fredo fumbles the gun. “Papa!” It is so brief, but so powerful.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Legend: Francis Coppola is a mainstay on lists like these. A member of the Hollwood elite, the 72-year-old director earned his spot during the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s. Obviously, helming The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather: Part II, and Apocalypse Now in the same decade would cement anyone’s legacy in film, but the man just kept going.
Though some would argue he fell off a bit in the 1980s and 90s, The Outsiders, The Cotton Club (1984). The Godfather: Part III, and The Rainmaker (1997) are enduring pictures that lesser directors would likely put at the top of their resumes. Although Bram Stoker’s Dracula was not entirely embraced by critics, the artistic bravado—including Eiko Ishioka’s stunning work on the film’s costumes—is in every frame, popping with vibrancy, just as it was with One From the Heart (1982).
Most recently, Coppola has gone back to what he calls his film school roots. Youth Without Youth (2007) received mixed reviews, but Tetro (2009) was a solid critical success. Both productions were small and each earned less than half a million dollars, but it’s clear the five-time Oscar winner hasn’t run out of inspiration just yet. Modern critics may have seen Coppola as a little more hit and miss than the gangbusters ‘70s, but nevertheless, he continues to push his avant-garde ideas on a wide audience, keeping the maverick spirit of his earlier work, like The Rain People (1969), alive and well in films he produces for his Oscar-winning daughter Sofia. Last year’s Somewhere is a prime example of this dedication. Ben Travers