(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)
(#25) Dog Day Afternoon
Crime • dir. Sidney Lumet • 1975 • USA
The 1970s were a golden decade in American moviemaking. The powerhouse studios of old were mere shadows of what they used to be, and in their wake came a procession of young, brash and brilliant new filmmakers – fresh from a new thing called ‘film school’ and chomping at the bit to follow the inspirational lead of postwar European and Japanese cinema. It was a heady mix: training, opportunity, and years spent watching the French New Wave of the early 60s, Bergman, Kurosawa, Ozu, Antonioni, and Fellini. Cheaper, innovative, daring, stylish, and more personal American films were being made in a sudden, giddy rush – and critics and paying punters alike couldn’t get enough of them. Rarely before – and maybe never again since – has the question what’s playing had so many thrilling answers. Take this random sampling from just the first half of the decade: M*A*S*H (Altman, ’70), The French Connection (Friedkin, ’71), The Godfather (Coppola, ’72), Mean Streets (Scorsese, ’73), American Graffiti (Lucas, ’73), Chinatown (Polanski, ’74), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, ’75), Jaws (Spielberg, ’75)… the list goes on and on.
But what do you know? The 70s were also a great decade for a filmmaker who had already made a cast-iron classic as far back as 1957 (Twelve Angry Men, staring that stalwart of old Hollywood, Henry Fonda), and who was still enjoying a fine career over 30 years later (making Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead in 2007, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke). You’re one step ahead of me, I know. I’m describing Sidney Lumet. Sure, he ebbed and he flowed… but in the 70s alone, he made Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network. Me, I like the middle of those three best. For 125 minutes of slow-building tension, it doesn’t put a foot wrong. And Al Pacino – “Attica! Attica! Attica!” – was simply never better.