The world of cinema lost one of its great giants today in American director Sidney Lumet. Lumet has been a personal favorite of mine since I was a teenager going through an Al Pacino phase, coming across Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, and noticing the same directors name in the credits. Like many of his films, both were New York set, with the city becoming almost a character unto itself. He has often been called one of the directors most associated with the city, even though he was originally from Philadelphia. Lumet's films were nominated for a total of 46 Oscars, including 5 for Lumet himself (one for co-writing 1981's influential cop drama Prince of the City, the others for directing 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict), and he was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2005. His last movie, 2007's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, was one of the first I reviewed on this blog, and is among my favorite movies of the past decade.
Known for his ability to work with actors (17 Oscar nominations and 4 wins under his direction), Lumet also had a reputation as an almost invisible director. He often spoke against any directorial flourishes that would draw attention to the camera placement, or things that looked too unnatural or self-consciously pretty. He is too often overlooked by film fans and scholars due to this, being unable to recognize a distinctive "Lumet" style the way you can identify a Hitchcock or Scorsese or Coen Brothers movie. Lumet felt the directorial style should be dictated by the script and what the story needs, that form should always follow function and not the other way around. Also, due to his preparation and his insistence on weeks of rehearsal before shooting, Lumet was famously able to work quickly and efficiently in regards to his shooting schedule and budget. On his dislike of more than a few takes before moving on to shooting the next scene, his The Verdict star Paul Newman said ""I call him Speedy Gonzales, the only man I know who'll double-park in front of a whorehouse." As evidence of his swift style, Lumet released two movies in one year 9 different times.
With such an extensive filmography, one could be overwhelmed if looking to delve into Lumet's 50+ years of work. But if I were to pick a group of his most essential films, I'd list Dog Day Afternoon, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, The Pawnbroker, Network, Prince of the City and The Verdict. He has many others worth checking out, but those are all terrific movies, and a couple of them all out masterpieces. I'd been looking forward to where Lumet would go next, but he had a long and fruitful career and we'll just have to go on appreciating what he gave us. R.I.P.