The first time I ever heard of The Godfather, to my knowledge, was at my grandparent's house. I was in the back bedroom and looking for things to do. I came upon the Mario Puzo novel. I would scan through the novel and come to read major portions of the text. A viewing of the film cemented the idea of what a perfect movie can be. Or to be more succinct, a complete movie. It didn't tell any more story that it needed to. We would get all the backstory in II.
As a teenager, I became infatuated with the movie. I would watch it as many times as I could. Dissect it. Print out a timeline of the Corleone family and a Corleone family tree. Geneology was something I took interest back then which correlates to my love of history. The family sitting around the table. The traditions that was a part of their Sicilian heritage. It felt like opening a door and spying on a family of a completely different ethnicity from me. It was and still is captivating. The first words uttered are "I believe in America." Even though the family hails from Sicily, this story can be applied to America and power systems within. No surprise when it pops up as a favorite among politicians.
More than just that, this was a saga that allowed the viewer to go back even further. Right up to the point where news breaks of Paolo being gunned down during Antonio's funeral.
The Godfather was the first movie that I saw that really captured that feel of generational struggle. Steinbeck's East of Eden would give me this same love of generational struggle but in an entirely different way. Being that it was a saga about a family entrenched in the mafia underworld, it took on the notion of domestic family vs. the Corleone family circle.
I don't know how many movies I can say this about, but it a piece of art that seduces the viewer into paying attention to every detail. Carmine Coppola's score that adds a spell of grand tragedy to the saga we are witnessing. The Prince of Darkness Gordon Willis' photography and the warm yellow and brown hues. Clemenza explaining to Michael how to "cook for twenty guys one day", Sonny writing the time out on the cabinet, the horrific sound of Carlo's foot smashing through the car window as he is being garroted.
The quick zoom in Coppola does while this man is singing. No one talks about it and it has stuck with me from my first viewing.
"Sit down. Finish my dinner."
Michael putting his hands over his head right before he goes to kill Sollozzo,
The horror of watching this scene play out
This scene and its mastery of inevitable doom. It's been referenced dozens of times but never quite duplicated. As soon as the toll booth attendant drops that quarter, you know Sonny's fate is sealed.