Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Essential Films of Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet
1924 - 2011

Sidney Lumet, one of the greatest directors of all time passed away today at the age of 86.  Reports point to lymphoma being the cause of death.  

Lumet was a master of his craft, and became known for directing many films with strong social messages.  What made him different was that he was able to deliver these messages in the form of incredibly entertaining, and oftentimes suspenseful films.

He wrote:  “While the goal of all movies is to entertain, the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing.”

Lumet's films total have been nominated for over 40 Academy Awards, and he himself was nominated for Best Director on four seperate occasions (though he never won.)  In 2005, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences awarded him with an honorary Academy Award for his entire body of work.  At the time he said:  “I wanted one, damn it, and I felt I deserved one.”

He certainly did.

Here are his essential films:


Henry Fonda plays a dissenting juror not willing to send a man to his death. With 11 to 1 odds, the heroic juror spends two hours trying to convince his case that there is in fact a "reasonable doubt" to the accused's guilt in this gripping, claustrophobic drama.


A cynical criticism of the television industry and American culture that rings more true today than it did upon the film's initial release. A film incredibly ahead of its time.


"Attaca! Attaca!"  When a desperate man robs a bank to pay for his lover's sex-change operation, Lumet masterfully manipulates the audience to cheer for the anti-hero.


The "serious" counterpart to Stanley Kubrick's comedy about worldwide nuclear destruction, Dr. Strangelove. The film ranks up the tension in this high-stakes chess match between two world powers on the verge of annihilation.


In one of Paul Newman's best performances, he plays a disgraced lawyer who searches for redemption by taking a medical malpractice lawsuit to trial instead of settling.


Al Pacino went from a gangster in The Godfather to play Frank Serpico, a detective seeking to root out corruption and injustice in the New York Police Department.