R.I.P. Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)

Sidney Lumet, the film director responsible for such classics as 12 Angry MenDog Day AfternoonNetwork, and Serpico, among others, died today, April 9, 2011, of lymphoma at his Manhattan home. I couldn’t hope to better articulate Lumet’s achievements as a filmmaker than Roger Ebert already has, except to say that Lumet never slowed during his feature film directorial career, which spanned 50 years from 1957 to 2007. He directed so many films, in fact, that it comes as a surprise to me that I’ve only seen a fraction of them. 12 Angry Men is, I would say, one of the ten best movies ever made, with stunning uses of space and perspective which so effectively draw you into the drama onscreen that they’re almost impossible to notice the first time through. But when you go back and examine the film, what was already a great courtroom drama becomes a powerhouse piece of filmmaking.

Even late in his career, Lumet was crafting high-quality movies, like 2006’s Find Me Guilty, the first (and so far only) film to fully realize the dramatic potential Vin Diesel had teased in Saving Private Ryan. It’s another courtroom drama, but much different than 12 Angry Men; Diesel’s Jack DiNorsico is a colorful character, one Diesel and Lumet seem to effortlessly elevate from wiseguy stereotype. If you haven’t seen it–and from its dismal box office take, I’d wager many haven’t–I highly recommend it.

Lumet was nominated for four Best Director Academy Awards, for 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict. His screenplay for Prince of the City, co-written with Jay Presson Allen, was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Lumet won an honorary Oscar, richly deserved, in 2005.

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