The American Cinema by Andrew Sarris. (Da Capo, $18). There is no overestimating the impact critic Andrew Sarris had on serious filmgoers when he Americanized French auteur theory and evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of some 200 directors (ranked from the 14 in "The Pantheon" to 11 he characterized as "Less Than Meets the Eye"). Love it or not, this book is an essential work of film criticism.
Elia Kazan: A Life (Da Capo, $33). A huge sprawling autobiography from "the actor's director" whose films included On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and East of Eden. When this nearly 900-page book came out in 1988, Norman Mailer described it as "the best autobiography I've read by a prominent American in I don't know how many years."
King Cohn by Bob Thomas (out of print). A deliciously gossipy biography of Harry Cohn — the feared and reviled longtime head of Columbia Pictures, a fierce law unto himself and typical of the moguls who ruled the studios during Hollywood's Golden Age. As comedian Red Skelton said of the man's well-attended 1958 funeral, "It proves what Harry always said. Give the public what they want and they'll come out for it."
The Parade's Gone By... by Kevin Brownlow (Univ. of Calif., $40). Fueled by Brownlow's extensive knowledge and one-of-a-kind interviews with dozens of directors, producers, and stars, this indispensable 1976 book almost singlehandedly revived serious interest in the long-derided world of silent film.
The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, $14). The great novelist turned his attention to a Hollywood he knew well in this collection of short stories about a washed-up screenwriter "who was hot when the movies were dumb." They retain their relevance and punch to this day.
Picture by Lillian Ross (Da Capo, $17). A terrific piece of journalism and a landmark in the history of American nonfiction writing, this look at how John Huston made his 1951 adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage remains the ultimate inside-Hollywood story.
— Kenneth Turan is the lead film critic of both the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition. His new book, Not to Be Missed, describes and deconstructs his 54 favorite movies of all time, the ones he could watch over and over.