This list will be of my five favorite characters, based in large part on the performance of the actor playing the character.
Number 5: Col. Nathan R. Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men). This is not the lead role in the movie, he's only on screen for like twenty minutes. But it's Nicholson at his best. He just exudes contempt for Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise). Nicholson does anger better than anyone. He creates an interesting character here, too, in his short time on screen. Watching him testify we can understand why he has reached the position that he has. While I find some elements of Col. Jessep's personality distasteful I would like to see more of him. On screen.
Number 4: Alex DeLarge, played by Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange). This character is a real piece of work and McDowell nails him (I liked the book too). Alex is young, smart, bored and he likes the old ultra-violence. He is completely heartless, coldly cunning and absolutely self-absorbed. When he is finally caught at the scene (Murder/Rape) and brought to justice he is filled with sorrow. For himself. (And I said he was heartless. Shame on me.) Alex's character changes completely halfway through the movie and McDowell doesn't miss a beat. I would like to see more of his stuff.
Number 3: Don Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando (The Godfather). If ever a role and an actor were perfectly matched it is these two. Can you even imagine someone else in this role? Somehow he conveys all the gravity of the character (again, I read the book, too, several times) without appearing to do anything. He never so much as raises his voice. Well, maybe once. "YOU CAN ACT LIKE A MAN!" (To Johnny Fontane, his Godson.) The only reason I don't put him at number one, I think, is he made it look too damn easy.
Number 2: Norman Thayer, played by Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond). I'm a big Fonda fan anyway; this was the role/performance that won him his only best actor Oscar, and deservedly so. He plays such a great old man. Crabby, forgetful, noble, fierce, scared. He is his wife's "Knight in shining armor." The scenes with him and Chelsea, played, of course, by his actual daughter Jane, are almost too personal to put on the screen. Jane has said something to that effect herself. For some reason this is one of my favorite movies.
Number 1: Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino (The Godfather). What can I say. This might be the best movie ever. Plus, I have to say the Godfather II is absolutely the best movie sequel ever. I'm not going to tell you that Pacino does a better job than Brando, he was nominated for best actor for the second one but did not win. Not that that necessarily matters. But my two favorite scenes are Michael. One when he "comes of age." The other when he makes his power play in Las Vegas. He delivers his lines so perfectly I could watch just those two scenes every day.
Sonny: Alright, we wait.
Michael: You can't wait.
Michael: You can't wait. I don't care what Sollozzo says about a deal he's gonna kill Pop. He has to. It's a key for him. You gotta get Sollozzo.
Clemenza: Mikey's right.
Sonny: Alright, Professor, what about McClusky. What do we do with this cop here?
Michael: They want to have a meeting with me, right? It will be me, McClusky and Sollozzo. Let's set the meeting. We get our informants to find out where it's going to be held. Now we insist that it be held in a public place, a bar or a restaurant where there'll be other people there so I'll feel safe. They're going to search me when I first meet them, right? So I can't have a weapon on me. But if Clemenza can figure a way to have a weapon planted for me, then I'll kill them both.
Sonny: [laughing] What are you gonna do? Nice college boy, didn't want to get mixed up in the family business. Now you want to gun down a police captain. Why? Because he slapped you in the face a little? What do you think this like the Army where you can shoot 'em from a mile away? No you gotta get up like this and, badda-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. C'mere.
[Kisses Michael on the head]
Sonny: You're taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal.
Michael Corleone: Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?
Tom Hagen: Come on, Mikey...
Michael Corleone: Tom, wait a minute. I'm talking about a cop that's mixed up in drugs. I'm talking about a - a - a dishonest cop - a crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. That's a terrific story. And we have newspaper people on the payroll, don't we, Tom?
Michael Corleone: And they might like a story like that.
Tom Hagen: They might, they just might.
Michael Corleone: [to Sonny] It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.
The other one:
Michael: My credit good enough to buy you out?
Moe Greene: Buy me out?
[Fredo laughs nervously]
Michael: The hotel, the casino. The Corleone Family wants to buy you out.
Moe Greene: The Corleone Family wants to buy me out? No, I buy you out, you don't buy me out.
Michael: Your casino loses money, maybe we can do better.
Moe Greene: You think I'm skimmin off the top, Mike?
Michael: [Michael shakes his head] You're unlucky.
Moe Greene: You goddamn guineas you really make me laugh. I do you a favor and take Freddie in when you're having a bad time, and now you're gonna try and push me out!
Michael: You took Freddie in because the Corleone Family bankrolled your casino, and the Molinari Family on the Coast guaranteed his safety. Now we're talking business, let's talk business.
Moe Greene: Yeah, let's talk business, Mike. First of all, you're all done. The Corleone Family don't even have that kind of muscle anymore. The Godfather's sick, right? You're getting chased out of New York by Barzini and the other Families. What do you think is going on here? You think you can come to my hotel and take over? I talked to Barzini - I can make a deal with him, and still keep my hotel!
Michael: Is that why you slapped my brother around in public?
Fredo: Aw, now that, that was nothin', Mike. Moe didn't mean nothin' by that. Yeah, sure he flies off the handle every once in a while, but me and him, we're good friends, right Moe?
Moe Greene: I got a business to run. I gotta kick asses sometimes to make it run right. We had a little argument, Freddy and me, so I had to straighten him out.
Michael: You straightened my brother out?
Moe Greene: He was banging cocktail waitresses two at a time! Players couldn't get a drink at the table! What's the matter with you?
Michael: I leave for New York tomorrow, think about a price.
Moe Greene: Sonofabitch! Do you know who I am? I'm Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!
Fredo: Wait a minute, Moe, Moe, I got an idea. Tom, you're the Consiglieri and you can talk to the Don, you can explain...
Tom Hagen: Now hold it right there. The Don is semi-retired and Mike is in charge of the Family business now. If you have anything to say, say it to Michael.
Fredo: [Moe Greene leaves] Mike! You do not come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!
Michael: Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.
Headin' off to watch it again. ; )