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News » Film & TV

Brain Movies

Need a break from bad celluloid? Need a gift? Read a movie book.



Take it from somebody who acts like he knows: There aren’t more than a couple of movies in Salt Lake theaters right now that are worth your cash.

We stand amidst the death rattles of perhaps the most underwhelming year in film since the early 1980s, and things aren’t improving in its final month. There are little more than curiosities and cookie-cutters left on the 2000 release schedule. Look at it this way: It’s quite possible that the best film of the Oscar season will be Charlie’s Angels.

If you’ve already seen Cameron Diaz back that ass up, this might be a great night to stay in and read a good book—which is a lucky thing. While the screen has suffered this year, the bookshelf has seen a steady stream of interesting and compelling movie-related titles.

In case you’re wondering—or in case you don’t have a gift idea for the introverted, glasses-wearing, movie-obsessed nerd on your Christmas list who you’re only staying friends with just in case he turns out to be the next bombastic studio boss or hotshot director—here’s a list of the most notable and interesting entertainment-related books of the year:

The Keys to the Kingdom HHHH Journalist Kim Masters, who co-wrote a compelling history of Sony’s dealings with Columbia called Hit and Run, tells the story of Michael Eisner’s rise and gradual fall at Disney. Primarily, it’s a painstakingly researched sketch of Eisner, a Jewish kid from New York who wants nothing more than to wear Walt Disney’s mantle as America’s Great White Entertainer. We also get tremendous detail on the career of Jeffrey Katzenberg, who trailed in Eisner’s wake for years before becoming so wealthy from his Disney severance package that he was able to own a share of DreamWorks. Masters writes sparely and engagingly, and the book’s portrait of ambition and greed would be sublime comedy if it weren’t so disturbing.

Conversations With Wilder HH Director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Say Anything) conducts a book’s worth of interviews with legendarily eclectic director Billy Wilder, who made a career out of subverting the public’s sympathies and threading the Hays Code’s loopholes. Wilder tends to ramble on a bit, and that’s fine; this is a man who’s seen it all, who’s done it all and who’s eager to talk about it. Trouble is, Crowe also tends to ramble on a bit, and he’s not nearly as interesting. Like a Russian novel, this book would be twice as good if it were half as long, but it’s still a useful window into the mind of a film genius.

The Operator HHH David Geffen’s acquisition of ridiculous amounts of wealth is the main focus of this semi-authorized biography by Wall Street Journal suck-up columnist Tom King. Though faithful in cataloging a mountain of Geffen anecdotes (for instance, he desperately tried to marry Cher several years before announcing he was gay) and scrupulous in chronicling his rise to power (Geffen always knows exactly when to move on, whether from lovers or business partnerships), we just don’t find out why Geffen ticks—or even if it’s possible to know. King’s reportage is strong in some areas and lacking in others, but The Operator is still a compelling story of a contradictory mogul.

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? HH1/2 Premiere magazine writer Rachel Abramowitz has compiled a largely oral history of the rise of women in Hollywood. This 400-page compendium is awash with incredibly detailed background profiles on everybody from Sherry Lansing to Jodie Foster, but Abramowitz is a bit out of her depth in writing at such length, and she lacks a coherent thesis to tie everything together. Still, anyone interested in how a surprisingly small group of women have managed to conquer one of the nation’s biggest boys’ clubs will be intrigued by the stories herein.

Seeing Is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us To Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties HHH1/2 Critic, essayist and raconteur Peter Biskind throws acid-tipped darts at a huge board: the films of the 1950s and how they reflected every stupid, misinformed, misguided prejudice of the time. Written in Biskind’s smooth conversational style, it serves its greatest purpose as a primer on how to find subtle subtexts in the films of any era. You’ll never look at classic studio fare the same way.