The best film books

29 authors have picked their favorite books about film and why they recommend each book.

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Easy Riders Raging Bulls

By Peter Biskind,

Book cover of Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood

Just before and during the same period that SNL was raging on the East Coast, rising directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas were rewriting the rules of Hollywood. Biskind’s history of the New Hollywood of the Seventies, which starts with 1969’s biker classic Easy Rider, is jammed with juicy stories of sex, drugs, and film canisters. But it also makes you appreciate anew the way movies like  Chinatown, Nashville, Taxi Driver, and Star Wars made going to the local movie theater a newly thrilling and surprising experience. 


Who am I?

I’m a senior writer at Rolling Stone, where I cover a wide range of music-related topics. But as a child of the Seventies, I was shaped by the defining and enthralling pop culture of that era, from singer-songwriters, Southern rock, and disco records to Norman Lear sitcoms. In some of my work, I’ve chronicled the highs and lows of that era, perhaps as a way to answer a question that haunted me during my youth: Why did my older sisters and their friends keep telling me that the Sixties were the most incredible decade ever and the Seventies were awful? What did I miss? And how and where did it all go wrong?


I wrote...

Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970

By David Browne,

Book cover of Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970

What is my book about?

As a new decade arrives, so do seismic shifts in rock and roll: Three of the most iconic bands of the era break up, and new talent, reflecting the more inward and less political trends of the Seventies, busts out of the gate. The first book on the musical, political, and cultural changes of the year 1970, Fire and Rain tells the story of four landmark artists, their key albums (the Beatles’ Let It Be, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà vu and James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James), the intertwining personal ties between those artists, and the ways in which their songs and journeys mirrored the end of one era and the start of another, equally jarring one.

Pictures at a Revolution

By Mark Harris,

Book cover of Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood

Harris focuses on Oscar night 1968 as four of the five films nominated for Best Picture evinced Hollywood’s reluctant affirmation of the American counterculture. These “pictures at a revolution,” as he terms them—Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and the Oscar winner In the Heat of the Nightsignaled a necessary industry re-think, away from bloated old-Hollywood blockbusters (like Dr. Dolittle, the fifth nominee) and towards something more politically savvy and more hip. Harris does well to chronicle the backstage/behind-the-scenes histories of all five of these films.


Who am I?

I have been teaching and writing about post-WWII American film for over thirty years now, with a particular passion for (behind the scenes) Hollywood history. Road Trip to Nowhere follows up on a new sort of movie industry history I introduced in my 2017 book on 1950s Los Angeles, Hard-Boiled Hollywood. Both books focus on actors, writers, producers, and directors who don’t quite make it—aspirants and would-be players kicked to the side of the road, so to speak, and others who for reasons we may or may not understand just walked away from the modern American dream life of stardom and celebrity. 


I wrote...

Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture

By Jon Lewis,

Book cover of Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture

What is my book about?

Road Trip to Nowhere elaborates a primary-sourced history of movie production culture, examining the lives of a number of talented actors who got wrapped up in the politics and lifestyles of the counterculture. Thoroughly put off by celebrity culture, actors like Dennis Hopper, Christopher Jones, and Jean Seberg rejected the aspirational backstory and inevitable material trappings of success, much to the chagrin of the studios and directors who backed them. In Road Trip to Nowhere, film historian Jon Lewis details dramatic encounters on movie sets and in corporate boardrooms, on the job and on the streets, and in doing so offers an entertaining and rigorous historical account of an out-of-touch Hollywood establishment and the counterculture workforce they would never come to understand.

The Jaws Log

By Carl Gottlieb,

Book cover of The Jaws Log

In my book club I’m known as Second Carl, since Carl Gottlieb has been a member far longer than I. In fact, I was still a lawyer in Washington, D.C. secretly dreaming about Hollywood but never suspecting I’d someday myself work on a Spielberg TV series, when I read this short, fast, now revered account of the filming of Spielberg’s breakout film. It proved to be a deeply accurate and comprehensive description – and warning – about what life and work on location and in Hollywood itself would be like. It’s also so engagingly readable and relevant, a Broadway musical based on the book is in tryouts as I write these words.


Who am I?

Having been a Hollywood writer for thirty years, and now written a novel that although satirical still accurately describes the creation of a TV series, I’ve long been amazed at how many Hollywood stories – including films made in Hollywood – offer fantasies that have even less to do with the reality of love and work in film and television than Game of Thrones does with the real Middle Ages. I’ve written fantasy myself, but for people fascinated by Hollywood, or who want to work in film and TV, there’s a reason too to read books that capture the reality, especially when like the books listed here, they do so astonishingly well.


I wrote...

Monkey Business

By Carleton Eastlake,

Book cover of Monkey Business

What is my book about?

Monkey Business is a fast-moving Hollywood satirical adventure intertwined with a deeply revelatory love story that in passing gives a comprehensive look at how a TV series is really created and produced. It begins when a young TV writer on location in Florida becomes obsessed with a mysterious exotic dancer at a nightclub who may be crazy or may be wryly, insightfully brilliant, as she forces him to reexamine everything he thought he understood about life, limerence, bonded love, power, creativity, paintball combat, and human consciousness – while he desperately tries both to save his TV show and to discover who and what she really is so he can win her love before she vanishes forever.

The Age of Movies

By Pauline Kael,

Book cover of The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael

Pauline Kael, long time film critic for New Yorker magazine, brought to her reviews a combination of the visceral and the intellectual that I found absolutely delicious. For me, reading her was like eating a scrumptious meal. She was not afraid to employ rough colloquialisms; she understood, rightly, that they lent vitality and reality to writing. And she was conversational, often to the chagrin of the grammar-checkers at the magazine. She showed you could be smart and still talk like a regular person. She is still delicious to read, even though the movies aren’t currently playing. And she cracked open media criticism for the rest of us, making it possible to write seriously about Jaws and The Godfather and not just Ingmar Bergman. She also clearly loved sex in the movies, and talked about it frequently and vividly.  In a then quite reserved magazine like the New Yorker, that…


Who am I?

I was born in 1947, in the first wave of the baby boom, and was part of the first generation to grow up immersed in television, movies, and popular music. I have always felt the force of pop culture in my life.  But it was only at a certain point that it became something that I felt I could write about and be taken seriously. Writers like Pauline Kael made it possible for me because they obviously adored popular culture but they neither puffed it up nor dumbed it down. They wrote about it with intelligence, honesty, and curiosity and also as a barometer of where people were at and where society was going. That’s what I’ve aimed at in my own writing, from my books on the male and female body to those on politics and the media to my most recent exploration of the impact of television on our lives.


I wrote...

TV

By Susan Bordo,

Book cover of TV

What is my book about?

Once upon a time, the news was only 15 minutes long and middle-class families huddled around a tiny black-and-white screen, TV dinners on their laps, awaiting weekly sitcoms that depicted an all-white world in which mom wore pearls and heels as she baked endless pies. If this seems a distant past, that's a measure of just how much TV has changed-and changed us.

Weaving together personal memoir, social and political history, and reflecting on key moments in the history of news broadcasting and prime time entertainment, Susan Bordo opens up the 75-year-old time-capsule that is TV and illustrates what a constant companion and dominant cultural force television has been, for good and for bad, in carrying us from the McCarthy hearings and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet to Mad MenKilling Eve, and the emergence of our first reality TV president.

Ghost World

By Daniel Clowes,

Book cover of Ghost World

I don’t think I like Ghost World, but it belongs on this list. When I think of Clowes’ work I think of caricature, but the environments in Ghost World pull most of the storytelling weight. You can hear the hum of the fluorescents in the grocery store and the wind between buildings on an empty street.


Who am I?

Environmental storytelling in comics is something that I’ve always admired and want to be better at. As a cartoonist I’m always thinking of better ways to tell visual stories, because it’s fun.


I wrote...

Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab

By Priya Huq,

Book cover of Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab

What is my book about?

When Nisrin Moniruzzaman and her friend Firuzeh are attacked for wearing shalwar kameez in public, Nisrin decides she wants to wear hijab. Her Bangladeshi family is upset and confused… why does she want to make things harder for herself? Nisrin handles freshman year at a new school and both new and old relationships while dealing with her own trauma… as well as her family’s.

The Immediate Experience

By Robert Warshow,

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

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.

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.

Hitchcock's Films Revisited

By Robin Wood,

Book cover of Hitchcock's Films Revisited

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.

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.

Adventures in the Screen Trade

By William Goldman,

Book cover of Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

This book coined the maxim far and away the most quoted in Hollywood to this day: “Nobody knows anything.” I first read it the year before I broke in. My copy is heavily annotated with yellow highlighter and red pen; a black paperclip still marks the second of Goldman’s two capitalized maxims, “Screenplays are structure.” The value of this book to anyone wanting to understand – or survive in – Hollywood is that, ironically, Goldman, one of the most successful screenwriters and novelists in Hollywood history, knew almost everything, not only about screenwriting, but also the psychology, cautious care, and perilous feeding of actors, directors, executives, and the rest of the Hollywood zoo. It’s both a textbook and survival guide, illustrated with a veteran’s vivid stories about life behind the tinsel.


Who am I?

Having been a Hollywood writer for thirty years, and now written a novel that although satirical still accurately describes the creation of a TV series, I’ve long been amazed at how many Hollywood stories – including films made in Hollywood – offer fantasies that have even less to do with the reality of love and work in film and television than Game of Thrones does with the real Middle Ages. I’ve written fantasy myself, but for people fascinated by Hollywood, or who want to work in film and TV, there’s a reason too to read books that capture the reality, especially when like the books listed here, they do so astonishingly well.


I wrote...

Monkey Business

By Carleton Eastlake,

Book cover of Monkey Business

What is my book about?

Monkey Business is a fast-moving Hollywood satirical adventure intertwined with a deeply revelatory love story that in passing gives a comprehensive look at how a TV series is really created and produced. It begins when a young TV writer on location in Florida becomes obsessed with a mysterious exotic dancer at a nightclub who may be crazy or may be wryly, insightfully brilliant, as she forces him to reexamine everything he thought he understood about life, limerence, bonded love, power, creativity, paintball combat, and human consciousness – while he desperately tries both to save his TV show and to discover who and what she really is so he can win her love before she vanishes forever.

Making Movies

By Sidney Lumet,

Book cover of Making Movies

Sidney Lumet directed Twelve Angry Men and The Verdict, among many others, and the beauty of this short book is just how practical he is about his craft. In the magazine interviews and hagiographies about directors, we seldom get a true sense of the working day on a movie set, or what happens long before shooting begins and months after it finishes. But here Lumet reveals why he always tried to schedule a very simple shot for the first set-up on day 1 of production, the value of a rehearsal period (if he was granted one) and that he took a lunchtime nap. From first being offered a script to the final sound mix, this is what a movie director really does.

Who am I?

I’ve always loved movies. In my 20s, I went to film school – perhaps you can still find a couple of the short films I wrote with animator Matthew Hood on Vimeo (Hourglass and Metalstasis) – and I worked a little in the UK film industry reading scripts for Film4, among others. I’ve also interviewed filmmakers, including Nicolas Winding Refn, Christopher Hampton, Life of Brian producer John Goldstone and editor Anne V. Coates. And I’ve always found a romance, despite the seedy aspects, of Tinseltown being developed out in Hollywoodland, a place of orange groves and pepper trees where people from the Midwest went to retire in the sun.   


I wrote...

Dark History of Hollywood: A century of greed, corruption and scandal behind the movies (Dark Histories)

By Kieron Connolly,

Book cover of Dark History of Hollywood: A century of greed, corruption and scandal behind the movies (Dark Histories)

What is my book about?

In the century since it produced its first films, Hollywood has presented itself as the glamorous home to the beautiful and talented. But there has always been a dark side to Tinseltown. Right from the beginning, the Dream Factory created a hothouse of excess – too much money, adulation, expectation, and ego. Some actors would trade sex in the, often vain, hope of career advancement, while mobsters muscled in on the unions and extorted the studios, whose heads kept close ties to the police and the Press. 

From the movie moguls to the corporations that run the studios today, from drug addictions to witch-hunts, Dark History of Hollywood is the story of murder and suicide, ambition and betrayal, and how money can make almost everyone compromise.

Little Miss Sunshine

By Michael Arndt, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Book cover of Little Miss Sunshine: The Shooting Script

Once upon a time, in a small apartment in Brooklyn, an unemployed, unproduced, unagented writer sat down to start a script. Three days later he finished it. Twelve months of rewrites and he sold it. Four years later it was made. And a year after that it won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. But, Michael Arndt notes in his modest introduction to the shooting script, this isn’t “a rewards-of-virtue narrative”; it’s a story about the razor-thin line between success and failure – and how, as Dwayne says in the movie, you should “do what you love and fuck the rest”. Words to live – and write – by.

Who am I?

I am the author of four books of interviews with filmmakers: Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson (a Guardian Book of the Year), Story and Character: Interviews with British Screenwriters, Hampton on Hampton (an Observer Book of the Year), and The Art of Screen Adaptation: Top Writers Reveal Their Craft. I have written original and adapted screenplays and stageplays, on spec and to commission; contributed film interviews and reviews to UK magazines and newspapers; chaired Q&A events at book and screenwriting festivals; and recently published my first novel, The Vetting Officer. My next nonfiction project is a book of conversations with bestselling author and screenwriter William Boyd, for Penguin.


I wrote...

The Art of Screen Adaptation: Top Writers Reveal Their Craft

By Alistair Owen,

Book cover of The Art of Screen Adaptation: Top Writers Reveal Their Craft

What is my book about?

Producers and audiences are hungrier than ever for stories, and a lot of those stories begin life as a book – but how exactly do you transfer a story from the page to the screen? Do adaptations use the same creative gears as original screenplays? Does a true story give a project more weight than a fictional one? Is it helpful to have the original author’s input on the script? And how much pressure is the screenwriter under, knowing they won’t be able to please everyone with the finished product?

The Art of Screen Adaptation reveals the challenges and pleasures of reimagining stories for cinema and television, and provides a frank and fascinating masterclass with the writers who have done it – and have the awards and acclaim to show for it.

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