THE BLOG

An NYPL Reading List for the Oscar Watcher

02/21/2015 08:52 am ET | Updated Apr 23, 2015

BY JOHN CALHOUN
Librarian at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

As everyone prepares for this year's Oscars, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts thought it would be fun to recommend a few books for the Oscar enthusiast. Below are nine books that provide some insight and context on some of this year's nominees and on the awards process itself. Consider it an Oscarologist's syllabus.

My First Movie, Take Two / edited by Stephen Lowenstein. Pantheon Books, 2008.
This year's Oscar race has by all accounts come down to films by two darlings of independent cinema: Richard Linklater's Boyhood and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman. In this book, each has his say about earlier work: in Linklater's case the 1990 indie landmark Slacker, and in González Iñárritu's, his Mexican debut Amores Perros, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000.

Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film / photos by Matt Lankes; text by Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, and Cathleen Sutherland. University of Texas Press, 2014.
For those who can't get enough of Boyhood, this volume features more than 200 portraits and behind-the-scenes photographs, with commentary by cast and crew.

The Three Amigos: The Transnational Filmmaking of Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón / Deborah Shaw. Manchester University Press, 2013.
Those who want more context on the Mexican film industry and the movement that gave rise to González Iñárritu may be interested in Shaw's analysis. Cuarón, by the way, is last year's Best Director Oscar winner (for Gravity), so it may the second year in a row for the amigos.

The Wes Anderson Collection / Matt Zoller Seitz. Abrams, 2013.
Another indie stalwart in the running is Wes Anderson, whose movie The Grand Budapest Hotel seems likely to sweep many of the "below-the-line" categories like costume and production design. This artwork-heavy volume is a proper tribute to a director whose calling card is his distinctive visual aesthetic.

Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema / David A. Kirby. MIT Press, 2011.
Two of this year's Best Picture nominees have scientists at their center: The Imitation Game, about pioneering computer scientist and World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, and The Theory of Everything, about physicist Stephen Hawking. Kirby's book discusses the uneasy relationship that sometimes exists between science and film narrative.

The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood / Sara Anson Vaux. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012.
With Eastwood's American Sniper on the ballot, it may be instructive to delve into this analysis of the evolving moral landscape in the veteran filmmaker's work. Author Vaux zeroes in on 15 Eastwood films, including High Plains Drifter (1973), Oscar winners Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004), and Hereafter (2010).

Soul Searching: Black-themed Cinema from the March on Washington to the Rise of Blaxploitation / Christopher Sieving. Wesleyan University Press, 2011.
Selma, Ava DuVernay's recreation of the 1965 voting rights campaign in Alabama, is an Oscar nominee for Best Picture and has many passionate adherents. As a discovery tool for films actually being made about African-Americans during the Civil Rights Era, Sieving's chronicle could not be bettered.

Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood / Mark Harris. Penguin Press, 2008.
Focusing on the 1960s, Oscarologist Mark Harris' compulsively readable volume may be the best book ever written about the intersection of culture and the Oscars. The author provides in-depth production histories on each of the 1967 Best Picture nominees--Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and even, Doctor Dolittle--and takes us through awards campaigns and Oscar night.

85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards / Robert Osborne. Abbeville Press Publishers, 2013.
There are many year-by-year analyses of the Oscars, but illustrious TCM host Robert Osborne was first to the party. (He published his first Oscar book in 1965.) The latest covers all the nominees, winners, and ceremonies for every year through 2012. An updated volume should be published in three years, when Osborne will turn 86 and Oscar will turn 90.