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DINER (1982)

Nobody at MGM/UA understood Barry Levinson’s directing debut, the story of a group of friends in 1959 Baltimore who hang around the local diner discussing their problems. The studio was planning to shelve the film until critic Pauline Kael, who had caught an early press screening, virtually shamed them into putting it out. Despite only circulating 200 prints, Diner made a handsome profit and significantly influenced later movies and TV series. Levinson had been encouraged to turn his memories of growing up in Baltimore into a film script by Mel Brooks, with whom he had written Silent Movie (1976) and High Anxiety (1977). He built scenes around the inconsequential moments that would normally be filler between plot points in most other films. As the first movie “about nothing,” it paved the way for shows like Seinfeld and The Office, and films like Pulp Fiction (1994). It also helped launch the careers of a new generation of supremely natural actors, including Tim Daly, Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser, and Daniel Stern. (d. Barry Levinson, 110m, 35mm)