Barry Levinson’s Top10
Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Barry Levinson is an Academy Award–winning director, screenwriter, and producer. His 1988 film Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, won multiple Oscars, including one for best picture. His 1991 film Bugsy received ten Oscar nominations, and his other iconic movies include Diner; The Natural; Good Morning, Vietnam; Wag the Dog; and Sleepers. In addition to his film work, he has been prolific in television, winning an Emmy and a Peabody Award for directing Homicide: Life on the Street, and executive producing and directing the HBO films The Wizard of Lies, You Don’t Know Jack, and Paterno.
I always liked Fellini because he created a reality that was an invention. That’s what always intrigued me about his work. In Amarcord, he conveyed a view of life under the Fascist regime, and only he could tell that story that way.
David Lean is always known for his big productions. Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai . . . But I’m particularly fond of some of his smaller, black-and-white films. And Oliver Twist is an extraordinary piece of work.
The Third Man
Carol Reed magnificently evoked the specificities of time and place in post–World War II Vienna. The mood, the sound, the camera work . . . and perhaps, Orson Welles at the top of his acting game. Joseph Cotten might be one of the greatest underrated actors of all time.
Supposedly Kubrick hated it, but I’ve always loved it. Some might consider it too commercial. But sometimes you can make a commercial film and it’s still great work. Kubrick was king. The ending knocks me out every time.
David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin
If you want to look into the life and the job of an average man . . . This is high art in the documentary world.
I used to tell Mel Brooks stories about the guys I knew hanging around a diner, and he mentioned Fellini’s I vitelloni as something I should see. Back in those days, it was very hard to find a film like that. So I wrote Diner and eventually saw I vitelloni. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t see it before making Diner. If I did, I think it might have made me too intimidated to write about my own friends.
A Woman Under the Influence
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
For me, personally, I am not sure there is a great Cassavetes film. But the body of work is profound and inspiring. And it endures, which is the ultimate achievement. He allowed actors to create a spontaneity and sometimes an inarticulate dialogue that added to the heartbreak and humor of his characters. He’s a man who had the courage to tell stories in his own way. And that is his great legacy.
Ace in the Hole
A truly cynical film, way ahead of its time. Very few cynical films make it in America. This one didn’t, initially. But time has been its friend. But then time has always been a friend of Billy Wilder.
When I first saw it, I had never seen anything like it. I knew nothing about filmmaking. But I knew that the guy with that French name had made a film that was changing the rules.
Sweet Smell of Success
I was a young kid when it came out, and I sat in the dark and listened to dialogue that was at a level I had never heard before. And I think that’s when I began to pay attention to dialogue in movies. When the show ended, I stayed and I watched it again. I didn’t know about screenwriters, and I waited to see the credits. Who wrote this? And from that day on, I paid attention to who the writer was for every movie I saw.