Sidney Lumet

adamclaytonpowell

It’s February, and that means it’s Black History Month again. Naturally, a site devoted to nonfiction ought to honor the occasion with a look at great documentaries about black heroes and accomplishments. But I don’t want to focus too much on the history of struggle. Most docs on the African-American experience have involved tragedy and/or civil rights. Many heroes depicted are civil rights leaders, or they’re men and women who’ve made achievements in sports and music. There are far fewer films about more common black people or even those who are notable for other things. Where is the inspiring black equivalent to Man on Wire, for instance? Through this month, we’re going to be highlighting docs tied to Black History Month that are currently available to watch (many of the old ones are not). Some will celebrate heroes, some will celebrate the not-famous. Some will be actual historical record, while today’s list is specifically films that use archival cinematic documentation for the purpose of telling and depicting history.  These are black history documentaries, and you should make time to watch them, even if not necessarily in the designated time of the year. READ MORE

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The Wiz World Trade Center

35 years ago this week, two very different movies had their theatrical premieres. One is Halloween, a movie you all know and love and which surprisingly has very few clips available to view online. The other is The Wiz, a movie you may have never seen, heard is terrible and which fortunately has a number of scenes uploaded in order that I might illustrate and defend its worth. I might be the only one who likes The Wiz more than Halloween and very likely the only one who finds one particular scene in the all-black version of The Wizard of Oz scarier than anything in John Carpenter’s slasher classic. But I can’t be the only person with an appreciation for The Wiz. One thing about the movie that’s rarely celebrated is the fact it’s directed by Sidney Lumet. NYC’s Film Forum didn’t even include the musical in its otherwise exhaustive retrospective of his work a few years back. It is weird a white filmmaker was at the helm for this, though his relevance as a very New York-centric director makes some sense (who else should have done it? Scorsese? Woody Allen? Hmm, maybe Gordon Parks?). The Wiz is indeed a New York movie, featuring the most fantastical representations of the city’s landmarks since the 1933 King Kong. That’s a big part of why I love it so much. Join me below as I highlight some of the best of these location-transforming scenes.

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Over Under - Large

Sidney Lumet’s 1975 tale of a bank robbery gone bad, Dog Day Afternoon, is not only considered to be a high point in the careers of both its director as well as its star, Al Pacino, it’s also considered to be one of the key films that was a part of the New Hollywood movement, which started in the late ’60s and continued through to the blockbusters of the 80s. New Hollywood was all about a generation of filmmakers making films that were artsier, grittier, and more experimental than most commercial fare, all from within the confines of the studio system. But while Dog Day Afternoon and its tale of cross-dressing and violent crimes certainly looks at home under that classification, is it really good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as stuff like Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, or Mean Streets? The early ’90s saw one of the biggest boom periods in the history of sketch comedy mainstay Saturday Night Live. Cast members like Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Adam Sandler, and Chris Farley led the show to probably its most critically successful period since the original cast, and pretty much everyone on the show went on to become a star in film. Out of all of these talented comedians, however, none became quite as successful as Sandler. After starring in Billy Madison in 1995, he was off to the races, earning big paychecks, pulling in big box office dollars, and gobbling up media attention. Some of his […]

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Criterion Files

Of the 600+ films in The Criterion Collection, almost 200 are listed as from the United States. While not all of these films are explicitly thematically based  around life in the US, the American selections for the Collection do make up a mosaic of diverse perspectives on life in this country, proving that there is no sustainable solitary understanding of what it means to be an “American,” but there exists instead an array of possibilities for interpreting American identity. What the American films do have in common, though, is provide proof that excellent films have been made in the US for quite some time. So, after exhausting yourself with Independence Day Parades, firecracker-lighting, and Budweiser, settle down with a great American movie. Here are a dozen great titles from the Criterion Collection about “America” and “freedom” in the many senses of those terms.

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Criterion Files

One major aspect of the Nazi propaganda machine that gained their support from the German people was their promotion of nostalgia. And like any form of nostalgia (and especially in nostalgia’s frequent political function), this was a selective nostalgia, decidedly exploiting certain tropes and icons of German history and heritage. A major component of this nostalgia was the promotion of nature as the means of returning to pure German identity. Nature provided a convenient contrast to the values that the Nazi party wanted to work against, and it’s opposite – the urban center – was the focal point of all they problems they perceived Germany as having been misguided by, most explicitly centralized in the supposed decadence of 1920s Berlin. The political, aesthetic, and sexual aspirations (not to mention the diversity) of the Weimar period posed a threat to the ideals of tradition, uniformity, and the assumed hierarchy of specific social roles. This nostalgic and romantic preoccupation with nature is readily available in German cultural products of the 1920s and 30s. Anybody who has seen Inglourious Basterds (2009) is familiar with the “mountain film,” or “bergfilme” genre that had peaked by this point. This genre was popular years before the Third Reich took power, and its prevalence speaks volumes to the German peoples’ preoccupation with nature leading up to the Hitler’s rise to power. Leni Riefenstahl, perhaps the most famous of Nazi-era filmmakers, starred in mountain films and went onto make Olympia (1938) and Triumph of the Will (1935), a […]

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Legendary American filmmaker Sidney Lumet passed away today of lymphoma at the age of 86. Lumet has had a long and distinguished career directing films and television. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about Lumet’s filmography is that he made good movies in nearly every single decade that he worked, and the time between his first film and his last film was exactly fifty years (1957-2007). Lumet, in short, embodied American film history from the 1950s to now. Lumet started out as a child actor on Broadway. After returning from service in WWII, he started directing television programs like Playhouse 90 and Studio One, before making a television version of the play 12 Angry Men before turning it into his first feature film in 1957. Much of Lumet’s career can perhaps be characterized as a series of firsts. For example, his film The Pawnbroker (1964) was the first studio film to seriously deal with traumatic memories of the Holocaust and with Jewish guilt, as well as the first to have significant frontal nudity. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) was one of the first studio films with an open homosexual as its main character. Lumet was known for challenging censorship and pushing boundaries throughout much of his career.

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Sidney Lumet was a master moviemaker in every sense of the word. Take a look at your all-time top ten, and he’s mostly likely got at least one spot on it. Serpico, Network (my personal #2), Dog Day Afternoon, Long Day’s Journey Into Night and a list that continues (and logic-defyingly includes The Wiz) until the paper runs out. Maybe you’d like to experience more movies by the man, or maybe you’d like to introduce yourself to him after his unfortunate passing. Maybe your goal is to post up on the couch and watch Lumet movies all day. Well, you can, and we’ll be right there with you. Here are just 7 of his movies that you can watch immediately through Netflix.

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Culture Warrior

You hear the phrase “This movie could never be made today” quite often, and it’s typically a thinly veiled means by which a creative team allows themselves to administer loving pats on their own backs. But in the context of at a 35th anniversary exhibition of the restoration of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with a justifiably disgruntled Paul Schrader in attendance, such a sentence rings profoundly and depressingly true. Like many of you, I’ve seen Taxi Driver many times before. For many, it’s a formative moment in becoming a cinephile. But I had never until last weekend seen the film outside of a private setting. And in a public screening, on the big screen, I’m happy to say the film still has the potential to shock and profoundly affect viewers so many decades on. For me personally it was the most disturbing of any time I’d ever seen the film, and I was appropriately uncomfortable despite anticipating the film’s every beat. Perhaps it was because I was sharing the film’s stakes with a crowd instead of by myself or with a small group of people, or perhaps the content comes across as so much more subversive when projected onto a giant screen, or perhaps it was because the aura of a room always feels different when the creative talent involved is in attendance. For whatever reason, I found the film to be more upsetting than in any other context of viewing. But one of the most appalling moments of Taxi […]

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I’m robbing a bank because they got money here. That’s why I’m robbing it. On Aug. 22, 1972, would-be criminal mastermind Sonny (Al Pacino) walks into a Brooklyn bank with his two inept accomplices. The instant the robbery is under way, one of the accomplices gets cold feet and bails. Then, Sonny discovers most of money has already left the bank. Plus, the security guard is having an asthma attack and the tellers want to go potty. It’s going to be a long night. Why We Love It Remember Pontius Pilate? He famously asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Jesus didn’t answer, so Pontius was like, “OK, wiseguy. It’s the cross for you!” (At least, that’s how I remember the story. It’s been a while since I read it.)

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For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by examining a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today. Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t fly us to the country of Wyoming. Part 20 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Crimes of Love” with Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon.

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The Criterion Collection debuted two great releases last week with Ang Lee’s Ride With The Devil, and Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind. We didn’t have a chance to check either of these titles out yet, but we think both are worth talking about.

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Sheer brilliance.

To this day, 12 Angry Men somehow hasn’t saturated some movie audiences, which is why I feel it’s an important movie to feature here (in a column usually devoted to lesser-known classics).

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12 Angry Men

Every week, Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents: 12 Angry Men.

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Gone Baby Gone’s surprise star talks about her experiences in anticipation of the film’s release on DVD.

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After at least a decade, if not much more, of lackluster films from Sidney Lumet, the fading titan has strikingly returned to form with a fiery, blustering crash. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is easily the best-acted film of the year, but what’s more is that it’s a sharp piece of cultural criticism about late capitalism and the depths of tragedy it’s capable of producing. Nearly three-quarters of the way into the film, Marisa Tomei asks her husband, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, for car fare to her mother’s house; “I could really use some money,” she says, and she might as well be speaking for every character in the film. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is about money, pure and anything but simple: its role as America’s driving force, main object of desire and the one thing of which no one seems to have enough. Hoffman is introduced in a position of dominance, retrocopulating with his wife Tomei (it’s surprisingly graphic, despite being filmed in a non-revealing long shot), a dominance he’ll resume, though not in a porously-penetrative way, throughout the rest of the film in regards to his little brother, played by Ethan Hawke. Hoffman pushes him into a robbery he doesn’t want, nor have the brains, to commit but both, to their undoing, are in desperate need of the cash they assure themselves that they’ll score. (And Hoffman, the cokeheaded corporate exec, is too much the coward to do it himself.) Hoffman is obsessed with […]

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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is as good of a film as Sidney Lumet has ever made and that is really saying something considering he’s been at it for over half-a-century.

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