Sidney Lumet knew he wasn’t going to be nominated for an Oscar this year. After 50 years behind the camera, you get a sense of how these things shake out. ”Getting nominated is like catching lightning in a bottle,” says the 83-year-old director. ”Trust me, I’ve been through this enough to know by now.”
Nevertheless, at an age when most filmmakers are either dead or wrestling with the artists they used to be, Lumet proved in last fall’s corkscrewing heist drama, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, that he’s still working at the peak of his powers. In fact, people have been coming up to him lately and asking how he does it. When they do, he just shrugs. ”I know people are amazed because we’re so obsessed with youth, but honestly, I don’t know why anyone’s surprised.”
Nomination or no nomination, it’s hard not to think of Lumet on the eve of this year’s awards. It was 50 years ago that he earned his first Best Director nod for his debut feature, 1957’s 12 Angry Men. And it was 25 years ago that he received his fourth directing nomination for 1982’s The Verdict. That’s a nice pair of bookends — even if those bookends aren’t gold statuettes. Aside from an Honorary Oscar in 2005, Lumet has never won one. He’s the first to admit that he probably didn’t deserve to win on a couple of those occasions. But he also believes that he was robbed a couple of times, too. In any case, Lumet is proudest of the 18 nominations he’s snagged for his actors and actresses — folks like Al Pacino, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Newman, whom he refers to as his ”infantry.”
With these gold and silver anniversaries in mind, we sat down with the ageless auteur to discuss the tricky art of catching lightning in a bottle and his string of unconsummated dates with that cruel little tease, Oscar.
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