You've got to give this to Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon: They're honest. In their book Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, they explain exactly what you have to do to become a successful screenwriter. Step one is, you have to move to Los Angeles. If you don't follow step one, there is no step two. That's an ugly truth you won't find in the dozens of screenwriting books that are published every year. Of course, the problem with being a successful screenwriter is that your screenplay gets mauled by everyone who touches it, and even if everything goes well, the best-case scenario is that you still have Night at the Museum on your resume forever. This is a funny tweak on screenwriting books (the only chapter that is actually about writing the screenplay is tiny and deals mostly with formatting) that names celebrity names (as you may already suspect, Billy Crystal is a "dick") and offers information that could be useful if you were to become a successful screenwriter. It's a slight, rude, self-aware book that will make you laugh, even though you'll probably forget about it ten minutes after setting it aside.

On the other side of the filmmaking equation, you have the film critics. Or, at least, you used to. Nowadays, the film critics are all interchangeable factors you plug into Rotten Tomatoes in order to sum up a numerical grade for a movie. Roger Ebert is pretty much the only big name film critic left, so Todd Rendleman's Rule of Thumb: Ebert at the Movies makes sense; it's a critical overview of Roger Ebert's criticism. Unfortunately, this is too personal an account to be academic—Rendleman never met an "I" he didn't love—and it's too in-the-weeds about obscure films to be appealing to general interest readers. I'd like to read a strong critical overview of how Ebert's language was shaped by his career as a newspaperman, but this is more about Rendleman's reactions to Ebert's reactions. Despite some interesting chapters—an exploration of Ebert's Catholicism is pretty damned fascinating—this book fails to make a case for itself.

Thankfully, there are still writers doing dense readings of popular and independent film. J. Hoberman's Film After Film: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema? is a collection of work covering the last ten years of movies, and how it relates to (and is affected by) George W. Bush's War on Terror.

The first essay in this book is a brilliant piece of writing explaining that all film produced in America now is animated film—more artificial, computer-created image than old-school analog production. Unfortunately, the rest of the book doesn't quite live up to that first essay's promise. It's kind of plodding, a year-by-year march through the first decade of the 21st century, examining the War on Terror through film—V for Vendetta, There Will Be Blood, foreign movies you've probably never heard of before—and trying to come up with some kind of unified theory for the decade. The chronological structure is an unfortunate choice, because you come through long, unsatisfying swaths of boring filmmaking and want to skip ahead to the good parts. As it is, the majority of Film After Film doesn't feel like a solid book, the way that first segment does. If you care about serious critical thought on film, this book is definitely worth your time—Hoberman is crazy-smart—but it's not nearly as lively as it should be.