The Godfather I & II remain two of the finest American films ever made, but are there Francis Ford Coppola movies that weave as fascinating a tale as the saga of the Corleone family? His other work may not have reached the masterpiece status of the mafia family saga, which landed the number spot in the American Film Institute's list of 100 Greatest Films, but very few films do. Coppola has had his share of painful productions ("Dracula") as well as forgettable features like "The Rainmaker" and "Godfather III." Still, his craftsmanship and ability to inspire brilliant acting make these five Francis Ford Coppola films worth a rental.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
There have been plenty of fine movies about the Vietnam war: “Platoon” and “The Deer Hunter” each captured the American soldiers’ tortured experience in that confusing “conflict.” But, Coppola’s depiction of the insanity at the root of all war is poetic, horrible and chock full of great lines: from “I love the smell of napalm in the morning…it smells like victory” to “The horror, the horror.” At the time of its release, the film suffered from the movie biz gossip of the five year production ordeal in the jungle, the wild drug-taking on the set and leading man Martin Sheen’s heart attack. There was also the resistance of the movie industry to supporting Coppola’s independence from their financing. Ignore the gossip and reviews, just experience the film that reached the same heights as “Godfather” on a more controversial topic.
The Conversation (1974)
Though the technology in this paranoid thriller may be old-school, the story of a surveillance expert (Gene Hackman) facing a moral crisis can speak volumes to our era of no privacy. Harry Caul and his assistant Stan (John Cazale, Fredo from the “Godfather” films) takes an assignment to tape a conversation between a young couple, who only meet in a crowded outdoor plaza. Harry loves the challenge of a complex task but he begins to realize he may be supplying their death warrant. The combustion of this moral dilemma on his ordered world provides both a brilliant character study for Hackman, as well as a profound commentary on dark side of technology.
The Outsiders (Re-release 2005)
This story of class conflict between “greasers” and “socials” in early 1960s Oklahoma plays out against a murder that sparks a gang war. He also gets surprisingly gritty, realistic performances from a gang of future Hollywood slick-sters: Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and Leif Garrett. Both Matt Dillon and Diane Lane were already names. The revised version corrects some of the sentimentality of the original release and mixes moments of poetry with the sad reality of diminished expectations of the American dream.
Rumble Fish (1983)
This black-and-white follow-up to “The Outsiders,” Matt Dillon plays Rusty James, a street thug trying to escape the shadow of his older brother, Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). This meditation on sibling rivalry against a bleak backdrop of his absent mother and alcoholic father completes the picture of desperate teen lives of violence. This bleak drama features all-around excellent cast including Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper and his nephew, Nicolas Cage, before scenery chewing became his trademark.
Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)
Long before it was fashionable to be anti-corporate, Coppola brought thisdisturbing, real-life story of Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges) to the screen. After World War II, Tucker has dreams of improving on the possibilities of what a car could be, with features like disc brakes, independent four-wheel suspension, seatbelts and a safety windshield. His promotional skills gets the American public excited about the “Tucker Torpedo,” but auto industry executives lobby Senator Ferguson (Lloyd Bridges) to bury his factory, showing that corporate greed at the expense of the American public safety began long, long ago.