Top Fifty Films of the 50s — Number Fifteen

#15 — 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957) In the annals of cinema, there are undoubtedly more impressive debut directorial efforts than Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, but there are few that so perfectly captured and forecasted the defining strengths that would make up an entire career, particularly one as long as prodigious as his. Adapted for the big screen from a work that was first presented as a television play and then produced for the stage, 12 Angry Men betrays its origins in live broadcasting and theater in its very conception. Save for a few stray minutes at the … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 50s — Number Fifteen

Top Fifty Films of the 60s — Number Thirty-Nine

#39 — Long Day’s Journey into Night (Sidney Lumet, 1962) Much as I admire and even love those films that are told with precise expertise, that lock firmly into place as they deliver their ideas, themes and passions, I maintain an equal affection for those that are messy masterpieces. These are films built upon an unwieldy ambition, exhibiting a probing, questing, even fumbling command of their own material. They often reach operatic heights but also cyclone into troubling incongruities of tone, style or emotional logic. Any sense of artistic balance is sacrificed in the name of live wire creativity that … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 60s — Number Thirty-Nine

Top Fifty Films of the 70s — Number Ten

#10 — Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976) I don’t think it’s quite right to say that all great films are timeless. I do think there are broadly translatable qualities to the very best works–things such as wit, grace, intellectual heft and emotional piquancy–that can ensure an eternal appeal even when a film is wedded to the era in which it was made. That conviction makes me somewhat reluctant to contextualize a film on the basis of its copyright date. I’m not entirely adverse to the practice, of course, and it’s especially useful to measure the insights of Network against the state … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 70s — Number Ten

Top Fifty Films of the 70s — Number Thirteen

#13 — Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975) Occasionally in the nineteen-nineties, I had to explain to friends that Al Pacino was once indeed a great actor, capability of shrewdness and subtlety in his performances. Presumably this shouldn’t have been that hard to do, considering he was one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation. But he had taken most of the eighties off (and his few offerings during that decade were not especially notable, with outright disasters such as Author! Author! and Revolution and even Scarface largely without the cultish fan base it would eventually acquire), leaving his … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 70s — Number Thirteen

Cassavetes, Corbijn, Fellini, Lumet, Scott

Unstoppable (Tony Scott, 2010). There are few funnier things a Tony Scott movie can offer than a “Inspired by True Events” credit at the beginning. Scott isn’t a director completely devoid of charm and panache (like his rough American equivalent Michael Bay), but a reasoned approach to preserving the integrity of a story that has its grounding in real life is simply not something that’s going to happen with the director of Top Gun and Days of Thunder at the helm. At least his usual camera jitters are toned down a bit, although he maintains his penchant for the shock … Continue reading Cassavetes, Corbijn, Fellini, Lumet, Scott

Top Fifty Films of the 80s — Number Twenty-One

#21 — The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982) Sidney Lumet directed his first feature film in 1957 and his last one in 2007. Both those efforts were sensationally good, and Lumet had enough similarly marvelous efforts during the half-century between the two that it seems counter-intuitive to proclaim that he belongs to one decade more than any other. And yet, I can’t help but associate Lumet most strongly with the filmmaking of the nineteen-seventies. This isn’t just because he made a couple outright masterpieces right in the middle of that especially fertile span of American cinema; it’s because his smart, compact, … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 80s — Number Twenty-One

Almodóvar, Campion, DeBlois and Sanders, Lumet, Pontecorvo

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, 1988). Almodóvar’s international breakthrough is almost quaint in its kitschy simplicity when held up against the rich, lush films that have sprung from his off-kilter cranium in recent years. It involves a tangled web of romantic and sexual relationships, largely converging in a Spanish apartment that has a convenient batch of sedative-laden gazpacho in the fridge. There evidence of Almodóvar’s sterling eye, especially in the earlier scenes, but it’s mostly an engagingly casual farce, played with a relaxation that feels nicely cultural. Carmen Maura is especially good in the lead … Continue reading Almodóvar, Campion, DeBlois and Sanders, Lumet, Pontecorvo