Sidney Lumet (1924-2011), one of the last of the great filmmaking giants whose career embodied both the old-Hollywood style of the '50s and the new wave social realism of the '60s and '70s, has passed on at age 86 from lymphoma.
The New York Times states the director died at his home in Manhattan; fitting, since he was known as the consummate New York director, setting the bulk of his over-40 directorial efforts in the city that doesn't sleep. He made an auspicious debut in 1957 at age 33 with the Henry Fonda version of "12 Angry Men," which showed his mastery at building tension by setting the movie almost entirely in a single jury deliberation room.
He went on to do many films with social themes, covering nuclear war ("Fail-Safe"), police corruption ("Serpico"), and the media's corrosive effect on society ("Network"). Lumet also showed that he could abandon the heavy stuff for lighter entertainments like the big budget 1978 musical of "The Wiz," featuring Diana Ross and a pre-"Thriller" Michael Jackson. One of his most enjoyable pictures was an all-star version of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express," starring Albert Finney as spectacularly eccentric detective Hercule Poirot.
Over his career he would develop a reputation as an "actor's director," attracting names like Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Sean Connery. Possibly Lumet's most revered film was his second with Al Pacino, "Dog Day Afternoon." Pacino plays a maladjusted Vietnam vet who robs a bank in order to pay for his partner's sex change operation, and boasted a decidedly anti-establishment tone. It received many Academy Award nominations, including for Lumet, but he did not win. Lumet would be nominated for five Oscars during his lifetime, but only took home one in 2005, an honorary Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2007 he released his final film, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," starring Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and, again, Albert Finney. It received some of the best accolades of Lumet's career, and coincided with the 50th anniversary of "12 Angry Men," which that same year was entered into the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.