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Oscar Ready: 12 New Books for Movie Buffs

Our pick of the latest film reads will satisfy every cinephile ahead of Hollywood’s big Academy Awards night / BY Nathalie Atkinson / March 8th, 2023

Months of gowns, galas and celebrity glad-handing during awards season will culminate on March 12 with the annual Academy Awards. From red carpet couturiers and a celebrity spin master to deconstructing classic movies and the inside scoop from Sex and the City’s sartorial maven, our pick of the latest film reads will satisfy every type of cinephile ahead of Hollywood’s biggest night. Volumes have been written about La La Land, so check out our December round-up for more Tinseltown tomes.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Get Mahoney! by Jim Mahoney

The exclamation point in the title says it all: Summoning this press agent was usually a matter of some urgency (for example, when Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped in 1963). Over Mahoney’s 60-year career, Hollywood’s go-to fixer put out fires, buried scandals and shaped the public images of Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Clark Gable and Steve McQueen (a star so difficult that Mahoney fired him as a client). The ultimate insider, now 95, tells (almost) all in this dishy who’s who.


2Oscar Wars by Michael Schulman

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded in 1927, conceived by Hollywood studios primarily to market their movies. Schulman, a staff writer at The New Yorker, goes behind the scenes in this engaging history of the established power structure of a system that favours white actors and, in recent years, elaborate and expensive months-long For Your Consideration campaigns. It’s valuable background when considering the current Academy Awards controversy: the celebrity word-of-mouth campaign that helped Andrea Riseborough’s performance in the tiny indie film To Leslie get enough notice to earn a surprise Best Actress nomination (at the expense, some say, of Black women who were odds-on favourites).

3The Black Guy Dies First by Robin K. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris

Coleman, a scholar of media studies and the cultural politics of Blackness, and Harris, a veteran entertainment journalist who created the pioneering Black Horror Movies website, build on their 2019 documentary Horror Noire to trace the birth of the troubling horror movie trope (introduced by Spider Baby and Night of the Living Dead, circa 1968, up to I Am Legend and Us), examine Black character clichés in movie history and study the implications of casting and race.

4Pat in the City by Patricia Field

As much a cultural force as a costume designer, Field is the genius behind Sex and the City’s famously over-the-top outfits. The stylist chronicles the goings-on at her New York boutique and the 1970s nightlife that inspired her, and shares stories about turning Meryl Streep into sadistic style editor Miranda Priestly for The Devil Wears Prada and the madcap looks that made SATC such a hit, cementing its place in pop culture. It’s a fascinating read about a life in fashion, not that the 82-year-old is slowing down: her latest projects include a new fashion gallery and costumes for Kim Cattrall’s upcoming series Glamorous.

5Acting Naturally by David Thomson

The film historian is nothing if not prolific, and Thomson’s latest analyzes great performances. It’s a love letter to the craft that shines a welcome spotlight on lesser-known supporting and character actors (such as Marcel Dalio, a croupier in Casablanca) and argues — elegantly and convincingly — that Method Acting was the biggest industry game-changer since the advent of sound. It’s worth reading for the provocative final chapter alone, which weaves together commentary contrasting the technique and effect of Marlon Brando and Meryl Streep.

6Crooked, But Never Common by Stuart Klawans

Between 1939 and 1948, Preston Sturges wrote and directed a slew of sparkling comedies – The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, Sullivan’s Travels and many others — that have since become classics of the genre. Klawans, the award-winning former film critic for The Nation magazine, dives into the social critique, slapstick and sophisticated structure of Sturges’ work to demonstrate that old adage – tragedy is easy; comedy is hard.

7Colors of Film by Charles Bramesco

Colour – in art direction and production design, cinematography and costumes – contributes to narrative, advances character and creates an emotional and psychological impact on the audience. This coffee-table book is clever eye candy thanks to a novel approach that will make you look at movies in a fresh way. Bramesco, a film critic (and former Rolling Stone staff writer) considers films through the colour palettes of 50 movies, going back to A Trip to the Moon (1902) and up to recent notables like Amelie, Spirited Away, Moonlight, Schindler’s List, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Black Panther, while explaining the history and evolving technologies of colour in film. (Mar. 14)

8Black Rodeo by Mia Mask

Shut out of Oscar nominations, Jordan Peele’s acclaimed neo-Western sci-fi horror film Nope deserved better. While it was wildly entertaining, it also explored how Hollywood has tokenized non-white people, commodified both landscape and wildlife and underscored who the West really belongs to (hint: it’s not colonizer cowboys). Mask, a professor of African-American cinema at Vassar College in New York, probes similar themes in her book, subtitled “A History of the African American Western.” It spans rich cinematic history and visual culture, from the days of Woody Strode in the 1950s and Sidney Poitier Black cowboy roles in the 1970s, to contemporary westploitation films like Django Unchained. So much of Hollywood history consists of retreading the same material that it’s a rare treat to get a first-of-its-kind survey, especially when it’s as eye-opening and thought-provoking as this.

9But Have You Read the Book? by Kristen Lopez

For casual film buffs and avid readers alike, Lopez, an IndieWire entertainment writer and classic-film podcaster, offers 52 short but canny essays that compare screen adaptations to the books that inspired them. Some movies diverge from the source material in small but crucial ways (like shifting the point of view in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), while others reinterpret classics like Amy Heckerling’s Clueless riff on Jane Austen’s Emma. There’s insight on The Color Purple, Crazy Rich Asians, Dr. No, The Remains of the Day, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Valley of the Dolls and The Hunger Games, to name just a few.

10Nothing to Fear by Jason Isralowitz

Alfred Hitchcock books are a genre unto themselves. This one takes a refreshing new slant by using the legendary filmmaker’s harrowing 1956 drama The Wrong Man to look at the broader context of historical social justice movements around wrongful prosecution. The movie was based on the real-life false arrest of down-on-his-luck Queens musician Manny Balestrero (played by Henry Fonda); in this book, Manhattan attorney Isralowitz examines the trial and miscarriage of justice (and others like it) that inspired Hitchcock’s only fact-based movie.


11Cary Grant’s Suit by Todd McEwen

In the titular essay, the California novelist and cinephile offers a delightful contrarian take on North by Northwest, unpacking it as a story about the adventures that the debonair actor’s wardrobe has in the picture. That should give you some idea of his quirky personal musings on eight other classic films (To Catch a Thief, Chinatown, The 39 Steps, The Three Stooges, et al.) and how they thread the needle of memoir with digressions into esoteric and entertaining criticism — or is it the other way around?


12René Hubert edited by Andres Janser

This is a lavish (and long overdue) biography of Swiss-born Hubert who, after his Paris theatre costumes attracted the attention of silent film diva Gloria Swanson, went on to dress Marlene Dietrich and Ingrid Bergman as one of Hollywood’s first well-known costume designers. The book mixes personal sketches, photos and film stills with insightful and appreciative essays by designers about Hubert’s innovative work (including interior design and uniforms for Swissair), and features excerpts from his own unpublished memoirs that illuminate the glamour of a bygone era.


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