September is a very good month for books about film. Roger Ebert’s wonderful memoir Life Itself is out in paperback; J. Hoberman’s excellent survey of 21st century cinema culture, Film After Film, is available in hardback and on Kindles; and there’s an all-new edition of Leonard Maltin’s movie guide. It’s the kind of thick, information-packed reference that is getting rarer and rarer in the IMDb age, but as Maltin notes on his Indiewire blog, “To those who think it’s been supplanted by the Internet I can only say, ‘We’re still here.’ And as someone who uses the ‘net every day, I can tell you that my colleagues and I still face surprising hurdles trying to get reliable information about brand-new movies. That’s one reason I think our book still has relevance to anyone who cares about accuracy, useful information, and of course, reviews.”
He’s right; the Maltin book is indispensible, and not just for those of us playing the home version of the “Leonard Maltin game” on Doug Loves Movies. Its newest iteration, and the embarrassment of other riches this month, got us thinking about the essential books about film; we’ve put together our suggested library after the jump, but feel free to add your own must-haves in the comments.
The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson
Thompson’s big, bulky, fiercely opinionated tome is the definitive movie reference book, even if his tastes run mighty persnickety (I just randomly opened to a page in the middle and found this comment, re Paul Newman: “I am skeptical of such blue-eyed likability”). But it is a thorough, comprehensive work, the result of a lifetime of viewing and understanding cinema, and the skill with which he combines filmography and criticism is astonishing.
IDEAL COMPANION: The American Cinema by Andrew Sarris is less exhaustive but no less fascinating, finding the chief American booster of the auteur theory ranking and contrasting American filmmakers from the beginning of the sound era through its publication in 1968.