Lumet. It’s an incredible filmography (17 archiveable films, 5 in their respective decade’s top 100, spanning 50 years) and there’s enough consistency in his work to consider him an auteur for sure. Still, he’s a “style-minus” director on a list like this and doesn’t have the top 200 all-time film so it’s easy to see why he’d fall. I’m also sure he’ll eventually be passed but a handful of current auteurs that are still in their prime and adding major pieces to their resume. However, even if he is “style-minus” I have him ranked #53 in my filmography points system. It’s time for Lumet on this list!

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the poetic opening of 1982’s The Verdict

Best film:  Network. Just by an eyelash does this film grade out ahead of Dog Day Afternoon and The Hill. It’s remarkable how well this film has aged. It’s known for Peter Finch’s (in an Oscar-winning role) “I’m mad as hell” speech and but I think William Holden’s is the superior performance (typical Cruise vs Hoffman in Rain Man flashier role- syndrome). Dunaway isn’t far behind either and both Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty chew some incredible scenes in their few minutes.

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one of Lumet’s greatest single images– here from Network
iconic image from Network

total archiveable films: 17

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 3 (Network, Dog Day Afternoon, The Hill)

one of Lumet’s strengths was capturing performances– one of Pacino’s greatest moments on screen here in Dog Day Afternoon

top 100 films of the decade: 5 (Network, Dog Day Afternoon, The Hill, The Pawnbroker, Serpico)

most overrated: 12 Angry Men. The TSPDT consensus has it at #464 and Lumet’s 3rd best—I have it outside of my top 500 and as Lumet’s 7th—a pretty sizable divide.

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impeccable framing and blocking in 12 Angry Men

most underrated: The Hill . Almost all these films from Lumet are underrated but I’ll pick The Hill. I have this film graded out as a masterpiece (#246 all-time) and it’s not in the top 1000 of all-time on TSPDT. I’ve seen it twice. Like much of Lumet’s work it will blow your hair back—but few, if any, do it like this. It’s probably Lumet’s most beautiful film (which isn’t a crazy-big compliment which is why with that filmography he’s fallen to #71) and I think it is Connery’s best performance. It’s demanding– and quite devastating.

magnificent shot in The Hill

gem I want to spotlight:  I’m a big admirer of Lumet so there are many potential gems to put the spotlight on here but I’ll pick Serpico and Prince of the city.  They actually work together as a double-feature watch as New York true crime chronicles. They are engrossing, well-acted (Pacino in Serpico in particular is remarkable) and directed on location with great atmosphere by Lumet- who should be as known for New York filmmaking as Woody/Scorsese/Spike—check out the opening of Dog Day Afternoon for another sign of this.

stylistic innovations/traits:   Lumet didn’t write much of his work but there’s an acidity and pessimism that pervades his work- most of which are morality plays. Clearly his filmography is better than he is as a filmmaker but there are a ton of characteristics in tone and mood that make him more than just a simple directorial caretaker. Career-best work from many of the art form’s actors (including Pacino, Dunaway, Newman, Holden and Connery).

haunting film and the perfect image from The Pawnbroker

top 10

  1. Network
  2. Dog Day Afternoon
  3. The Hill
  4. The Pawnbroker
  5. Serpico
  6. The Verdict
  7. 12 Angry Men
  8. Prince of the City
  9. Murder On the Orient Express
  10. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
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the split diopter shot here in Serpico

By year and grades

1957- 12 Angry Men HR
1960- The Fugitive Kind R
1962- Long Day’s Journey Into Night R
1964- Fail-Safe R
1964- The Pawnbroker HR
1965- The Hill MP
1973- Serpico
1974- Murder On the Orient Express R
1975- Dog Day Afternoon MP
1976- Network MP
1977- Equus R
1981- Prince of the City HR
1982- Deathtrap R
1982- The Verdict HR
1986- The Morning After R
1988- Running On Empty R
2007- Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives