Wednesday, February 13, 2008

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Casting Coup: The Godfather

*What was I thinking here? First of all, my run-down of the Best Picture nominees of 1972, though meant to be amusing, isn't that funny, and almost reads as offensive. Second...a blaxploitation Godfather isn't a bad idea, really, but...what was I trying to prove here? Why Tommy Lee Jones as Moe Greene? Weird.*

CASTING COUP MONTH remembers the wisdom of Michael Caine, who did the Sleuth remake precisely because it was different from the original. After all, he reasoned, what's the point in doing the same damn thing all over again?

There are many remakes that have gone for the shot-for-shot, exact same thing "re-imagining". They say it's different, but it's not. Gus Van Sant's Psycho was the same film, but in color! John Moore's The Omen tacked on a "prologue" about the End Times approaching, but then gave the same story with better death sequences. Rob Zombie's Halloween had a forty-five-minute prologue begging us to love Michael Myers before making the same movie, only with worse dialogue and no acting. It was pathetic.

So, what's the point in doing The Godfather (1972) is you're not going to spice things up a bit? After all, the original was AFI's #3 greatest film of all time in 1997, before moving up to #2 in 2007. Many critics and film scholars consider it superior to Citizen Kane. And sure, it won only three out of its eleven Oscar nominations, but fuck you, you know?

Besides, three of those losses were in one category, so there was probably a lot of vote-splitting. Oh, yeah, you knew that, right? RIGHT? Three of the five Supporting Actor Nominees were from The Godfather. The Oscar went to Joel Grey for Cabaret, making him that rare breed of actor, winning an Oscar and a Tony for the same role. This happened seven times previously (and if they keep making decisions like replacing Cherry Jones with Meryl Streep, may never happen again). Anyway, Robert Duvall, James Caan, and Al Pacino were all deserved nominees--though can't we agree that Pacino should have been in the Lead Actor category?

Nino Rota lost the Oscar for Original Score, as it was deemed ineligible, its nomination withdrawn. Apparently, he was re-using old themes from Fortunella, an earlier film. Ironically, the Oscar went to Charlie Chaplin, Ray Rasch, and Larry Russell for Limelight, a film made in 1952 but not released in the USA until 1972. Meanwhile, Anthony Powell's Costumes for Travels with My Aunt (starring Maggie Smith) triumphed over Anna Hill Johnstone's designs.

Cabaret was the big winner that year. Besides Best Supporting Actor, The Godfather lost the Sound (Charles Grenzbach/Richard Portman/Christopher Newman to Robert Knudson/David Hildyard), Film Editing (William Reynolds/Peter Zinner to David Bretherton), and Director (Francis Ford Coppola to Bob Fosse) to the Kander and Ebb musical. It seemed poised to take the Best Picture Oscar; alas, this was not to be.

If The Godfather would only get three Oscars, it was going down swinging. First off, one of the most important awards, that of Best Adapted Screenplay, went to director Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, the original novelist. Writing a best-selling novel, then getting the Oscar for your script? Bad-ass, Mario. Marlon Brando (the title character?) won Best Actor, and famously decided not to accept his award until the Native Americans were better treated. A Hispanic actress dressed as an American Indian accepted the award, and made the entire thing just plain weird.

Best Picture. The Godfather won Best Picture. It had to win Best Picture. It kicked way too much ass not to. Deliverance? Just a hicksploitation flick, really. Cabaret? Fairy musical. Sounder? Please. A black folks movie? Please. The Emigrants? Just a Swede film, pass it by. It HAD to be The Godfather. Look, see the movie. It's got film noir bad-assery dripping out of its ears. The movie shits gold. Pure fucking mountain gold. Brando? Pacino? Duvall? All Gods. In a Zeus way, not in a Yahweh way. This thing put Coppola on the map.

Dare we consider, though, that the time of the Italian Mob flick has come and gone? That The Sopranos is over, whereas American Gangster is nominated at the Oscars? See where I'm going with this?

What if The Godfather was a blaxploitation gangster flick?

Who is He: A film producer who loves horses, but doesn't want any part of them in his bed.

Originally played by: Philip Baker Hall's brother, John Marley

My Choice: I've decided to make everybody who's not in the family white. And a comic actor. Because that's funny. Plus, wouldn't you love to hear this guy hurling racist obscenities at people?

Academy Award Nominee Elliott Gould (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Ocean's Thirteen)

Who is He: A corrupt cop who screws over the Corleones. Bad idea, man, bad idea.

Originally played by: Sterling Hayden

My Choice: Less Irish, more Dutch. Let's call this character Captain Notirish.

Rutger Hauer (The Hitcher, Blade Runner)

Who is He: A glorified drug dealer. Dangerous and deadly. He says things like, "Try the veal, it's the best in the city." He's in league with Capt. McCluskey.

Originally played by: Al Lettieri

My Choice: Finally, we're getting to the actual inner workings of the Black Mafia. Virgil "The Man" Solomon would say things like, "Try the motherfuckin' veal, it's the motherfuckin' best in the motherfuckin' city!"

Academy Award/Hollmann Nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Black Snake Moan)

Who is He: The Godfather's godson, a popular crooner who wants the lead role in a film that is most certainly not From Here to Eternity with Frank Sinatra. Not at all. Uh-uh.

Originally played by: Al Martino

My Choice: I won't do "gangsta rap", but there is a man out there able to combine hip-hop with Sinatra's charisma.

Academy Award Nominee Will Smith (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness)

Who is He: An undertaker who asks the Godfather to kill the men who raped his daughter. Has the first lines of the movie.

Originally played by: Salvatore Corsitto

My Choice: As Goudet, I'm all about revitalizing careers

Sherman Hemsley ("The Jeffersons", "Amen")

Who is He: The head of one of the Five Families. His hand-shaking with the Godfather is a great moment indeed.

Originally played by: Richard Conte

My Choice: As Emilio Boss, I've been waiting to see this guy go toe-to-toe with my Godfather for quite some time.

Delroy Lindo (This Christmas, The Cider House Rules)

Who is He: The most famous man to ever sleep with the fishes. He hoped Connie's first child was a masculine child.

Originally played by: Lenny Montana

My Choice: As Luke Brands, the only actor who consistently gives top-notch performances in shitty movies.

Faizon Love (Blue Crush, The Perfect Holiday)

Who is He: A big deal in Vegas. Michael wants to do business with him.

Originally played by: Alex Rocco

My Choice: Let's dress this up a bit, give it a bit of down-home flair.

Academy Award Winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, In the Valley of Elah)

Who is He: Family friend, and also a friend of Vito's. Hooray!

Originally played by: Abe Vigoda, still defying death at 126

My Choice: As Sam Tessly, an old veteran.

Academy Award Winner Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field, A Raisin in the Sun)

Who is He: A fatty who can cook--and kill. One of the awesomest characters, he remembers to leave the gun, but take the canollis.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee Richard S. Castellano (Lovers and Other Strangers)

My Choice: Well, he needs to be deadly, yet have comic timing.

Academy Award Winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Battlefield Earth)

Who is She: Michael's bride when he is exiled in Italy.

Originally played by: Simonetta Stefanelli

My Choice: When Michael goes to Nigeria, he meets the beautiful Abali. Here is the beautiful Abali.

Academy Award Nominee Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda, The Martian Child)

Who is He: Connie's abusive husband. Gets the shit beaten out of him by Sonny.

Originally played by: Gianni Russo

My Choice: As Carl Ross, a favorite of ours here on Planet Earth.

Academy Award Nominee Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow, Crash)

Who is She: The Godfather's daughter, whose wedding to Carlo opens the flick.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee Talia Shire (The Godfather: Part II, Rocky)

My Choice: As Connie Tyson Ross, an actress that I hope gets more and more exposure as time goes on.

Hollmann Nominee Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, The Princess & the Frog)

Who is He: The weakest of the sons. Spineless, willing to take sides against the Family, not cool. Guy's just a mess.

Originally played by: John Cazale, ex-fiance of Meryl Streep (he died of bone cancer)

My Choice: As Freddie Tyson, this guy can play anything, from a psychotic sociopath (Devil in a Blue Dress) to British explosives expert (The Ocean Movies).

Academy Award Nominee Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Talk to Me)

Who is He: The hot-headed oldest son, he is quick to react with his fists, but is not the best thinker.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee James Caan (The Godfather)

My Choice: As Sonny Tyson, again: bona fide bad-ass.

Idris Elba (This Christmas, American Gangster)

Who is He: The German-Irish orphan adopted by the Godfather, he becomes the consigliere to the Family. Here's a secret: he's my favorite character.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies)

My Choice: Like I said, if you're not in the Family, you're a whitey.

Academy Award Nominee John C. Reilly (Chicago, The Hours)

Who is She: Michael's fiancee and eventual wife, she remains out of the loop. She flip-flops between willful ignorance and angry demands for the truth.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, Something's Gotta Give)

My Choice: She's a white woman. And slightly older. And a feminist. Oh-ho, she most certainly does NOT fit in with the mob wife stereotype!

Janeane Garofalo (Ratatouille, Wet Hot American Summer)

Who is He: He may be the youngest of the brothers, but he's the only competent one. Takes over the Family Business after the Godfather's retirement. Goes from War Hero to Crime Lord within a two hour film.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman)

My Choice: As Mike Tyson (lol), only the greatest actor under forty to come out of this generation.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Kinky Boots)

Who is He: The Fucking Godfather

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront, The Godfather)

My Choice: Are you ready? Bear with me here, people, because you will see the wisdom of this choice. This guy's playing Vincent Tyson.

Danny Glover (The Royal Tenenbaums, Gone Fishin')

What d'ya think? Too radical? Or JUST RIGHT?

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