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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Five Best: Sidney Lumet

courtesy of

I have to take a break from my proposed run of nostalgic childhood films for this week's "Five Best." Over the weekend, we lost one of the great movie directors of last century, the incomparable Sidney Lumet. Lumet died on April 9 in Manhattan. Lumet was a director who focused quite a bit on a man's moral compass and just how willing we, as humans, are to take advantage of those situations we may not have a right to. He never won an Oscar, though he was nominated five times (once for writing). Lumet made plenty more excellent films than the ones listed below, but let's try to narrow it down it his five best.  So here they are, in chronological order.

Scene from "12 Angry Men" courtesy of

12 Angry Men (1957)

Lumet's first foray into the cinema world still stands up as one of the best courtroom dramas ever produced. The great Henry Fonda stars as Juror #8, alongside such greats as Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, and Ed Begley. It's a fantastic look at what goes on in the courtroom behind closed doors and the true meaning of "innocent until proven guilty." Brilliant performances all around and a grand beginning to a stellar directing career.

Al Pacino in "Serpico" courtesy of

Serpico (1973)

Based on a true story, Lumet's 1973 story of corruption in the New York police force and the whistleblower who refused to turn into a criminal. Starring a well-cast Al Pacino, it's a gritty story about dishonesty within the ranks and just how difficult it is to be an honorable officer when the men who are supposed to be your friends are putting your life in danger..

Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon" courtesy of

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

I may get arguments here, but I still maintain that Pacino has never been better as the insane, wired character he has grown so accustomed to playing. Again, based on a true story, "Dog Day Afternoon" introduces us to Sonny Wortzik and Sal, two men robbing a Brooklyn bank to pay for Sonny's lover's sex change operation. Eventually, it becomes less about the crime and more about the coverage, as Lumet dives deep into the media and its treatment of such serious matters.

Peter Finch in "Network" courtesy of

Network (1976)

An iconic screenplay written by the great Paddy Chayefsky, Lumet's 1976 masterpiece dives even further into the media, but this time, how they treat their own. Peter Finch plays a reporter who goes off the deep end on the air, only to find that his producers decide to take advantage of his insanity by putting him front and center at all times. Flawless performances rom William Holden and Faye Dunaway only add to the perfection of Finch's loose cannon turn on screen, becoming the first person to win the Best actor oscar posthumously.

Paul Newman in "The Verdict" courtesy of

The Verdict (1982)

Another strong story about a man's moral code, Paul Newman plays lawyer Frank Galvin, who has been essentially grinded down into an ambulance chaser and womanizer. Handed a medical malpractice suit that is an easy settle, he does a 180 and decides to work for the victims for the first time, instead of for himself. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture, it was another brilliant look at the courtroom drama, as written by David Mamet and filmed by the impecable Lumet.

He may not have been as consistent as the Scorseses of the world, but he was still one of the more talented directors to ever sit behind a camera.

Others Worth Checking Out:

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Deathtrap (1982)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

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