12 Angry Men (1957)
Sidney Lumet directed this courtroom drama in a genuinely astonishing feature debut. Before 12 Angry Men , he had done a lot of TV work, but this move into movies set the bar extremely high for the rest of his career.
The premise is simple: 12 unnamed jurors debate the verdict in their murder case, and Henry Fonda's #8 is the only one willing to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt. Over the course of a tense, sweatily-claustrophobic afternoon, he gradually enables his fellow jurors to see the situation from a fresh perspective. Masterful stuff.
The Hill (1965)
Lumet was famed for his ability to tease the best out of his actors, and this war drama starring a Bond-era Sean Connery was no exception, with both director and actor skilfully making you forget the star's superspy baggage.
In fact, there are several similarities to be drawn with 12 Angry Men . The setting, a military prison camp in the Libyan desert, may be a little more open than the jurors' quarters, but there's an iconoclastic protagonist portrayed by a powerful lead, swelteringly oppressive heat, and vivid black-and-white photography.
And like the earlier movie, this involving effort makes for thoroughly exhausting viewing.
The Anderson Tapes (1971)
This involved another team-up with Connery, though for a totally-different genre. Here the actor is on slickly sleazy form as a burglar who decides to knock off his girlfriend's posh apartment block.
A paranoia-inducing amount of surveillance folk try to follow his every move as he assembles his team, and Lumet intercuts the burglary ands its aftermath with an assured hand.
Connery and Lumet would go on to work together several more times, including Murder on the Orient Express , The Offence , and Family Business .
A picture that launched a thousand attempted beards, Al Pacino sports a rugged man-mane that's as compelling as his performance is this scintillating cop thriller.
Serpico (Pacino) is the straight-as-an-arrow NYPD cop who finds that he just doesn't fit in with his crooked co-workers. Again Lumet opts to avoid a linear narrative by opening with a tense flashforward.
Smart and absorbing, Serpico is an immaculate, benchmark-setting thriller, that offers no easy answers, and showcases Pacino at the top of his game.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
In the middle of an astounding run, Lumet joined forces with Pacino once again for this Oscar-nominated heist drama (Lumet didn't receive an Oscar until the Academy recognised his lifetime achievement with an award in 2005).
Pacino is on fire again as Sonny Wortzik, a robber who holds up a bank to pay for his partner's sex change. As the heist goes from bad to worse, Sonny slowly loses it, while at the same time gaining support from the gathering crowds outside.
The offbeat approach, oppressive atmosphere, New York setting and electric central performance make this quintessential Lumet.
Lumet followed Dog Day Afternoon with one of his most critically-lauded movies. A savage attack on TV network culture, the film follows Howard Beale (Peter Finch), an anchorman whose lunatic rantings are abused by the fictional UBS network for the benefit of ratings.
The 'Mad Prophet of the Airwaves' goes on to become a huge success, but inevitably he becomes a problem that Faye Dunaway's icy producer has to deal with. The movie bagged three out of the four acting Oscars that year, including the first posthumous acting award for Finch.
Its message was too unsubtle for some, but Network has lost none of its power or relevance over the last 35 years.
Prince of the City (1981)
Lumet returned to familiar territory for this NYPD drama. Treat Williams stars as cop Danny Ciello, who decides to turn whistle-blower when his own dodgy dealings threaten to be uncovered.
Serpico remains the more well-known movie, but as a companion piece, Prince of the City has so much to recommend. It's an extremely dense, detailed piece, that offers no easy moral answers, and benefits from Lumet's deft handling of the multiple plot strands.
Definitely one to seek out.
This witty murder mystery stars Michael Caine as a playwright struggling for a hit. Christopher Reeve is a young writing student who might just have a winner on his hands.
Proving that he can handle darkly comic farces as well as layered police procedurals, Lumet brings a lightness of touch to Deathtrap without scrimping on tension or pace.
He also finds time to send-up the theatre community and include a controversy-baiting kiss between Caine and Reeve.
The Verdict (1982)
With Lumet directing from a screenplay by David Mamet, The Verdict gave Paul Newman one of his most powerful screen roles.
He plays a washed-up lawyer thrown a seemingly simple case of medical malpractice, which he hopes will get his career back on track, only to uncover an insurmountable conspiracy.
Lumet proves he's still a master when it comes to drawing out compelling performances from his leading men, and he still refuses to shy away from moral grey areas. If it wasn't eclipsed by the untouchable 12 Angry Men , Lumet would be well-remembered for this one.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Only a few years ago, Lumet was showing that he could still make crime thrillers with the best of them.
This one stands up as a commendable final movie from Lumet, bearing the hallmarks of some of his greatest movies. There's the NYC setting and top performances from a stellar cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei all do good work), and Lumet proves he still knows his way round a tricksy narrative.
Throw in plenty of murky morality, and you've got a suitably impressive cinematic send-off.
What's your favourite Lumet movie? Any not mentioned here that would have made your list? Share your comments below...