R.I.P. Sidney Lumet

Lost a giant this weekend; Sidney Lumet passed away at 86.

One of my favorite directors ever. Lumet’s films were almost always as much about morality and social conscience as they were good storytelling. No wonder that some of the finest actors of all time – Henry Fonda, Al Pacino, Paul Newman among them – gave perhaps their finest performance under his leadership. You always got the sense that everyone involved in the production shared his passion for authenticity and depth.

Lumet worked heavily in theatre and in television, directing over two hundred productions for Playhouse 90, Studio One and Kraft Television Theatre before moving on to film. His first movie, 12 Angry Men, remains an all time classic over fifty years later. His last, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, proved he hadn’t lost a step. Hopefully his overlooked series 100 Centre Street will be released on DVD someday soon.

Amazingly, despite such a stellar career, he never won an Oscar for directing, although he was presented with the Academy Honorary Award in 2005 for his career achievements. He was nominated four times, for 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon and Network.

He did, however, directed seventeen different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Katharine Hepburn, Rod Steiger, Al Pacino, Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney, Chris Sarandon, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Beatrice Straight, William Holden, Ned Beatty, Peter Firth, Richard Burton, Paul Newman, James Mason, Jane Fonda and River Phoenix.

When someone from the arts passes, I like to celebrate their life through that art by listening to some of their music, or watching one of their films. With Lumet, there is a wealth to choose from but I will probably pull this one off the shelf.

Roger Ebert wrote a nice remembrance.

A very informative New York Times obituary.

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