Gravymovie's Top Tens+


BEST FILM BOOKS
This page lists the best informational film books ever published, in my opinion.
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I own about 150 film reference books, not including other movie books on specific stars, directors, genres and other subjects. This list is the very best of those books — ones I consult frequently or others I plan to. I tend to like film books that are packed with data and hard facts, not bubblegum gossipy trivial stuff on the one hand or incomprehensible academic theoretical musings on the other. (There are a few books listed here that I do NOT own, such as the AFI catalogs, since they cost hundreds of dollars, even if you can find one. Two libraries in town have them). The entries link to my book lists at Goodreads, in which I have capsule reviews of some of the tomes. I only include reference-oriented books in this list, not star bios or genre overviews and such. The only good guide I do not own and have not consulted is the Time Out Film Guide. Hopefully I can get a copy soon.
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A criterion for selection to this list is: Does this book provide unique information I can’t get elsewhere: Also:, how important has it been in the formation of my film canon? The main reason for my engagement of these books has been in selecting what I choose to view.
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Remember: No single book on film or even a set of books is sufficient in covering the subject. And now we can add the Internet to the mix, especially as the Internet Movie Database has become increasingly reliable.
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MY COMPLETE NON-REFERENCE FILM BOOK LIST (with some overlap):

http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/1248986-evan?shelf=movies-non-reference

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FILM GUIDES  / TITLE CATALOGS / CANON
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by Michael Kerbel, Robert Edelstein
(This catalog of 16-millimeter films for rent, from 1972-73, is my all-time favorite published film reference. Beautifully assembled and liberally illustrated, featuring films in all genres. Includes basic crew info, plot summaries, analysis and samples of film critics’ opinions. I was in the very earliest stages of film sickness in the mid-’70s when my teacher gave this to me. So, he gets a lot of the blame.)
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by Paul Rotha
(The first book to really define a film canon. Still very valuable as long as its limits are recognized. Very old now, but still a cornerstone book.)
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by Georges Sadoul
(Another primary book in my collection, selecting about 2,000 essential films of the international cinema. Another oldie.)
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by Pauline Kael
(A recent acquisition. Not a collection of full reviews or essays like her other books, but a pithy capsule review guide spiced with Kael’s wit and observation.)
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by Leslie L. Halliwell
(An emeritus among film guides. This is an old edition from 1977 or thereabouts. For years it was my main guide, for better or worse.)
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by Leslie Halliwell, John Walker
(I resisted the John Walker updates to Halliwell for years, which is too bad because in many ways Walker improved the guide, expanding it to a more international scope and dusting away some of the Halliwell middlebrow stodginess. This was one of the last editions published I believe.)
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by Leonard Maltin
(The most recent edition of Maltin that I have, and I’ve had many through the years. It’s fashionable to bash him and his committee of reviewers; the book is stronger on older films but all-in-all, despite deficiencies, this is still the best of the capsule guides I think.)
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by Steven H. Scheuer
(The 1975 edition of Scheuer’s guide was the very first movie guide I owned and I wore it out and trashed it long ago. The Maltin juggernaut swamped it some time ago, even though Scheuer’s guide intriguingly covered some esoteric fare that still does not show up in Maltin. Scheuer could be eccentric at times, which made this guide fun.)
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Empire Film Guide: The Definitive Bible for Film Lovers from the World’s Best Movie Magazine
by editors of Empire magazine
(One of my newest capsule review guides. I still haven’t gone through it extensively and it has the usual baffling omissions and inclusions — as does any guide. Big and well done in any case, but beware of anything that claims to be “the definitive bible.” It ain’t.)
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by David Bleiler
(Another of the newer capsule review guides. I got this at the same time I acquired the Empire Film Guide and in side-side-by-side comparison I think this one is better. It’s thinner, yet includes more titles.)
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by Parker Tyler
(Tyler was immortalized hilariously in Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge. This is pretty old, but Tyler was a unique character and his survey of select international titles was one of the first and best.)
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by Ronald Bergan, Robyn Karney
(Good selection of titles reviewed. Again, one could quibble about the omissions, but to their credit the authors aren’t afraid to dismiss some much-vaunted films.)
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by Donald Richie
(Richie has done more than any other author-scholar to raise awareness of Asian cinema in the West. This is good concise presentation of his life’s work, with an excellent filmography in the back.)
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by Stefan Hammond
(A lot of Hong Kong cinema guides have come out since this one debuted in 1994, but pound-for-pound this one is still possibly the best. The presentation is fun and funny and the authors love their subject, clearly. An excellent selection of titles.)
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by Leonard Maltin
(The field was wide open back in the 70s when this book came out. The book mainly concentrates on comedy shorts. Surveys of individual stars’ work have probably surpassed this, but as an overview I’m not aware of any comparable comers.)
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ENCYCLOPEDIAS (GENERAL)
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by Leslie Halliwell, John Walker (Editor)
(This was Halliwell’s version of a film encyclopedia, offering filmographies of major personages in film. Katz surpassed this one in many ways, but Halliwell’s was more pithy and populist in intent.)
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by Ephraim Katz
(This one caused quite a stir when it debuted in the early 80s, mainly for what was omitted, but subsequent editions improved greatly and it is certainly one of the foremost and formidable film references ever done.)
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by Roger Manvell
(A beautifully realized film encyclopedia from the early 70s, impossibly packed with information and illustrations. I have a particular fondness for it. In some ways it is the most attractive of all film encyclopedias.)
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by Tim Cawkwell, John M. Smith (editors)
(This can now be seen as a lesser tome, having been surpassed by many other film encyclopedias. But this oversized book was essential in helping me form my initial film lists in the late ’70s, thanks to a good index/filmography in the back.)
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(The earliest volumes of the AFI catalogs have been very useful in my researches, despite the fact that they are now known to be rife with error, much of which is corrected on the AFI’s online version of the catalog. Still, one of the great Herculean projects in the history of film publishing.)
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(This series is the first to survey every single one of Griffith’s hundreds of films; each volume covering a different year. I’ve seen several of the volumes, and while the presentation is a bit dry and nonjudgmental due to academic rigor, it is nonetheless a necessary and overdue project.)
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SURVEYS / FILM HISTORIES
(many of these include filmographies)
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by John Wakeman
(Wakeman’s massive two-volume survey of world film directors of the pre-war and post-war cinema has no real competition; it is one of the great achievements of film publishing. The entries are like novels, surveying each director’s careers as a composite bio and critical evaluation of the films. Really quite great. Luckily I have both volumes, which are out of print and very expensive.)
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by John Wakeman
(See above.)
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by Barry Salt
(Barry Salt’s grasp of the technical aspects of filmmaking is astonishing. His book eschews theory for hard facts; he cuts through so much bullshit that film academes hated him for it. His survey of the early cinema is a virtual rewrite that cuts through the fog and presents the reality of things afresh. One of the very greatest works of film scholarship.)
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by C.W. Ceram
(Alas, I do not own this and only had a library copy for a short while, but it is without question one of the best overviews of the early technologies of the cinema and those that led to it.)
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by David Shipman
(Shipman harnessed the bitchiness and flamboyance one would find in the fun  – but, let’s face it, non-essential – Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thompson and put it in service of this incredible personal survey of the international cinema up to the early 1980s: packed with titles and presented in chronological narrative. Shipman managed to see practically anything of importance ever made before his death. This book is a personal favorite of mine, even when I disagree violently with some of Shipman’s opinions. The book should be better known.)
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by David A. Cook
(There are a lot of very good one-volume surveys of movie history, and I own quite a few of them, but this one is especially distinguished. It’s a mainstay of the college classroom. The tone is of academic disinterest, unlike Shipman’s more personal tome.)
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by Brian Coe
(Meticulously researched and presented history, well illustrated. A logical companion to the books by C.W. Ceram and Barry Salt.)
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by Jay Leyda
(Leyda was an early exponent of Russian and Asian film. This is a cornerstone guide, and at one time the titles discussed were damned-near impossible to see.)
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by Mark A. Vieira
(There may be more scholarly or text heavy pre-Code books, but this one gets at the essence of the subject via incomparable photo reproduction and pithy text, with the bonus of a good filmography. A beautiful book.)
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by Lewis Jacobs
(I probably should include Eric Barnouw’s survey of documentaries (Documentary, A History of the Non-Fiction Film) — which I own but haven’t read in spite of universal acclaim. Anyway, this one by Lewis Jacobs kind of set the standard; it was the one I used in college. An essential survey of non-fiction film.)
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by Marta Braun
(Fills an enormous gap in film scholarship. An impressively researched and presented book on the cinema’s earliest pioneer.)
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by William K. Everson
(Everson was the great ambassador of silent film and this good survey is still one of the best, laced with his personal opinions of the films.)
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by Walter Kerr
(Long regarded as the best survey of silent movie comedy. I am so very lucky to have recently acquired a first edition of this treasure in super condition inside a protective mylar cover.)
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by Kevin Brownlow
(One of the essential books on the silent cinema. Brownlow interviewed many of the people of the period, just as they were dying off.)
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by Kevin Brownlow
(A follow-up to Brownlow’s classic, The Parade’s Gone By, with more insights into how movies were made in the early days.)
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Histoire du cinema mondiale (multivolume; rare and in French only)
by Georges Sadoul
(Sadoul’s massive multivolume history of the cinema through the 1950s is hard to come by and not in English. Nonetheless I found the volumes on the cinema before and during World War I to be essential. His film lists in the back sketch out the early canon in a way that has never been duplicated.)
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by Richard Abel
(This has been called a “magisterial” survey of early French cinema, and the description is perfect. It incorporates all the new research on early cinema and has a great filmography in the back.)
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by Donald Crafton
(A book that filled a dire gap in the early history of film animation.)
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by Joel W. Finler
(The best one-volume survey of the Hollywood studio system, looking at the industry aspects, the economics, the budgets and profit returns on films. In the welter of books on film as art, it’s easy to forget that a complete understanding of movie history also necessitates knowledge of the movie as a product.)
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by Peter Cowie
(Interesting year-by-year look at select movies admired by Cowie; some of which are not discussed much anymore but probably ought to be. Cowie did an 80 Years… book a decade later, which I have not seen, but would probably be better to have.)
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by Robyn Karney
(A glorious mess, this. An enormous book; the film poster reproductions alone are worth the price. Best as a skeletal reference, though, as the attempt at newspaper contemporaneous presentation is more problematic and gimmicky than helpful.)
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by Jarek Kupsc
(Humorous and well selected survey done in the “for dummies” style. Includes some titles one does not usually encounter in film surveys.)
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by Noël Burch
(Academic but groundbreaking; published at a time when there was a severe dearth of info on the subject. And the film guide in the back was unique. I would also recommend The Waves at Genji’s Door by Joan Mellen, Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema by David Bordwell and Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema by David Desser. These are all from the 70s and 80s and controversial in one way or another.)
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by Ashish Rajadhyaksha
(Key titles and key artists in Indian film. A massive guide; the best on Indian film I’ve ever seen.)
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by Leonard Maltin, Jerry Beck
(An essential addition to the animation film library.)
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by Vito Russo
(Russo deciphers the codes in old films persuasively that were made during a time of socially accepted repression. An amazing survey of gay-themed or gay-subtexted films.)
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by Amos Vogel
(The most open-minded of all film books. Amos Vogel nails the social order while surveying freaky fringe movies, mainly of the vintage variety up to the early ’70s. This is one of the very greatest film books.)
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CRITICISM
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by Manny Farber
(Farber has been called “the critic’s critic.” The writing is passionate and weird and wild and wonderful.)
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by Harry Alan Potamkin, Lewis Jacobs (Editor)
(Potamkin was the ultimate outsider of his time; a Marxist who hated Hollywood. His writing is dense and his POV fascinating. It’s fun to read his bashing of films that are now regarded as classics.)
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by Graham Greene
(Graham looked at movies as a man of the world, not as someone imbued in film theory. His criticisms are filled with incomparable poison pen gems and remarkable insights.)
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by Phillip Lopate
(Lopate’s beautiful collection of essays on moviegoing and film personalities — as well as well as reviews of individual films — exudes an incredible poignancy, even regret, about what it means to be immersed so passionately in films. I can identify.)
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RECENT PROMISING ACQUISITIONS:
SURVEYS, REFERENCE, GUIDES, HISTORIES (some old, some new)
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by Paul Fonoroff
(Another fulsome survey of the HK scene that I’ve nibbled at.)
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by Fredric Dannen, Barry Long
(Interviews with key players and an excellent survey of titles.)
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by Jeff Yang
(A promising film survey I still haven’t been able to delve into yet.)
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by Subhash K. Jha
(Choosing the best 200 Hindi movies since the 1940s.)
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by Adult Video News
(There aren’t too many porno movie guides out there; this one appears to be the best one so far.)
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by Robert Sklar
(Massive and superbly researched; dispels common myths of early cinema.)
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by Mark Cousins
(A promising new survey that takes an auteurist, artistic view of film history).
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by Richard Griffith, Arthur Mayer
(An old favorite from a couple of generations back.)
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by Deems Taylor, Bryant Hale, Marcelene Peterson
(An oldie from the early 40s; Marty Scorsese’s primal movie text, I gather)
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by Terry Ramsaye
(The first true overview book on film history. Trust but verify, as they say.)
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Movie Lot To Beachhead: The Motion Picture Goes To War And Prepares For The Future
by Editors Of Look Magazine, Robert St. John
(A lively and comprehensive overview of film and the war effort.)
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by Peter Hay
(This one I haven’t really delved into, but it looks like the best extant survey on Hollywood’s premier studio.)

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