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#246 - Rain Man
Barry Levinson, 1988

A slick car dealer learns that he has an autistic brother who is set to inherit millions of dollars from their late father so the pair end up taking a road trip.

I guess it's probably a personal shortcoming that I still tend to approach any unseen Best Picture winner with no small degree of skepticism, especially one that has seeped as being into the collective cultural consciousness as Rain Man. Fortunately, the film is solid enough to overcome its various '80s trappings (such as the music - Hans Zimmer's score is as aggressively '80s as his work on Driving Miss Daisy, but not quite as annoying), but it's debatable as to how well it overcomes it handles its odd-couple narrative. The interplay between Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman as a pair of very different brothers is what drives the plot, especially Cruise's selfish motivation to acquire his late father's multimillion-dollar inheritance that is otherwise going to go to Hoffman, who is an institutionalised savant who is unable to grasp the concept of money. An understandable but not exactly sympathetic motivation that does make Cruise's character sufficiently complicated. Hoffman, on the other hand, earns an Oscar on the basis of his extremely committed performance that captures the various qualities associated with an autistic savant, whether it's an impressive ability to memorise a lot of things instantly or the nervous triggers that mean he refuses to travel on planes or even highways. Despite Cruise's initial and long-lasting impatience with Hoffman's peculiarities, he eventually warms up to him and they do start to bond, as you'd expect.

Of course, this bond is anchored to a fairly standard road movie plot that might be a little on the long side due to how slowly the film tries to develop the relationship between Cruise and Hoffman. It does involve a number of setpieces of varying quality, most notably the sequence where the duo hit up a Vegas casino in order to make some cash using Hoffman's gift for numbers (despite my general misgivings about the soundtrack, the song that plays during that sequence is awesome). Hoffman definitely earns the praise he gets, but it's a credit to Cruise that he's able to provide a solid foil who goes through a believable journey over the course of the film. Rain Man is pretty solid as far as Best Picture winners go, and while it may have been done a disservice by countless parodies and rip-offs (as well as its being extremely dated), it still holds up reasonably well.