Director Francis Ford Coppola

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“What the studios want now is ‘risk-free’ films, but with any sort of art, you have to take risks. Not taking risks in art is like not having sex and then expecting there to be children.”

Francis Ford Coppola was a man who took risks with his films. Some of these paid off in a huge way. The Godfather and its sequels basically defined the crime genre and became hugely successful, but there was no precedent for this success. Later, Coppola would take greater risks, some successes and some not. He produced some of the greatest films of all time, but some of his other works were huge flops. He even said of himself, “I probably have genius, but no talent.” That’s alright, because when he hits, he hits hard.

Coppola specializes in modern-day epics. He covers professional criminals and soldiers with the grandiosity and respect of great heroes of myth and history, and his epic heroes want to change the world around them even against all odds. He’s also able to present complex and even questionable morality in a way that feels real and natural, keeping these grandiose characters firmly grounded in reality. It’s an amazing mix, and his hit films maintain this balance expertly.

The Godfather (1972)

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Considered by many to be the greatest film of all time, this movie needs no introduction. It put Coppola on the map and firmly established his unique style of telling a big story with all the right details. The cinematic world had never seen a story of criminals with such depth and humanity as this one. Has there ever been a better crime film? Well, there might be one…

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The Godfather: Part II (1974)

The Godfather: Part II

The original was such a hit that work began on the sequel almost immediately after the first one was wrapped up, and Coppola somehow told a story that was both more epic and more human than the original. The film is, by Coppola’s own admission, a bit sloppy at times, but it just works so well that any faults are easy to overlook. This is one of the rare cases of a sequel being just as good (some say better) than the original.

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Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now

After the colossal success of The Godfather and its sequel, Coppola set his sights even higher and made what I consider the most ambitious war film of all time. In his words, this film wasn’t about Vietnam—it was Vietnam. This film presents not only the brutality of war, but also its absurdity and extremely questionable morality. While not quite as accessible as other great war films, this is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant.

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Other Work

Coppola of course wrote and directed The Godfather: Part III, though not with the same success as the first two installments. He also wrote and directed 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Oddly enough, Coppola wrote and directed the old Disney video-ride featuring Michael Jackson, Captain EO. Can you imagine how that conversation went? “Hey, we need someone to direct this extended Michael Jackson music video. How about the guy that made The Godfather?”

He also served as producer for several of his daughter’s films, including Marie Antoinette and the brilliant Lost in Translation.

Director Sofia Coppola

Director Sofia Coppola

“I try to just make what I want to make or what I would want to see. I try not to think about the audience too much.”

What does a director do to escape the shadow of her father who directed The Godfather? Her own thing. Sofia Coppola (1971-) is known for her art house films that delve into characters and emotions like no others. Her films, while brilliant, are admittedly not for everyone. And that’s alright, because films for everyone rarely reach as deep into emotions as hers do. She’s doing her own thing, and that means she’s making movies quite unlike anybody else is.

As I said, she’s the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. She grew up on movie sets and actually appears in all three Godfather movies, including her infamous role in the third that helped steer her toward writing and directing and away from acting (which she admittedly never wanted to do). She gets the film medium and uses it to tell amazing stories that aren’t being told by anyone else.

Lost in Translation (2003)

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Undoubtedly Coppola’s greatest work, Lost in Translation tells a story where complex feelings and relationships defy explanation. Finding someone else who understands without saying a word is like finally seeing the picture on the box for a puzzle you’ve been trying to piece together—there’s still a lot left to solve, but now at least you know it all means something. This is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite movies.

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Other Work

Marie Antoinette, written and directed by Coppola and met with some scorn from viewers and critics, does an amazing job of humanizing France’s most infamous queen beyond what most period biopics do. The goal was never to recreate France in the late 1700s—it was to make the young queen relatable to audiences today. Modern language and some modern music make this a uniquely fresh view on a political figure who’s been dead over 200 years.

Coppola also wrote and directed other films, such as The Virgin Suicides (1999), The Bling Ring (2013), and The Beguiled (2017), most of which were met with mixed reviews from general audiences, although still filled with her trademark emotional depth and complexity.

Director Noah Baumbach

Director Noah Baumbach

“I grew up in the heat of 70s postmodern fiction and post-Godard films, and there was this idea that what mattered was the theory or meta in art. My film is emotional rather than meta, and that’s my rebellion.”

Art house filmmaker and native New Yorker Noah Baumbach (1969-) is a master at capturing raw humanity on film. His work is highly autobiographical and portrays complex emotions that defy straightforward explanations and labels. And the emotions are not merely a sideline element—for most of his work, those complex emotions are the statement. You’re meant to feel what the characters are feeling, even if you don’t know what it all means or where it’s going.

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