Sidney Lumet died Saturday at the age of 86 following a long battle with lymphoma. Despite helming 14 films that reaped 46 Oscar nominations he never won any of his five bids. He did receive an honorary Oscar in 2004 that cited his “brilliant services to screenwriters, performers, and the art of the motion picture.”
Lumet lost all four of his Best Director races to the men who helmed the Best Picture winner that year. After a successful career in the theater and then in the early days of television, his 1957 film debut “12 Angry Men” landed him his first Oscar nod. He was defeated by David Lean who directed “Bridge on the River Kwai.”
Sidney Lumet would have to wait almost two decades for his second nomination which came in 1975 for “Dog Day Afternoon.” He was bested by Milos Forman who directed “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The following year, his film “Network” reaped 10 Oscar nominations and stands as one of only two films (“A Streetcar Named Desire” being the other) to win three acting prizes: Best Actor (Peter Finch), Best Actress (Faye Dunaway) and Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight). However, it was “Rocky” that won the top race and Lumet lost to that film’s director John Avildsen.
In 1982, he contended for “The Verdict” but was overtaken by Richard Attenborough for “Gandhi.” The previous year, Lumet lost his only Adapted Screenplay nomination (“Prince of the City”) to Ernest Thompson who had adapted his play “On Golden Pond.”
He contended for the top award from the Directors Guild of America seven times: “12 Angry Men” (1957); “Long Day’s Journey into Night” (1962); “The Pawnbroker” (1964) and then four years in a row beginning in 1973 — “Serpico,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network.” The DGA bestowed a lifetime achievement award to Lumet in 1992.
In 2006, both the LA and Gotham film critics feted the filmmaker for his body of work. The west coast critics had named him Best Director twice — “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network” — while the New Yorkers had lauded him for “Prince of the City.”