Film Buffs on the Best Books about Movies

Film Buffs on the Best Books about Movies


In honor of the Academy Awards, we asked seven noted cinephiles—including film historian Peter Biskind and award-winning journalist Sharon Waxman—for their pick in the category “Best Book About the Movies.”

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    1. You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again

    “I hate to cold shoulder Steven Bach’s Final Cut, David McClintick’s Indecent Exposure, and even Pauline Kael’s first collection, I Lost It at the Movies, but my favorite, almost a guilty pleasure, is Julia Phillips’ You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. I love it for all the wrong reasons—its bitchiness, its pettiness, its score-settling—but also for the best reason: its etched-in-acid portrait of one of the great eras in Hollywood filmmaking.” — Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

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    2. Movie-Made America

    “Cinema studies scholar and critic Robert Sklar, who died last year, wrote this influential volume 30 years ago—and it remains in print for a reason: it’s the most intellectually stimulating take on the evolution of America cinema in the 20th century ever made. Nothing that has happened to the medium since then changes that. Its thesis, that American film culture owed much to the lower class and the struggles against capitalist interests rather than efforts to sustain them, echoed the egalitarian nature of Sklar’s writing: Although primarily an academic, he had the capacity to speak to movie lovers across a wide spectrum of interests. From Frank Capra to Maya Deren and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Movie Made America—has it all.” — Eric Kohn, film critic and writer for Indiewire

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    3. Pictures at a Revolution

    “For someone like me who enjoys every minute of the Oscars even when they’re ridiculous and infuriating, this book is a perfect crystallization of the entire awards season process in a single year: 1967. How on earth did a bloated spectacle like Doctor Dolittle wind up a Best Picture nominee alongside genuine game-changers The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde? Harris tells the story of how it happened, and why it matters, with an insider’s wit and remarkably concise storytelling. It’ll make you wish there was a book this good for every year of Oscar history.” — Katey Rich, editor of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood

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    4. The Conversations

    “We all understand the language of cinema. Its grammar is encoded within us and is a natural as breathing. But there are very few people who can speak that language, and Walter Murch speaks it better than anyone. The film editor of The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Ghost, The Conversation,and other classic films understands how a half-second stare or tiny gesture can radically alter the meaning of a moment, and how that moment in concert with other moments creates story. This book, a series of conversations between Murch and Michael Ondaatje, is about how shards of film, or shards of life, can be can be coaxed into fluid emotional narrative.” — Michael Maren, author of The Road to Hell

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    5. The Day of the Locust

    “For a part of my life I spent a great deal of time in Hollywood, writing about movies and the film business. I was struck by how well Nathanael West’s 1939 novel, The Day of the Locust, captured essential qualities of Los Angeles and the people who come to dream and be disappointed there. The city has changed since this riveting book was written, but what remains are the hope, vanity, and despair that drive West’s characters.” — Julie Salamon, former Wall Street Journal film critic and author of Wendy and the Lost Boys

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    6. A Third Face

    “Sam Fuller isn’t exactly a household name, but no one who’s seen his movies ever forgets them, including such high-profile admirers as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. The latter provides the intro to Fuller’s 2004 autobiography, A Third Face, published, and to some degree completed by Fuller’s wife and a collaborator, after his death at the age of 85 in 1997. There’s no mistaking his voice, however, familiar from such two-fisted, clear-eyed (but often tenderhearted films) as Pickup On South Street, Shock Corridor, and The Naked Kiss. Fuller lived several lives before picking up the camera, taking a job as a newspaper copyboy at 12, becoming a crime reporter at 17, then penning pulp novels before serving in the First Infantry in World War II (the inspiration for his great, late-career film The Big Red One). The book reads with the same pulp energy and hard-won idealism of Fuller’s best films. I hope it gets passed down from one generation of filmmakers to the next like a sacred text.” — Keith Phipps, founder and editorial director of The Dissolve

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    7. The Searchers

    “At the moment my favorite movie book is The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, about the making of the iconic John Ford movie. It’s an incredible tale, told with dramatic flair and deep intelligence, by Glenn Frankel.” — Sharon Waxman, author of Rebels on the Backlot


    This article originally appeared on Zola Books.


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