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Monday, 21 August 2017

Directorial Feature Spotlight: Barry Levinson

'A Character-Driven Based Director Who Focuses On Telling The Story That Needs To Be Told'

Barry Levinson is an American film director & writer born in Baltimore, Maryland. He got his big break working as a comedy writer for Carol Burnett and Mel Brooks in the 1970s. His best-known movies are dramas and comedy-dramas that include Diner (1982), Good Morning Vietnam (1987) & Rain Man (1988). In addition to being his directorial debut, Diner was one of four films set in Levinson's birthplace of Baltimore: the other three are Tin Men with Richard Dreyfus and Danny DeVito, Avalon & Liberty Heights. He also served as an uncredited writer for the cross-dressing comedy, Tootsie, starring Dustin Hoffman, of whom he has worked with on four separate occasions as a director. Levinson has also received 3 Oscar nominations and in 1991's Bugsy, the film was nominated 10 times including best director and best picture. 

This is the man who went on to secure the Oscar as Best Director for Rain Man, although he should have also won for Good Morning, Vietnam as well, but Levinson is also the same man who studied Improvisational classes for comedy. & with Robin Williams, who was known for his improvisational skills, I'm sure he came in handy when working with Robin on that film. 

Known for his versatility in branching out towards different genres and not sticking to one subject matter or style, what I really appreciate about Barry Levinson's approach is how he tries to find a way to make each film work and to tell the story that needs to be told to the audience, without straying so far. It is also very observational, in terms of that his films tell stories and that the movies manage to observe what the characters are doing and saying and the significance of them. Levinson has a knack for blending both the visual and literate aspects in his movies. I may add also that there is a human interest aspect in most of his characters. He doesn't throw in scenes because they look good to the eye, but because they have something to tell as well. 

1992's Toys was and still is to this day a financial and critical disaster and is to many still the low point of his career. & I wasn't fond of Man of the Year. But at the same time, as surreal and strange as it is, with a bit more work and adding in humour, it would have turned out well. That film (by that I am referring to Toys) and Sphere are movies people don't tend to associate Barry Levinson with and though sometimes, it doesn't always work, there are some elements that stand out for me in those efforts. 

I do realise that there are people who find Levinson's directorial style to be lacking, maybe because it's not that exciting or action-packed as it should be. In the 1980s and 1990s, Barry Levinson was one of the world's most prolific and acclaimed directors and he worked with the likes of established actors such as Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.

There isn't one film I would say I truly disliked or enjoyed least of all by Levinson that I have seen: Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man, Disclosure, Tin Men, even Sphere wasn't too bad. Good Morning, Vietnam has to be my ultimate favourite: not just an incredible performance by Robin Williams, but the direction, cinematography and execution by Levinson were practically flawless. I like Levinson's style and approach and they lend themselves well to the movies that he directs.

A director who has shown his capability in combining and choosing well-written stories and scripts and intelligent imagery for his films that are character-driven, Barry Levinson has produced very few bombs and I would count him as one of my personal favourite movie directors. 

Notable Favourites: Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Disclosure (1994), Toys (1992) & Rain Man (1988)

Notable Non-Favourites: Man of the Year

Grade I Would Award Towards Barry Levinson:  A

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