(Alfred A. Knopf, 1,024 pages, $39.95)
By David Thomson
This may be the greatest movie-related bathroom book of all time. One thousand alphabetical entries, each a well-honed five hundred words that deal with movies worth a second-or first-look. As with all compilations of this type, it works best when you find yourself running for your Netflix account or flinging the book across the room in rancorous dissent. (He said what about John Ford?) Thomson, author of the equally opinionated The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and numerous other books, includes adorations of less-known works by world-class directors: Welles' Mr. Arkadin, Bresson's Mouchette, Ray's They Live by Night. He also offers dismissals of allegedly great movies-Raiders of the Lost Ark takes a sustained beating, as does The Shawshank Redemption. Of course, Thomson indulges his favorite periods and national styles of filmmaking. He is keen on 1970s Hollywood Renaissance near-classics like Arthur Penn's Night Moves and The Missouri Breaks, Ivan Passer's unforgettable (and yet strangely forgotten) Cutter's Way, Huston's Fat City and Altman's 3 Women. Among foreign directors he tends to the misfires and oddities. He raves about Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, mainly for its explosive finale, reminds us how seminal The Passenger is, and revives more obscure names like Francesco Rosi (Lucky Luciano, The Mattei Affair) and Jean Eustache (The Mother and the Whore).
And then there is Thomson's exquisite ear, his gift for nuance and the reorienting observation (for example, that Goodfellas is constructed like an amoral musical, "musicalized by Scorsese's jukebox of hits"), and of course, his supple and serpentine prose. You may disagree with him, but few people are better equipped than Thomson to shepherd us on this marvelous journey.
Review written by John Patterson.