The ten best film guides

Want to know what's going on behind the silver screen? The film writer Gareth Higgins selects books with an inside track on everything from legendary directors to specialist genres and technical wizardry
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The Independent Culture

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film David Thomson (Little, Brown, £25)

Angie Dickinson may be his favourite actress, he may ignore your favourite director, you may disagree vehemently, but you can't resist the passion and self-effacing wit of David Thomson. The ideal accompaniment to a nachos-and-merlot-fuelled evening with your favourite DVD.

Notes on the Making of 'Apocalypse Now' Eleanor Coppola (Faber & Faber, £12.99)

Tornadoes, helicopters, Martin Sheen's heart attack, Marlon Brando's weirdness, Francis Ford Coppola's near-megalomania and even the role played by ancient Chinese religion in the making of the most magnificent train-wreck of a movie ever. You will never again underestimate the titanic struggle of being a film-maker.

Conversations with Wilder Cameron Crowe (Faber & Faber, £12.99)

The director Crowe (who wants to be Billy Wilder) has created a brilliant book of lovingly compiled interviews with the master. Wilder's feigned disinterest in the interviews bounces off Crowe's boyish humility at being in the presence of a film genius. It all makes for fantastic reading.

Projections Edited by John Boorman, Walter Donohue et al (Faber & Faber, £14.99)

A collection of beautifully presented think-pieces from the leading edge of mainstream cinema. You'll find articles from Martin Scorsese on why widescreen matters, interviews between directors and their stars, and very sweet memorials to recently deceased cinematic wizards. You also get directors talking to someone who listens for a long time about how they did what they did, and how they do what they do.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls Peter Biskind (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

The years of feasting that were 1968-79 are explained in every gory detail in this book. Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Spielberg, Paul Schrader, Hal Ashby - a rogues' gallery of the finest cinematic artists of the past 30 American years, finished off with a rum and coke (and I don't mean the drinkable kind).

The Cinema Book Edited by Pam Cook & Mieke Bernink (British Film Institute, £23.99)

Want to know the difference between your Italian neo-realism and British Free Cinema? Maybe you do, and you just don't know it yet. Check out the British Film Institute's wonderful survey of the world of film - it's a little complex at times, but it leaves nothing out.

A Century of Films: Derek Malcolm's personal best Derek Malcolm (Tauris Parke, £9.99)

One of the few end-of-millennium texts that I still bother to read. Malcolm's knowledge and humanist kindness shine through in almost every choice. Plus, he's the only other critic I know of who agrees with me that Broadway Danny Rose is Woody Allen's best film.

How to Read a Film James Monaco (Oxford University Press, £18.99)

Everything you'll ever need to know about this kind of thing. Aspect ratios, mise-en-scène, jump cuts, crash-zooms, auteur theory and the kitchen sink. But don't be put off - the book can be read even by ordinary mortals who don't have a PhD in film studies or suchlike.

David Lean Kevin Brownlow (Faber & Faber, £16.99)

Mammoth biography to suit the maker of truly mammoth films, such as Lawrence of Arabia. Brownlow goes deep into the psyche and story of the greatest director Britain has produced. His words evoke worlds of magic and mystery - you are left yearning for someone to make the film of Lean's epic life.

Taschen's Movies of the 90s Edited by Jurgen Muller (Taschen, £19.99)

This series looking at different decades of film is for those of us who like pictures, and the 1990s gave us rich pickings. The writing tends towards German middle-brow analysis, but the photos make these the best coffee-table film books around.

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