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!
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.
total archiveable films: 17
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 3 (Network, Dog Day Afternoon, The Hill)
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.
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.
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).
- Dog Day Afternoon
- The Hill
- The Pawnbroker
- The Verdict
- 12 Angry Men
- Prince of the City
- Murder On the Orient Express
- Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
By year and grades
|1957- 12 Angry Men||HR|
|1960- The Fugitive Kind||R|
|1962- Long Day’s Journey Into Night||R|
|1964- The Pawnbroker||HR|
|1965- The Hill||MP|
|1974- Murder On the Orient Express||R|
|1975- Dog Day Afternoon||MP|
|1981- Prince of the City||HR|
|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
I just finished watching network. It’s lumet’s best. Brilliant acting, dialogue, screenplay and direction. DEvasting and relevant even today. Absolute masterpiece.
Then you have Lumets 2nd best film. 12 angry men. Perfectly shot all in one location. Great use of close ups.
Add to that Lumet’s 3rd best movie Dog Day Afternoon. A perfect heist movie with one of the 10 best acted performances of all time and a great message about gay rights.
Add to that the Verdict. Brilliant performance of Paul Newman and an overall unique and stunning courtroom drama.
All in all you have 3 EXCEPTIONAL films and 1 MS. (from his[my] top 4) In my opinion of course.
Some of his traits you forgot to mention is his remarkable realism (lack of music) and great performances/speeches by actors.
I think you are underrating him a little bit.
I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore. His rating should go up a few points. (I know that was a really cringey joke. haha)
To add to your comment, I think what makes network so effective(narrative-wise) is it shows how the news networks are willing to exploit and humiliate a man (Howard Beale) who has emotional and psychological problems to improve the news ratings. They are also willing to go to any lengths,( hire a terrorist group ) to improve their ratings. This is very emotional.
Yes. That’s a good observation Oz. I noticed that too. At the end when Howard Beale gets shot I actually feel really angry and sad. It’s ironic because in the 70s this might have been seen as unrealistic but today (sadly) it is very realistic.
All the president’s men from the same year shows how effective good journalism can be. Network shows the dark side of journalism and news broadcasting. Both movies show the power and effect that journalism has in our lives. Social media today is what news channels were in the 70s.
I think Network is superior to All the President’s Men. What do you think Drake and Oz? What movie do you prefer?
Would you consider this to be one of the best written movies of all time? What would your top 3 best written movies of all time be?
I think Chinatown has a perfect screenplay. If forced I would pick that as my best written movie of all time. Drake praises Billy Wilder as a writer and i love his movies so i would pick pretty much any great movie by him also.
Chinatown’s screenplay is perfect. Casablanca is a perfect screenplay. Butch Cassidy is up there as is the Seventh Seal. The WGA did a list of the top 101 and they cover most of them and do a really good job. I do think if you’re looking for something more recent The Social Network is close.
i think christopher nolan summarizes perfectly the masterpiece known as twelve angry men. ” Few films have gambled as much on a simple portrayal of the dynamics between desperate men.”
i would not call it overrated. it is a flawed film, but the dynamics are very interesting, especially how one of the jury members
(ed begley) is prejudiced and makes even his supporters in the verdict walk away with the ‘these people’ monologue. henry fonda and lee cobbs are great too. i love how they are all sweating and how it feels like the weight of the world is on them.
@m – thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts. I hope I find myself to be wrong when I go back and revisit 12 Angry Men. It’s not that i found it flawed, just stage-bound– uncinematic. I like the same things about it you like, the writing, the acting the story— I just had to compare it to films that aim for more. Again, I hope there’s something I missed.
Curious as to why Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) is only a R.
I think there is a lot of impressive work here:
The performances are phenomenal particarly PSH who plays a very different character than his meek roles like Magnolia, The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, etc. Here he is a ruthless and manipulative schemer but also has 2 scenes where he breaks down, it’s a very rich character. Also the framing of the faces of PSH and Albert Finney, who plays his father, in the emotional heart to heart conversation is well done; PSH states he feels like he’s never been a part of the family, gutwrenching
I don’t think using a non-linear narrative is praise worthy just for the sake of using a non-linear narrative but I think it is effective here in showing the family dynamics, which are key to understanding the character motivations
As you state above many of Lumet’s films are morality plays and this certainly fits within the Lumet worldview. There is a great scene where Albert Finney’s character starts investigating the robbery/murder and he goes to see a man who plays the fence in the robbery(it is made clear him and Finney’s character have a history and they do not like each other). The fence gives a speech to the Finney character who he believes to be somewhat naive right before revealing that it was his very own son who initiated the robbery “The world is an evil place. Some people make money from it, some people are destroyed by it”
Cont… sorry I meant as one post
The film is structured around this robbery but what initially looks to be a crime film is revealed to ultimately be a study of this fractured family. While PSH is the standout Ethan Hawke as the weak but well meaning brother is great as is Marisa Tomei as the self-loathing throphy wife of PSH’s character.
The plan of course falls apart miserably and the last 20 min or so move at a rapid pace. As I said above I do think the non-linear storyline works as the film is more about understanding the dynamics of this fractured family than it is about the actual robbery itself. Yes, there is an attempted heist but I would not call this a “Heist Film” if that makes sense.
@James Trapp- Thank you for sharing this. There is a lot to admire here but what are we talking about? You wouldn’t argue it deserves a spot in the top ten of 2007– or would you? I think it succeeds at its aims (which are fairly modest cinematically)- and is a wonderful film. HR feels like the ceiling.
@Drake – I would not argue top 10 of 2007 but 2007 is a ridiculously loaded year although a lot of prominent critics had it in their top 10 lists (link below)
I will admit there are not a lot of stunning visuals, I am certainly not arguing for MP level but I think HR is fair. I know I am probably in the minority but I actually think more of it than say The Verdict (1982) which is a film I never really connected with despite being a big Paul Newman fan.
@James Trapp- It is #41 on the TSPDT 21st century consensus list for 2007. I think it may be better than that- but that’s the consensus list.