Sidney Lumet, one of my favorite film directors, passed away today at the age of 86 from Lymphoma. Looking through his repertoire of films is like looking through a must-see list of movies over the past 50 years.
Lumet, who was born in Philadelphia, Penn. on June 25, 1924, began his career as an actor in the theatre. He quickly moved to directing and eventually settled into directing early television productions. One of his most famous films as a television director is his amazing adaptation of Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men. Centered around a dissenting jury in a murder trail, the film has amazing performances by all the cast, headed by Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb. It easily ranks as one of the best films of the 1950s and is ranked number 87 on the AFI’s Top 100 movies list.
Moving out of television work and into feature films in the 1960s, Lumet had successes with the stark drama The Pawnbroker and the cold war thriller Fail-Safe with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. In the 1970s, Lumet produced what I consider some of his best films, including: Serpico with Al Pacino, Murder on the Orient Express based on the Agatha Christie novel, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Equus. All of these films rank high among the best pictures of the decade and Network makes an appearance on the AFI Top 100 list as well at number 66. Other films from Lumet’s extraordinary career include Prince of the City, Deathtrap, The Verdict, Running on Empty and his latest film at age 82, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.
In 1996, Lumet released his memoir entitled Making Movies. In addition to being a memoir of his life experiences, it also chronicles his ideas and techniques in making motion pictures, making it one of the best sources for aspiring filmmakers to understand the art of the director. My friend and fellow filmmaker, Dan A. R. Kelly, loaned me his copy of this book a few years ago and I was engrossed in it from beginning to end. If you ever plan to go into filmmaking, especially as a director, then this is a great book to start with to understand the process and scope of what goes into making a good motion picture.
Lumet was nominated for five Academy Awards in competitive categories, but never won; he was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2005. Lumet’s ability to command performances and take on vastly different subject matters in each of his pictures are evident in his body of work. Few director’s have such an impressive career that spans nearly 50 years. It saddens me greatly to know that I will never have the opportunity to see a new Lumet film come out, but the films he has left us with are testament to his legacy as a filmmaker.