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Overview for Barry Levinson
Barry Levinson

Barry Levinson


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Also Known As: Died:
Born: April 6, 1942 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Baltimore, Maryland, USA Profession: Producer ... screenwriter producer director stand-up comedian actor comedy writer talent agency partner waiter


weekly police detective series created by writer Paul Attanasio, "Homicide: Life in the Streets" (NBC, 1993-2000), which he produced and shot in his native Baltimore. While the series covered familiar police territory, what was noteworthy was the slightly disorienting, hand-held camerawork and story lines spanning several weeks of episodes. His next feature "Sleepers" (1996), which he produced, wrote and directed, received mixed notices for its portrayal of four grown-up kids (Jason Patric, Billy Crudup, Brad Pitt and Ron Eldard) from Hell's Kitchen in New York, who were raped and beaten as children by a reform school guard (Kevin Bacon) and his cohorts. Based on the controversial bestseller by Lorenzo Carcaterra, Levinson's film courted its own controversy for its perceived negative depiction of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, he continued his association with screenwriter Attanasio, producing the successful "wise guys" tale "Donnie Brasco" (1997), which also reunited him with Al Pacino from " And Justice for All.

With the David Mamet-scripted "Wag the Dog" (1997), Levinson delivered a star-studded satire that blended the world of politics and television by means of a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) creating a war for an embattled president (Michael Belson) at the behest of his political advisors (Robert De Niro and Anne Heche). Taking his first plunge into science fiction, he directed Hoffman - his fourth go-round with Levinson - in the rather dull "Sphere" (1998), adapted by Attanasio from Michael Crichton's novel. Returning once more to the Baltimore of his youth, Levinson hit creative pay dirt with "Liberty Heights" (1999), a nostalgic coming-of-age tale set in the mid-20th century, which may have served as an unofficial fourth installment to his Baltimore Trilogy. Levinson took a side trip into documentary directing, helming "Original Diner Guys" (1999), which followed the lives and interrelationships of Levinson's friends that had inspired "Diner," and "The 20th Century: Yesterday's Tomorrows" (2000), a look at what Americans' vision of the future had been during that century. Meanwhile, he was uncharacteristically funny with "An Everlasting Piece" (2000), an alleged comedy about wig salesmen in 1980s Belfast caught in the Protestant/Catholic conflict.

Levinson followed up with "Bandits" (2001), a somewhat amusing but uneven tale of two bank robbing buddies (Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis) who find themselves at odds over a bored housewife (Cate Blanchett) they have taken hostage. As a producer, Levinson had a hand in overseeing high-profile films he did not write or direct, including "The Perfect Storm" (2000) and "Analyze That" (2003), while continuing to stumble as a director with "Envy" (2004), a painfully unfunny comedy starring Ben Stiller as a man envious of his best friend's (Jack Black) success. After his television success with "Homicide," Levinson served as executive producer for several other small-screen efforts, including the acclaimed, hard-edged prison drama "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003) with showrunner Tom Fontana, and the well-received Sidney Lumet-directed telepic, "Strip Search" (HBO, 2004), which explored the loss of civil liberties following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Levinson teamed with Fontana again on "The Jury" (Fox, 2004-05), a one-hour legal drama that focused on criminal cases from the perspective of a different New York jury every week. Poor ratings, however, prompted the fourth network to cancel after only 10 episodes.

Having already formed the Levinson/Fontana Company, the duo made another foray into television, producing "The Bedford Diaries" (The WB, 2005-06), a college drama about a diverse set of human behavior students at a small liberal arts college in Manhattan who speak openly about their sex lives - another unfortunately failed series for the once-successful team. Back in features, Levinson returned to the familiar territory of politics with his election satire, "Man of the Year" (2006), starring Robin Williams as a popular talk show host whose mock run for the presidency shocks everyone when he actually wins, thanks to a computer glitch. Despite an all-star cast that included Laura Linney, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum and Lewis Black, "Man of the Year" took a considerable drubbing from critics, many of whom were disappointed by the dearth of comedic punch and political bite. Meanwhile, Levinson got to work on his next film, "What Just Happened?" (2008), a Hollywood satire about a middle-aged movie producer (De Niro) who g s through two weeks of hell as he tries to get a movie made. After helming an episode of ESPN's acclaimed series "30 For 30" (2009), he directed "You Don't Know Jack" (HBO, 2010), the life story of Dr. Jack Kevorkian (Al Pacino), who helped more than 150 terminally ill patients die with dignity before being convicted of second-degree murder in Michigan. He received an Emmy Award nomination for his work helming the controversial biopic.umor and melancholy, while featuring brilliantly funny dialogue traded between the two protagonists, played by Richard Dreyfuss and Danny De Vito.

Also that year, Levinson had his first bona fide commercial hit with "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987), a wildly funny military comedy that was touched by moments of poignant tragedy. Starring a side-splitting Robin Williams in top improvisational form, the movie depicted real-life radio disc jockey Adrian Cronaeur, who rankled his military superiors by delivering searing comic monologues and playing modern rock 'n' roll to appreciative troops fighting in Vietnam. Both a critical and box office hit, "Good Morning, Vietnam" earned Williams a well-deserved Oscar nomination and Levinson his first taste of real mainstream success. Levinson's next feature was "Rain Man" (1988), a finely handled study of the relationship between an autistic 'idiot savant' (Dustin Hoffman) and his opportunistic car-salesman brother (Tom Cruise). A huge success at the box-office, the film not surprisingly won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Levinson), Best Actor (Hoffman) and Best Screenplay (Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow). While the central performances garnered most of the critical attention, Levinson's adept handling of the unorthodox subject matter with sensitivity and style was central to the film's success.

Levinson again returned to his Baltimore Trilogy and for the first time served as producer in addition to writing and directing "Avalon" (1990), an epic saga tracing the history of his own family from the point they first arrived in the United States. Critics reacted with measured praise to a work many felt was overlong and lacking in direction. The director followed with the lavish "Bugsy" (1991), a stylish Warren Beatty vehicle centered on gangster Bugsy Siegel and his efforts to establish gambling in Las Vegas. While it was critically well-received and earned 10 Oscar nominations - including Best Picture and Best Director - the film was only a minor financial success. He followed up with one of his worst movies, "Toys" (1992), a visually excessive and terribly unfunny cautionary fable starring Robin Williams as an eccentric and immature toy inventor who takes over his father's factory with his inept sister (Joan Cusack). Blasted by critics, "Toys" was a huge commercial flop. After helming another box office dud, "Jimmy Hollywood" (1994), Levinson made an effort to get his career back on track with the commercial, star-driven vehicle "Disclosure" (1994), starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. Levinson skillfully orchestrated a suspenseful examination of a new wrinkle on the potential for sexual harassment in the work place.

That same year, Levinson made a rare acting appearance in Robert Redford's "Quiz Show" (1994), playing original "Today" show host Dave Garroway in a brief scene with star Ralph Fiennes. On the small screen, he picked up a Best Director Emmy for the pilot episode of the

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