Top 10 Movie Books

Once upon a time, before the internet, you could find things out about movies from these things called books. Before I too became enslaved by t'interweb, I read, oh, at least a dozen books, so that's makes me fully qualified to recommend the following as the Top 10 Movie Books. If you know someone who likes films, these could be a nice retro gift this Christmas for them to receive, whilst everyone else faffs about with their new Kindles and tablets.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die edited by Steven Jay Schneider
Okay, so it has a fairly morose title, but this is pretty much an essential item to have beside the TV stand for quick reference. Or, more likely, beside the toilet to pass the time. Well-known movies jostle for position with obscure titles, all summarised in short, informative entries from a range of respected contributors. I've yet to hear anyone admit they've seen all 1001 films included, so maybe the title is actually fairly accurate in that it will probably take until you die to catch up with them all. If you buy only one movie reference book, make it this one.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind
The 1970s marked a time of great change in the American film industry as the power shifted from the big studios to the up-and-coming 'Movie Brats' of Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese et al. This enormously entertaining book is a warts-and-all insider account of the antics in Hollywood during those years. Biskind interviewed hundreds of people for his research, gaining some remarkably frank material from, and about, the major players in Hollywood at the time, which makes for a terrific mix of juicy anecdotes, gossipy scuttlebutt and interesting insight to the logistics of film-making. You'll come away wondering two things; 'How did any of these movies ever get made at all?' and 'Was there anyone Warren Beatty didn't screw?'

The Whole Equation by David Thomson
A history of Hollywood is a pretty ambitious subject to tackle, but Thomson succeeds admirably in explaining the various economic, social and political forces that shaped Hollywood into the industry it is today. Thomson is a highly respected film critic and historian, and anyone familiar with his writing will know he writes with wit and clarity. Here, that talent means he makes a potentially dry and academic topic extremely accessible and very interesting. No, really! It is!
Story by Robert McKee
If you have an idea for a film script in your head, but putting it down on paper is harder than you thought, this 'screenwriter's bible' may help. McKee is a creative writing expert who has taught many wannabe scriptwriters (including many who have gone on to become highly successful) how to do it right, despite having never scripted a film himself. Although he has been criticised for distilling an 'art' to a 'science', McKee's basic advice is sound ; tell a good story well. And by using many examples from the movies to illustrate his points, he explains the elements of a screenplay which make a narrative compelling, or not. It means next time you watch a bad film, you'll know it was because of the poor 'story triangle', or the inconsistent 'causality' or the lack of 'symbolic ascension'. And you'll think to yourself, 'I've read Story, I could do better than that'. But you probably never will.

I'm not usually that bothered with autobiography movie books, but this is a wonderfully entertaining memoir from the legendary producer, as he recounts his career ups-and-downs. Because it's Evans telling the story, it's probably not all to be taken as gospel (the preface states "There are three sides to every story: yours...mine...and the truth."). It might even all be complete lies, but he's such an engaging storyteller, it's easy to appreciate how his charm and verve seen him rise to the top. Basically, I liked it because he was a bit of a chancer who made good and he spins a great rags-to-riches yarn about it all. Fair play.

Screen Violence edited by Karl French 
Ah, the thorny old subject of movie violence. Next time it comes up in conversation, you'll be well armed to argue either side of the debate if you've read this anthology of essays from various intellectuals, writers and movie makers, including Oliver Stone, John Grisham, Mary Whitehouse and Will Self amongst others. To be honest, it's all a bit earnest and intellectual about the topic and not all the entries are that great - US critic Michael Medved's anti-violence argument is probably the pick of the bunch. But it's worth reading because, no matter who you side with, this is perfect if you want to incite violence by playing devil's advocate when the topic comes up.

Nobody's Perfect by Anthony Lane
Lane is the long-time critic for the New Yorker magazine and this weighty book is a terrific compilation of reviews and articles from his career there. A good writer should entertain regardless of the subject and Lane's viewpoints are always fun to read, even if you don't agree with them. This contains some absolute gems, from his scathing review of The Phantom Menace to his laugh-out-loud musings on 'What is the point of Demi Moore?'. He's a witty and snappy writer and I suspect that, despite his discerning views on the movies, he doesn't really take them all that seriously. I taught him everything he knows, by the way. 

Adventures In The Screen Trade by William Goldman
Oscar-winning screen-writer Goldman can sure write well, which must be reassuring for the Academy to discover. This memoir is a funny, insightful look behind the Silver Screen, with plenty of anecdotes and name-dropping, but with perceptive views on the movie industry as well. His oft-repeated assertion that in Hollywood 'Nobody knows anything' is what keeps thousands of wannabe stars going when the chips are down.

The Story of Film by Mark Cousins
I hesitated before putting this here, because this is a rather academic, thesis-like book and not for light reading. But it deserves respect because Cousins is an outstanding film scholar who has taken a truly global approach to his topic, highlighting films from round the world as he discusses the various breakthroughs which have driven the growth of cinema over the past 120 years. Did you know they made films outside the Western world? I know! Me neither! I doubt I will ever see even half of the films he cites, but if you want to be truly educated in film matters, you could do worse than read this. Plus, he's from Norn Iron, so I thought I'd give him a shout out.

Monsters in the Movies by John Landis              A century of movie monsters are celebrated by director Landis, in a coffee-table book which is low on text, but high on pictures. And what pictures! Gaze lovingly at those great old movie posters! Recoil at the gory movie stills! Wallow in nostalgia over those B&W films you first saw on TV as a nipper. And laugh at some of the crappest monsters ever to grace the silver screen. If this doesn't make you want to rush off immediately and watch Attack of the Crab Monsters or Wrestling Women Vs The Aztec Mummy, then you really don't like cinema at all.

Yes, yes, I know there's other books about movies. Some of them are supposedly quite good. But I'm certainly not going to read them all just so I can tell you which are best! I do have a life, you know! Well, an existence anyway. Besides, I have the Internet now to tell me things. And it never lies.

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