Leonard Maltin’s 2013 Movie Guide is a whimsical tale about a loveably quixotic old man who quests to see every movie ever made in all the land. Also, there’s probably a dragon or something he has to slay…
Seriously though, Leonard Maltin is an American institution. He’s been putting out his movie guide every year since 1986, with editions going back sporadically before that to 1969. Chances are any movie you can name will be reviewed within its pages. Now, it is worth noting that Leonard Maltin doesn’t actually write every review that appears in his book. He certainly hasn’t seen every film that appears in his book. He has a team of contributors the help him put together this tome. For example, I know from interviews and such that Maltin doesn’t care for horror films, so any review in the book for a contemporary horror film was probably written by someone else.
It’s important to note because a book like this isn’t really meant to foster debate amongst its readers. I’m sure debates happen all the time, but I believe the book is more intended as a tool to help its reader find films that they will likely enjoy. Every film critic is different. Taste in films is a subjective, illusive thing so one has to know how to use a book like this to effectively discover films they may enjoy. By comparing tastes in films across multiple genres, patters will begin to emerge, and the reader can use any given review as a sort of rubric for how they will likely experience the same film.
It’s become almost a game to compare Maltin’s reviews for odd patterns. I distinctly remember an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where Mike Nelson and his robot pals sat down to Riff a film called Laserblast, which Maltin gives 2 ½ stars in his book. The MST3K crew spend the end credits of the film listing other (vastly superior) movies that also were given 2 ½ stars. I don’t remember any of them, but just flipping through the guide you’d see that The Dark Knight, I Love You, Man, and Independence Day all got the same rating and each had a lot more going for them. Again, film criticism is a subjective, and my pointing out these examples isn’t meant to be a comment on Maltin’s credentials as a critic. I’m sure that if any one of us went through a list of 1000 movies we’d seen and rated them all between 0 and 4 stars, there would be some awkward moments to explain. Scroll through your own Netflix ratings and you’ll see what I mean.
I’ve never spent this much time with one of Leonard Maltin’s books, so I didn’t realize there was much more to it than the hundreds of pages of reviews. In addition, there’s a section where you can look up actors’ names and see an incomplete list of the films they’ve been in. There’s a list of video distributors up front, and a list of remarkable debut films from the past 50 years, which feels really randomly thrown in, but it’s a great list, full of some of my favorites You’ll also find a short introduction from Maltin describing changes being made to the book in this addition. One thing I found interesting was that there have been a lot of movies that came out before 1965 that have been archived into a separate text, Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide.
I can’t imagine buying a new copy of this every year, but if you don’t have a copy I would definitely suggest picking one up. Or, you could download the Leonard Maltin app from the iTunes store. It’s not free, but it’s always kept up to date and can be really useful.
Available from Plume, a member of the Penguin Group on August 29