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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Favorite Books about Movies
by Betty Jo Tucker

If you are a movie addict like me, you probably want to read as much as possible about films and filmmaking. Below are twelve of my favorite movie-related books.

150 Timeless Movies. Susan Granger (Hannacroix Creek Books, 2016) This is a marvelous collection of film reviews by noted cinema critic Susan Granger. The author chose her critiques of many films made since the turn of the 21st century as well as 25 classics that she believes will stand the test of time. What they all have in common is that they’re a successful creative collaboration, often revolving around love, family and the indomitable human spirit. Among the films included in this excellent book are: 2001: A Space Odyssey, African Queen, Avatar, The Bucket List, City Lights, Saving Private Ryan, The Lives of Others, The Social Network, Slumdog Millionaire , The Wizard of Oz, and 140 more must-see movies.  

Everyone Wants My Job! The ABC’s of Entertainment Writing. Diana Saenger (Picadilly Books, Ltd., 2000). Saenger offers her helpful professional advice about how to review films, conduct interviews, market your work, and perform other tasks associated with this competitive field. Author sprinkles each chapter with celebrity quotations and anecdotes that make her book a delight to read. No wonder people want Diana’s job. But she does caution wannabes about the hard work involved.   

For Keeps. Pauline Kael (Dutton - Penguin Books, 1994).  In this impressive compendium, America’s most renowned film critic, the late Pauline Kael, presented the best of her New Yorker reviews and other writings on movies from 1965 through 1991. More than 275 reviews are arranged chronologically, forming a 30-year history of the movies. (At over 1200 pages, For Keeps also makes a terrific doorstop.)   

Incidental Gold. Richard Jack Smith. (Pen Press Publication, 2013). The Shadow, The Miracle Worker, He Walked by Night – what do these films have in common? They each made it to a list of 75 movies called “Incidental Gold” by film critic/poet Richard Jack Smith. The author’s extensive film knowledge and unbridled passion for the cinema combine to make each of his insightful, entertaining reviews a joy to read. Fortunately, he never gives away plot details or spoilers that can ruin the movie for potential viewers. Instead, important aspects relating to cinematography, directing, pacing, script, tone, cohesiveness, dialogue, theme, performances -- and more -- come under his deft scrutiny. Richard does not hold back when he’s disappointed with a movie, which happens frequently. But when he loves a film, his enthusiasm and praise practically jump off the page.   

It’s a Bitter Little World: The Smartest, Toughest, Nastiest Quotes from Film Noir. Charles Pappas (Writer’s Digest Books, 2005). Film historian Charles Pappas loves "film noir," those cynical movies about sex, violence and money featuring losers who seek the very thing that gets them killed. In this well-researched  book, he  highlights the terrific dialogue that makes these films so memorable. Pappas quotes from such classics as The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Touch of Evil, Gilda and The Big Sleep as well as from more contemporary films like The Usual Suspects, The Last Seduction, Pulp Fiction and L.A. Confidential.

The Citizen Kane Crash Course in Cinematography. David Worth (Michael Wiese Productions, 2008). Drawing upon his own creativity and experience as a Director or Director of Photography on more than thirty films, David Worth lets his imagination run wild in this fabulous tome. The result? One of the most eye-popping books you'll ever read about filmmaking. Written mostly in screenplay format, the story focuses on how legendary cinematographer Gregg Toland taught “Boy Wonder” Orson Welles all he needed to know about cinematography before Welles began shooting Citizen Kane. It's a fun and enlightening read.

The Golden Age of Movie Musicals and Me. Saul Chaplin (University of Oklahoma Press, 1994).  This revealing memoir is written by the man who served as songwriter, vocal arranger, pianist, musical director, or producer on more than sixty films during the Hollywood musical heyday. Chaplin writes candidly about the major performers and filmmakers he met while working on such movies as High Society, On the Town, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, American in Paris, and The Sound of Music. (Gossip tidbit: no love lost between Chaplin and Al Jolson, despite their collaboration on “The Anniversary Song.”)

The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time. Phil Hall (Bear Manor, 2013). Hall selected 100 motion pictures to include in this enjoyable book. “Each one stands the test of time and is wonderfully warped in its own twisted way,” the author explains. Hall has compiled a provocative list of films -- and written insightful, entertaining descriptions of why each motion picture made the cut. Because of Hall’s impeccable research on this project, his impressive knowledge of the cinema, and his proven skill as a writer, this book ends up being a  treasure for movie lovers everywhere.

The Making of the Wizard of Oz. Aljean Harmetz (Hyperion - Special 60th Anniversary Edition, 1998), Here is the inside story behind the filming of this American movie classic. Harmetz describes how the film survived four directors, serious problems on the set, and changes in casting to become an all-time family favorite. Buddy Ebsen as the Scarecrow? Shirley Temple as Dorothy?  Cut Dorothy singing “Over the Rainbow”?  And other close calls.      

Reel Spirit: A Guide to Movies That Inspire, Explore, and Empower. Raymond Teague (Unity House, 2000) Teague’s analysis of spirituality in the movies includes almost 400 films, with reviews of such movies as It’s a Wonderful Life, The Lion King, When Harry Met Sally, Malcolm X, and the Star Wars series. (Guess who this author considers the most admirable character in Hollywood films?  Here’s a clue -- it’s a woman.) 

Romantic Comedies: These Films Can Save Your Love Life! Pamela Jaye Smith (Michael Wiese Productions, 2017) This unique book is a tribute to love and the movies that show us how to find, hold, and relish it in our romantic relationships. The author’s intriguing movie guide is filled with some of the best-loved and most popular romantic comedies, including Sabrina, Sleepless in Seattle, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Princess Bride and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Lessons learned from watching movies like these offer valuable advice about keeping your love life healthy.

Screening History. Gore Vidal (Harvard University Press – Reissue Edition, 1994). Vidal recalls the films he loved while growing up in Washington, D.C. during the 1930s and reflects on the movies that meant the most to him, such as The Prince and the Pauper and Young Mr. Lincoln. (Funny, I saw those films too -- but they didn’t impress me as much as King Kong and Frankenstein. Could this explain our different career paths?) Vidal admits that as he looked back over his life, he realized the only thing he really liked to do was go to the movies. That makes two of us.

Of course, there are other great books about movies and filmmaking, so this is not my all-time "favorites" list. I plan to add many more books as time permits. Happy reading!  

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