The best books about the movies

David Mikics Author Of Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker
By David Mikics

Who am I?

It all goes back to growing up in the 1970s, when PBS would show the same handful of classic foreign movies over and over—Bergman, Truffaut, Fellini. And there was the rest of TV, too, where I discovered John Ford, Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and much more. On the late late show, you could usually find Casablanca. I saw Kubrick’s 2001 a few years after it came out and was knocked out by the first mainstream movie that asked its viewers to wonder—to actively speculate in awestruck fashion about what was happening on screen. The movies have always been a passion for me. The movie screen is where we dream and float away and sink within ourselves all at once. As the critic David Thomson put it, “Not even heroin or the supernatural ever went this far.”

I wrote...

Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker

By David Mikics,

Book cover of Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker

What is my book about?

Stanley Kubrick by David Mikics has been called by Dwight Garner of the NY Times "A cool, cerebral book about a cool, cerebral talent.” “Mikics is an adept student of Kubrick’s uncanny art. He unpeels the way that Kubrick’s movies, packed as they are with impieties, challenge, infuriate and entertain,” Garner wrote, and “ “Mikics has a flair for nailing a performance.”

Kubrick grew up in the Bronx, a doctor’s son. From a young age, he was consumed by photography, chess, and, above all else, movies. He was a self-taught filmmaker and self-proclaimed outsider, and his films exist in a unique world of their own outside the Hollywood mainstream. Obsessed with rebellion against authority, war, and male violence, Kubrick was himself a calm, coolly masterful creator and a talkative, ever-curious polymath immersed in friends and family. Drawing on interviews and new archival material, David Mikics for the first time explores the personal side of Kubrick’s films.

The books I picked & why

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The New Biographical Dictionary of Film

By David Thomson,

Book cover of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film

Why this book?

David Thomson can outmatch any film critic I know for sheer pungent accuracy, as well as passion. He knows every director, every actor, every movie, and he always has something valuable—and often something essential—to say about each one. Thomson’s New Biographical Dictionary of Film, now in its sixth edition, is a continuous delight, a perfect book for browsing. A required purchase for every film buff.

From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies

By Molly Haskell,

Book cover of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies

Why this book?

Molly Haskell, like Thomson, is one of my idols. Her pioneering feminist account of how Hollywood depicted women from its golden age to the late twentieth century is also a monument to its supreme women actors, including Stanwyck and Davis, Hepburn and Bergman, and Monroe. Haskell is an expert at understanding how art shapes and responds to its era, and how film actors refine their roles.

The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre, and Other Aspects of Popular Culture

By Robert Warshow,

Book cover of The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre, and Other Aspects of Popular Culture

Why this book?

If I had to pick the two most basic, and most enthralling, essays for understanding American movies, they would be Warshow’s "The Westerner" and "The Gangster," both included in this book. Warshow, who died tragically young, also gives us the two finest pieces ever written about Chaplin, in which he argues that the flaws and stresses in Chaplin’s film art somehow make it more, not less, impressive. Add Warshow’s properly skeptical account of Soviet cinema—he is appreciative, but also aware of how Communist ideology distorted Soviet film—and you have the very best from a star among the New York intellectuals.

Hitchcock's Films Revisited

By Robin Wood,

Book cover of Hitchcock's Films Revisited

Why this book?

Wood’s book Hitchcock’s Films made the case that Hitchock was a major artist, not merely a manipulative “master of suspense” but someone who reflected profoundly on human limits, power, and authority, comedy and tragedy, men and women. He paved the way for later critics like William Rothman, who demonstrated that Hitchock’s films were richly rewarding frame by frame. Wood is always attentive to the human value of the movies he discusses, inquiring into the world of each film and wondering what it has to tell us. His book is great fun, but at the same time, it takes Hitchcock seriously as one of our deepest contemporary artists.

La Règle Du Jeu

By V.F. Perkins,

Book cover of La Règle Du Jeu

Why this book?

Virtually any volume in the BFI Film Classics series—now sadly defunct--is worth recommending. But I’m especially fond of this one, about Jean Renoir’s masterpiece The Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu)--my favorite movie along with Kubrick’s 2001 (a very different kind of film!). Perkins explores each of the film’s characters, bringing out the full dimensions of Renoir’s humanism, his grand comic flair, and the bittersweet aura of this great movie completed as World War II was about to engulf Europe.

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Interested in film, World War 2, and pop culture?

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