The Godfather: Part II

The Godfather: Part II ★★★★★

Interesting tidbit about The Godfather Part 2 from wikipedia:

Production nearly ended before it began when Pacino's lawyers told Coppola that he had grave misgivings with the script and was not coming. Coppola spent an entire night rewriting it before giving it to Pacino for his review. Pacino approved and the production went forward.

Coppola discusses his decision to make this the first major motion picture to use "Part II" in its title in the director's commentary on the DVD edition of the film released in 2002. Paramount was initially opposed because they believed the audience would not be interested in an addition to a story they had already seen. But the director prevailed, and the film's success began the common practice of numbered sequels.

Only three weeks prior to the release, film critics and journalists pronounced Part II a disaster. The cross-cutting between Vito and Michael's parallel stories were judged too frequent, not allowing enough time to leave a lasting impression on the audience. Coppola and the editors returned to the cutting room to change the film's narrative structure, but could not complete the work in time, leaving the final scenes poorly timed at the opening

Initial critical reception of The Godfather Part II was divided with some dismissing the work and others declaring it superior to the first film. While its cinematography and acting were immediately acclaimed, many criticized it as overly slow-paced and convoluted. Vincent Canby viewed the film as "stitched together from leftover parts. It talks. It moves in fits and starts but it has no mind of its own. [...] The plot defies any rational synopsis. Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic accused the story of featuring "gaps and distentions. A mildly positive Roger Ebert wrote that the flashbacks "give Coppola the greatest difficulty in maintaining his pace and narrative force. The story of Michael, told chronologically and without the other material, would have had really substantial impact, but Coppola prevents our complete involvement by breaking the tension." Though praising Pacino's performance and lauding Coppola as "a master of mood, atmosphere, and period", Ebert considered the chronological shifts of its narrative "a structural weakness from which the film never recovers"
The film quickly became the subject of a critical reevaluation. Whether considered separately or with its predecessor as one work, The Godfather Part II is now widely regarded as one of the greatest films in world cinema. Many critics compare it favorably with the original – although it is rarely ranked higher on lists of "greatest" films. Roger Ebert retrospectively awarded it a full four stars in a second review and inducted the film into his Great Movies section, praising the work as "grippingly written, directed with confidence and artistry, photographed by Gordon Willis [...] in rich, warm tones. Michael Sragow's conclusion in his 2002 essay, selected for the National Film Registry web site, is that "[a]lthough “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” depict an American family’s moral defeat, as a mammoth, pioneering work of art it remains a national creative triumph."

Many believe Pacino's performance in The Godfather Part II is his finest acting work, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was criticized for awarding the Academy Award for Best Actor that year to Art Carney for his role in Harry and Tonto. It is now regarded as one of the greatest performances in film history

Cast notes:

James Caan agreed to reprise the role of Sonny in the birthday flashback sequence, demanding he be paid the same amount he received for the entire previous film for the single scene in Part II, which he received.

Marlon Brando initially agreed to return for the birthday flashback sequence, but the actor, feeling mistreated by the board at Paramount, failed to show up for the single day's shooting; Coppola rewrote the scene that same day.