Barry Levinson was already a successful writer for television and movies (most notably Mel Brooks's High Anxiety, 1977, and History of the World: Part 1, 1988) when he made his directorial debut with Diner, a small film set in the Baltimore of his youth. The story concerns the comings and goings of a set of friends who are on the brink of adulthood (marriage, careers, etc.), yet who still find time to gather regularly at their favorite hangout to discuss the really important things in life: sports, music, girls, and food. The ensemble cast—including Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Paul Reiser, Daniel Stern, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, and Ellen Barkin—does little that would be considered dramatic or eventful in a more traditional Hollywood film, but Levinson's attention to character and period detail, as well as his willingness to let those elements drive his story, caught the imagination of audiences and critics alike. After the box office success of Diner, Levinson quickly moved on to projects with bigger stars and more generous budgets (The Natural, 1984, Good Morning, Vietnam, 1987, Rain Man, 1988). Still, his heart remains in Baltimore, to which he returned in three equally personal films (Tin Men, 1987, Avalon, 1990, Liberty Heights, 1999). In 1999 Levinson was instrumental in having all four of his Baltimore films deposited in The Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.
Publication excerpt from In Still Moving: The Film and Media Collections of the Museum of Modern Art by Steven Higgins, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2006, p. 285.