There has long been an assumption that people in the movie business — and Hollywood specifically — aren’t exactly well read. “Millions to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots,” Herman Mankiewicz telegrammed Ben Hecht upon his arrival out West in 1926. Meanwhile, 2023 awards contender American Fiction includes the laugh line, “Nobody in Hollywood reads. They get their assistants to read things and then summarize them. The whole town runs on book reports.”
But THR, suspecting that’s painting with too broad a brush, and aware that many usually busy people had some time on their hands during the first simultaneous strike of actors and writers in 63 years, reached out to hundreds of distinguished members of the global film community and asked them to share their picks for the greatest books related to film — autobiographies, biographies, novels, how-to, making-of and every other sort — factoring in quality, impact and influence. They each received a “ballot” listing some 1,200 notable titles, plus slots for write-ins.
Among the 322 respondents were directors (including Steven Spielberg, Ava DuVernay, Oliver Stone, John Waters and Celine Song); actors (Liza Minnelli, Alec Baldwin, Laura Dern, Colman Domingo and Sarah Paulson); producers (Jerry Bruckheimer and Amy Pascal); writers (Tom Stoppard, Paul Schrader and John Mulaney); executives (David Zaslav, Sherry Lansing, Michael Barker, Tom Rothman and Bela Bajaria); documentarians (Ken Burns, Sheila Nevins and Errol Morris); animators (Floyd Norman); composers (Nicholas Britell); agents (Toni Howard); the heads of the Academy, Academy Museum, Golden Globes, BAFTA, MPA, AFI, American Cinematheque, Black List, Alamo Drafthouse theater chain and Sundance, Toronto and Karlovy Vary film festivals; journalists (Maureen Dowd, Graydon Carter, Roxane Gay, David Remnick, Lynn Hirschberg, Michael Wolff and Lawrence O’Donnell); film critics; academics; and, yes, a host of top authors of film books.
There have previously been “greatest film books” surveys of some of these constituencies, but never all of them, and never of this size and scope. It’s with the hope that THR readers will be inspired to check out these books and learn more about the art form and business that we cover that we proudly present — in order from fewest votes to most — the 100 greatest film books of all time (click here for a printable checklist), as chosen by the people who would know best.
98 (tie). Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer
By Paul Schrader
1972 • University of California Press • Criticism/Theory/Essay
The man who would go on to write Taxi Driver, co-write Raging Bull and write and direct First Reformed penned this study of spirituality in film as his UCLA film school thesis. It zeroes in on three filmmakers whose work, he argues, investigates the “mystery of existence.” Read it here.
Related reading: The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film, by Stanley Cavell
98 (tie). Haywire: A Memoir
By Brooke Hayward
1977 • Alfred A. Knopf • Autobiography
The daughter of agent/producer Leland Hayward and actress Margaret Sullavan, aided by famous family friends whose memories she solicited, reflects on what became of her seemingly picture-perfect family: her father left, her brother was institutionalized, her mother and sister committed suicide and she was left a single mother desperate to spare her kids from similar heartbreak. It was a #1 New York Times bestseller. Read it here.
Related reading: A Private View, by Irene Mayer Selznick
98 (tie). Film as a Subversive Art
By Amos Vogel
1974 • Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd • Criticism/Theory/Essay
The founder in the ’40s of New York’s Cinema 16 film society and co-founder in the ’60s of the New York Film Festival, Vogel “exerted an influence on the history of film that few other non-filmmakers can claim,” according to his New York Times obit. In this volume, he continued his life’s work of highlighting non-mainstream films that he felt deserved a larger audience. Read it here.
Related reading: I Seem to Live: The New York Diaries, 1950–1969: Volume 1 and I Seem to Live: The New York Diaries, 1969–2011: Volume 2, by Jonas Mekas
88 (tie). Wishful Drinking
By Carrie Fisher
2008 • Simon & Schuster • Autobiography
Fisher, in her first memoir, adapted from a 2006 one-woman stage show, the Hollywood survivor wryly comments on growing up the daughter of two eccentric movie stars, being cast in Star Wars at 19 and struggling with alcoholism, addiction and mental illness. “I feel very sane about how crazy I am,” she says at one point, and at another “If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.” Read it here.
Related reading: Shockaholic, by Carrie Fisher
88 (tie). Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination
By Neal Gabler
2006 • Alfred A. Knopf • Biography
There have been many Disney biographies, but none as well researched or written as this one. It lays out how Uncle Walt came to drawing as an escape from a joyless childhood, goes in-depth on the making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, captures how the man and his studio were forever changed by a 1941 strike and reveals that it wasn’t until Disneyland opened that he ever had much financial security. Read it here.
Related reading: Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, by Ollie Johnston & Frank Thomas
88 (tie). Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies
By Manny Farber
1971 • Studio Vista • Criticism/Theory/Essay
This collection of 45 pieces that Farber wrote for The Nation or Artforum between the late ’40s and the early ’70s showcases his independent thinking (he gravitated to unpretentious “termite art”) and unique style of writing. NPR said it’s “on every critic’s bookshelf, and it’s amazing how often it’s been quoted, borrowed from, strip-mined or used as a launching pad.” Read it here.
Related reading: Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber, by Manny Farber, edited by Robert Polito
88 (tie). The Moon’s a Balloon
By David Niven
1971 • Hamish Hamilton • Autobiography
In the laugh-out-loud — and factually suspect — first installment of his memoirs, the British Oscar-winning actor and bon vivant reflects on his delinquent childhood, abbreviated military service and rise to prominence in pre-WWII Hollywood. It became a huge bestseller. Read it here.
Related reading: Bring on the Empty Horses, by David Niven
88 (tie). A Killer Life: How an Independent Film Producer Survives Deals and Disasters in Hollywood and Beyond
By Christine Vachon, with Austin Bunn
2006 • Simon & Schuster • Autobiography
This third book by the giant of indie cinema, which derives its name from her production company Killer Films, addresses why she abandoned early directing aspirations, discusses her work with Todd Haynes and the evolution of queer cinema and recounts challenges she encountered while guiding to fruition great indie films like Boys Don’t Cry and Far from Heaven. Read it here.
Related reading: Shooting to Kill: How an Independent Producer Blasts Through the Barriers to Make Movies that Matter, by Christine Vachon
88 (tie). The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir
By William Friedkin
2013 • Harper • Autobiography
The New Hollywood filmmaker, who died in August, dishes on the challenges of making classics like The French Connection and The Exorcist (and his regrets for risking people’s safety), his infamous ego and stubbornness (he passed on Star Wars) and a 1980 heart attack that made him look at things differently. Read it here.
Related reading: Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker, by Stephen Galloway
88 (tie). David O. Selznick’s Hollywood
By Ron Haver
1980 • Alfred A. Knopf • Coffee Table
Haver, the longtime director of LACMA’s film department, was obsessed with Gone with the Wind — he saw it some 150 times at a time before it was easily accessible — and worshipped Selznick. He devoted five years to this massive book, which the LA Times called “as elaborate as any Selznick production,” and which reportedly cost $1 million to print. Read it here.
Related reading: GWTW: The Making of Gone with the Wind, by Gavin Lambert
88 (tie). Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir
By Eddie Muller
1998 • St. Martin’s Griffin • Coffee Table
Employing amusing slang and gorgeous stills and posters to highlight relevant films and people both well-known and underappreciated, the “czar of noir” — now film fest curator and a TCM host — tells the story of a genre of post WWII films that has a French name, but is primarily American. Read it here.
Related reading: King of the Bs: Working Within the Hollywood System, by Charles Flynn & Todd McCarthy
88 (tie). Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators
By Ronan Farrow
2019 • Little, Brown and Company • History
Farrow documents his efforts to expose Harvey Weinstein’s sexual crimes, recalling obstruction from employers, intimidation from Weinstein allies and conversations with his sister, who has alleged that she was sexually abused, about how to interact with other survivors. His reporting helped to launch the #MeToo movement and won him a Pulitzer Prize. Read it here.
Related reading: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey
88 (tie). Cassavetes on Cassavetes
By Ray Carney
2001 • Faber & Faber • Interview/Oral History
Carney conducted 400 hours of interviews with Cassavetes and then, after the indie filmmaking trailblazer’s 1989 death, spent more than a decade interviewing everyone who knew and worked with him, getting to the bottom of his desire to make films, production techniques and disinterest in mainstream success. The author describes his book as “the autobiography Cassavetes never lived to write.” Read it here.
Related reading: Robert Altman: The Oral Biography Book, by Mitchell Zuckoff
83 (tie). The Star Machine
By Jeanine Basinger
2007 • Alfred A. Knopf • History
During Hollywood’s Golden Age, studios more or less owned the actors and actresses they had under contract, changing their names and appearances, shaping their on and off screen images, building them up or throwing them aside. Basinger gets into the mechanics of how that star system worked, using in-depth case studies like Lana Turner, Tyrone Power and Deanna Durbin. Read it here.
Related reading: The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine, by E.J. Fleming
83 (tie). The Making of The Wizard of Oz: Movie Magic and Studio Power in the Prime of MGM — and the Miracle of Production #1060
By Aljean Harmetz
1977 • Alfred A. Knopf • Making Of
This pioneering “making of” book dissects all of the elements that resulted in an MGM classic. Harmetz, who’d become the New York Times’ Hollywood correspondent, interviewed dozens of surviving cast and crew and emerged with incredible stories — why “Over the Rainbow” was almost cut, where the ‘Munchkins’ were found, how the studio hid Garland’s physical maturation, how the Wicked Witch ‘melted,’ etc. Read it here.
Related reading: The Making of Casablanca: Bogart, Bergman and World War II, by Aljean Harmetz
83 (tie). The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film
By Michael Ondaatje
2002 • Alfred A. Knopf • Interview/Oral History
The novelist Ondaatje and the sound/film editor Murch met and hit it off during the making of the film version of The English Patient and conducted five “conversations” over two years about how Murch confronted various challenges over the course of his illustrious career. John Boorman wrote, “This book should be required reading for anyone working in film.” Read it here.
83 (tie). Conversations With the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute and Conversations at the American Film Institute With the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation
By George Stevens Jr.
2006 & 2012 • Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group • Interview/Oral History
Stevens, the son of a legendary director and founder of AFI, presents, with commentary, transcribed highlights from seminars held there with filmmakers — many but not all American. The first volume features pearls of wisdom from the likes of Harold Lloyd, Federico Fellini and Satyajit Ray, the latter from younger legends including George Lucas, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg. Read it here.
Related reading: The Men Who Made the Movies, by Richard Schickel
83 (tie). By Myself
By Lauren Bacall
1978 • Alfred A. Knopf • Autobiography
Betty Joan Perske, “a nice Jewish girl from New York,” was discovered by Howard Hawks at 19, changed her name and became a star thanks to her sultry turn in To Have and Have Not opposite Humphrey Bogart, who she’d marry. This memoir, which recounts her many ups and downs before and after, including Bogie’s death and a relationship with Frank Sinatra, was chosen for a National Book Award. Read it here.
Related reading: The Lonely Life, by Bette Davis
76 (tie). Valley of the Dolls
By Jacqueline Susann
1966 • Bernard Geis Associates • Novel
Susann’s first novel, which follows three young women with showbiz dreams whose lives take unexpected turns, not least because of “dolls” (a nickname for upper and downer pills), was described by The Washington Post as a “trash read” and “everything that is wrong with America” — but it was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for 22 weeks, spawned a 1967 film and has sold 31 million copies. Read it here.
Related reading: Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time, by Stephen Rebello
76 (tie). Spike Lee’s Gotta Have It: Inside Guerrilla Filmmaking
By Spike Lee
1987 • Fireside Books • Making Of
Spike Lee’s 1986 feature directorial debut She’s Gotta Have It put him on the map. This is the story — derived from a diary that he kept during the year and a half he worked on the film, as well as a Billboard interview — of how he hustled and defied considerable odds (and a photo lab that threatened to auction off his negatives unless he settled his debts) to see it through. Read it here.
Related reading: Do the Right Thing: A Spike Lee Joint, by Spike Lee with Lisa Jones
76 (tie). Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency
By James Andrew Miller
2016 • HarperCollins • Interview/Oral History
Miller, our most impressive oral historian since Studs Terkel (he’s also chronicled SNL, ESPN and HBO), got some of Hollywood’s tightest-lipped people — CAA agents past and present, including Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer — to open up, revealing the intelligence, ambition and greed at the center of an operation that caused studios to spend wildly on talent, changing the types of movies it made financial sense to make. Read it here.
Related reading: Who Is Michael Ovitz? The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood, by Michael Ovitz
76 (tie). My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles
Edited by Peter Biskind
2013 • Metropolitan Books • Interview/Oral History
As in This Is Orson Welles, Welles is in conversation with a younger filmmaker, this time at tape-recorded lunches at Ma Maison during the last three years of his life. Bloated by overconsumption and ego but deflated by the industry, he is at his wackiest: rude to Richard Burton, spouting conspiracies about the Nazis killing Carole Lombard and fearful of contracting AIDS from a hug.
Related reading: Afterglow: A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael, by Francis Davis
76 (tie). Montgomery Clift: A Biography
By Patricia Bosworth
1978 • Harcourt Brace Jovanovich • Biography
Bosworth, who profiled Hollywood types in magazines and books for decades, did her best work crafting this portrait of a gifted actor who was sexually conflicted and was haunted after a car accident robbed him of his once flawless beauty. She spent five years on the project and, as the New York Times noted, “seem[ed] to have talked to everybody who ever had anything to do with Clift.” Read it here.
Related reading: Rainbow: Stormy Life of Judy Garland, by Christopher Finch
76 (tie). Hollywood: The Oral History
By Jeanine Basinger & Sam Wasson
2022 • Harper • Interview/Oral History
This brick of an 800-page book features quotes pulled from hundreds of seminars held at AFI over the decades, which are masterfully curated so as to create the appearance of a conversation between people from across the professions of the film industry about a variety of times and themes. The New York Times described the authors’ work as “structural origami.” Read it here.
Related reading: People Will Talk, by John Kobal
76 (tie). Hawks on Hawks
By Joseph McBride
1982 • University of California Press • Interview/Oral History
McBride met Hawks in 1970 and, at the urging of François Truffaut, convinced him to sit for several interviews over seven years for a Hitchcock/Truffaut-style book about his half-century career. Hawks memorably discusses his attraction to stories about male friendship and to strong female characters, and his perplexing The Big Sleep (“I wasn’t going to explain things, I was just going to try and make good scenes”). Read it here.
Related reading: Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, by Todd McCarthy
72 (tie). Scorsese on Scorsese
By Ian Christie & David Thompson
1989 • Faber & Faber • Interview/Oral History
Three interviews in England and another in Scotland, all conducted in 1987, provide the majority of material in this profile of one of America’s most significant filmmakers of the past 50 years. The master speaks about growing up in Little Italy, his cinematic influences and the making of all of his films through The Last Temptation of Christ. Read it here.
Related reading: A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, by Martin Scorsese & Michael Henry Wilson
72 (tie). Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player
By Robert Rodriguez
1995 • Dutton • Making Of
Best known today for the Spy Kids franchise, Rodriguez started out as indie as you can get, raising money for his 1992 Spanish-language debut feature El Mariachi by participating in medical studies. It ultimately sold to Columbia, grossed seven figures and put him on the map. This book draws from his old diary and includes his full screenplay.
Related reading: Thinking In Pictures: The Making of the Movie Matewan, by John Sayles
72 (tie). Mommie Dearest
By Christina Crawford
1978 • William Morrow & Co. • Autobiography
A year after the death of Joan Crawford, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history, came this shocking book, authored by an adopted daughter who she had disinherited, alleging that Crawford had been mentally unstable and abused her during her childhood. (“No wire hangers, ever!”) Disputed by some of Crawford’s other children, it was nevertheless made into a 1981 narrative film. Read it here.
Related reading: Joan Crawford: A Biography, by Bob Thomas
72 (tie). A Life in Movies
By Michael Powell
1987 • Alfred A. Knopf • Autobiography
One of the greatest British filmmakers shared this detailed account of his first 43 years, which discusses his childhood, breaking into the movies under Alfred Hitchcock, working for Alexander Korda and making The Red Shoes for J. Arthur Rank, while living a colorful life outside of work. He died three years later, but the second installment of his memoirs was finished by his widow, Thelma Schoonmaker. Read it here.
Related reading: Million-Dollar Movie: Volume II of a Life in Movies, by Michael Powell
69 (tie). George Hurrell’s Hollywood: Glamour Portraits, 1925-1992
By Mark A. Vieira
2013 • Running Press • Coffee Table
Coffee table books don’t come more stunning than this one, thanks both to the images taken by Hurrell, a game-changing portrait photographer, and the presentation of them by Vieira, a photographer in his own right and the author of more than a dozen impressive books. The author and subject actually met and worked together on a book project back in 1975; Hurrell died in 1992. Read it here.
Related reading: Photographs, by Annie Leibovitz
69 (tie). 5001 Nights at the Movies
By Pauline Kael
1982 • Holt, Rinehart and Winston • Criticism/Theory/Essay
While some prefer Kael’s longform work, many a film lover struggling to decide what to watch next has made great use of this collection of her short capsule reviews that appeared in The New Yorker’s “Goings On About Town” section. The New York Times declared that they “read like mini-Barthes essays: provocative, polished and idiosyncratic.” Read it here.
Related reading: Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, by Brian Kellow
69 (tie). 85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards
By Robert Osborne
2013 • Abbeville Press Publishers • History
The first book by Osborne, an actor turned journalist (he wrote for THR), was 1965’s Academy Awards Illustrated, a dispassionate history of the organization behind the Oscars, which then enlisted him to write its official history, which was released in 1979. The last of his six updates to that one was published in 2013, by which time he was a beloved TCM host. He died in 2017. Read it here.
Related reading: The Academy and the Award: The Coming of Age of Oscar and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, by Bruce Davis
66 (tie). Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of Independent American Cinema
By John Pierson
1996 • Hyperion • Business
Pierson, a producer’s representative, explains how he has helped filmmakers with no profile at the time to get their work made, sold and seen by the world, sharing stories about Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, Moore’s Roger & Me and Linklater’s Slackers, plus Hoop Dreams, Clerks and many others. Chats with Kevin Smith serve as interstitials between chapters. Read it here.
Related reading: How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, by Roger Corman with Jim Jerome
66 (tie). Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste
By John Waters
1981 • Dell • Autobiography
The Baltimore-based “Pope of Trash,” the subject of a new exhibit at the Academy Museum, herein shares the stories behind his early films like Pink Flamingos, and the worldview that has guided his unusual work: “To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about. If someone vomits watching one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation.” Read it here.
Related reading: Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, by John Waters
66 (tie). Film Form and The Film Sense
By Sergei Eisenstein, translated by Jay Leyda
1959 • Meridian Books • Criticism/Theory/Essay
Eisenstein, in his 54 years, made six films, most notably 1925’s Battleship Potemkin, which was highly influential on other filmmakers. His influence also extended to his writing: The Film Sense, a 1942 essay, discussed montage. Film Form, comprised of 12 essays of theory and analysis, followed in 1949. Years later, they were translated and combined this book, which The New York Times called “essential reading.” Read it here.
Related reading: Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein, by Sergei Eisenstein, edited by Richard Taylor, translated by William Powell
64 (tie). Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
By Robert McKee
1997 • HarperCollins • How To
As was memorably portrayed by Brian Cox in Adaptation, McKee is a real character who teaches a massively influential seminar on screenwriting that was the basis for this book, which every screenwriter has on his or her shelf. In case you haven’t heard, he hates voiceover narration and loves “inciting incidents.” Read it here.
Related reading: Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder
64 (tie). The Great Movies, The Great Movies II, The Great Movies III and The Great Movies IV
By Roger Ebert
2003, 2006, 2011 & 2016 • Three Rivers Press (first two) and University of Chicago Press (second two) • Criticism/Theory/Essay
These collections of incisive and personal essays that Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times allow admirers of his writing and thinking to read what are essentially his reviews of standout films that predated his career as a critic, as well as his fresh evaluations of standout films that he had previously written about. The final edition was published after his death. Read them here, here, here and here.
Related reading: The Great Films: Fifty Golden Years of Motion Pictures, by Bosley Crowther
61 (tie). Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood
By Cari Beauchamp
1997 • Scribner • Biography
Beauchamp, a PI turned politico turned prolific writer on Hollywood, shines a seminal light on women who carried considerable weight in nascent Hollywood, especially Marion, who was Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriter, won two screenwriting Oscars (and used them as doorstops) and knew everyone. The title comes from Marion’s lifelong search “for a man to look up to without lying down.” Read it here.
Related reading: Off with Their Heads!: A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood, by Frances Marion
61 (tie). Something Like an Autobiography
By Akira Kurosawa, translated by Audie E. Bock
1983 • Iwanami Shoten • Autobiography
In a memoir modeled after Jean Renoir’s My Life and My Films, the Japanese master behind Rashomon and The Seven Samurai gets candid about childhood struggles, the suicide of the older brother who introduced him to films, his country’s hesitance to embrace him and his philosophy that “There is nothing that says more about its creator than the work itself.” Read it here.
Related reading: The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, by Joseph L. Anderson & Donald Richie
61 (tie). My Autobiography
By Charlie Chaplin
1964 • Simon & Schuster • Autobiography
Arguably the greatest creative force Hollywood has ever known, and one of the most famous men who ever lived, wrote his memoir while in exile from the U.S. due to the Red Scare. In the massive bestseller, he recounts his Dickensian childhood, the origin of his Little Tramp character and, with questionable accuracy, interactions with virtually every famous person of his time.
Related reading: The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me, by Lillian Gish
59 (tie). My Last Sigh
By Luis Buñuel, translated by Abigail Israel
1983 • Alfred A. Knopf • Autobiography
With the tremendous and uncredited assistance of his go-to screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, the most celebrated Spanish filmmaker ever offers musings on his life and work, but also on booze, death and dreams. A surrealist whose career began with a film in which an eyeball is sliced open, he declares, “I love dreams, even when they’re nightmares, which is usually the case.” And he took his last sigh that same year. Read it here.
Related reading: Every Man for Himself and God Against All: A Memoir, by Werner Herzog, translated by Michael Hoffmann
59 (tie). The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA and the Hidden History of Hollywood
By Dennis McDougal
1998 • Crown • Biography
McDougal, formerly of the L.A. Times, conducted 200 interviews to determine how a man who came from nothing grew MCA into the world’s largest talent agency, ran the Universal studio and became the most powerful person in Hollywood history. Some aspects of his story are less savory than others, and the preface begins: “Lew Wasserman did not want this book published.” Read it here.
Related reading: The Agency: William Morris and the Hidden History of Show Business, by Frank Rose
57 (tie). The Studio
By John Gregory Dunne
1969 • Farrar, Straus and Giroux • Business
Dunne managed to secure unrestricted access to the 20th Century Fox lot for a full year, spanning May 1967 through May 1968, during which the business was rapidly changing. His portraits of studio chief Richard Zanuck, Doctor Dolittle producer Arthur P. Jacobs and others provide an unparalleled look into the lives and creative considerations of Hollywood power players of the time. Read it here.
Related reading: The Magic Factory: How MGM Made An American in Paris, by Donald Knox
57 (tie). Godard on Godard
By Jean-Luc Godard, translated and edited by Tom Milne
1972 • Viking Press • Criticism/Theory/Essay
This portrait of Godard, a film critic (for Cahiers du Cinéma and elsewhere) before he was a filmmaker (ushering in the French New Wave), gathers reviews and essays that he wrote about other filmmakers and their work as well as interviews that he himself later gave about his own films. The included works collectively span 1950 through 1967. Read it here.
Related reading: Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, by Richard Brody
51 (tie). Notes: The Making of Apocalypse Now
By Eleanor Coppola
1979 • Simon & Schuster • Making Of
Francis Ford Coppola encouraged his wife to film a documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, which years later came out as Hearts of Darkness. But first, she made a book of the notes she took throughout the chaotic shoot, which saw one star show up hugely overweight and another suffer a heart attack, was delayed by weather and military conflicts and went way over budget and schedule. Read it here.
Related reading: The Cleopatra Papers: A Private Correspondence, by Jack Brodsky & Nathan Weiss
51 (tie). From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film
By Siegfried Kracauer
1947 • Princeton University Press • Criticism/Theory/Essay
Kracauer, a critic who fled Germany in 1933, looks back on films of the Weimar era for clues about how the Nazis rose to power and argues that “through an analysis of the German film, deep psychological dispositions predominant in Germany from 1918 to 1933 can be exposed,” he wrote. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called it “the most ambitious attempt to use films as a historic source.” Read it here.
Related reading: Hollywood