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The Best Movie Discoveries of 2019: Books on Movies

It’s a juggling act: watch another movie, or read books about movies, writing that might give you a greater understanding and appreciation of cinema. DVD and Blu-ray extras, including audio commentaries, are often wonderful, but I still enjoy doing old-fashioned book research. Last year I read 15 movie-related books and made it a goal to expand that number in 2019. I should reach 25 movie-related books (and a ton of articles) by the time we hit December 31. So here are the books written about movies that I enjoyed (and often learned from) in 2019:


Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood (2014) William J. Mann

The William Desmond Taylor murder investigation was compelling, but I was far more interested in the stories of Adolph Zukor, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Will Hays, Marcus Loew, and the history of early cinema in America. Whether you’re into early cinema or true crime, read it.

We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film (2017) Noah Isenberg

Isenberg's book is a wonderful read for anyone who's seen Casablanca once, twice, or 100 times and wants to know more, not only about the movie itself, but also how it continues to be a cultural powerhouse. For those wanting to know more, I highly recommend the excellent book The Making of Casablanca: Bogart, Bergman, and World War II (previously titled Round Up the Usual Suspects) by Aljean Harmetz and a wonderful biography of the film's director titled Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode.

Goodis: A Life in Black and White (1982; English edition 2013) Philippe Garnier

This book works on so many levels: a biography of a neglected (and unusual) writer, a look at how novels were chosen and adapted to screenplays in the classic Hollywood era, the evolution of pulp paperback fiction, and much more. Garnier originally published the book in 1982, but it wasn't translated into English until 2013. This book - and Goodis's fiction - should be read by anyone who appreciates crime fiction, movies, or just the varied lives of writers.

Room to Dream (2018) David Lynch, Kristine McKenna

It seems the people who are most disappointed with this book are those who want (and expect) Lynch to explain everything from his films. Sorry; not gonna happen. But read it (better yet, listen to the audiobook, half of which is read by Lynch) and you’ll discover most of what you really need to know about his work (and not just his films).

A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann (1991) Steven C. Smith

From the Headlines to Hollywood: The Birth and Boom of Warner Bros. (2016) Chris Yogerst

One of my goals for 2019 was to read more about the history of movie studios. Yogerst’s examination of the early days of Warner Bros. and how those pictures were immediately relevant then (and now) is well worth reading.

The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema (2017) Michael Vaughn

Warren Oates: A Wild Life (2009) Susan Compo

Susan Compo's biography of Warren Oates is the story of a man who was in many ways comfortable in his own skin, yet always a seeker. Oates, one of America's finest and still underrated character actors, rarely gained the spotlight in his films, yet seemed content. Most of the time. His off-screen life included several wives, children, and friendships, all of which involve stories that prove entertaining, reflective, melancholy, and, as the title suggests, wild.

RKO Radio Pictures: A Titan is Born (2012) Richard B. Jewell

Noir City Sentinel Annual #3 (2011) Eddie Muller, publisher; Donald Malcolm, editor

Moseby Confidential: Arthur Penn’s Night Moves and the Rise of Neo-Noir (2019) Matthew Asprey Gear

Movies That Mattered: More Reviews from a Transformative Decade (2017) Dave Kehr

The decade in question covers the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s when Kehr was writing for the Chicago Reader. If you enjoy intelligent writing on movies (even when you don’t agree with him), Kehr is the guy for you. (Also check out his earlier book, When Movies Mattered.)

Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling (2017) David Bordwell

Probably my favorite movie-related read of the year - Previously reviewed

Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History (2014) Mark Bailey, illustrated by Edward Hemingway

The Kid Stays in the Picture (1994) Robert Evans

One of the most fascinating and depressing books I’ve ever encountered on the movie industry. I read this about two weeks before the death of its author, the legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans. If you want to understand how movies were made in the New Hollywood, the book is essential reading.

The Philosophy of TV Noir (Philosophy of Popular Culture series, 2008) Steven M. Sanders, Aeon J. Skoble, eds.

Need more? You can always check Raquel Stecher’s postings of New & Upcoming Classic Film Books from her excellent website Out of the Past: A Classic Movie Blog.

I’m very interested in learning which movie-related books you discovered in 2019. Please feel free to link to blog posts, podcasts, or simply list titles and authors of books you enjoyed in 2019, regardless of their publication dates. Thanks. And when you’re not watching, make sure you’re reading.

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