The best book ever written about the Academy Awards?

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Critic and historian Mark Harris has been the most reliably sane and informed commentator on the Oscar race over the past few years.

Sadly, for us, Harris had to sit out this year’s Oscars because he is married to Tony Kushner, the screenwriter and playwright who is a nominee for his amazing “Lincoln” script.

Harris writes for Entertainment Weekly, New York magazine and GQ about movies and television on a regular basis. He has a characteristically smart piece on male movie stars in the current GQ in which he contrasts the 2012 films of rising stars Channing Tatum and Taylor Kitsch and then muses on what constitutes a “star” in contemporary Hollywood.

In 2008, Harris published what is perhaps the best book ever written about the Oscars, “Pictures at a Revolution” (The Penguin Press), which rightly brought him tremendous critical praise.

The book takes us back to 1967 and shows us how the five films nominated for the best picture Oscar that year were a perfect representation of the artistic and financial forces that were about to produce a changing of the guard in Hollywood.

Old-school Tinsel Town was represented by the conservative “Doctor Dolittle” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” the brash young revolutionaries were on hand in the form of “Bonnie & Clyde” and “The Graduate” and the fifth film (and eventual winner) was a mix of old and new styles, “In the Heat of the Night.”

Harris takes us behind the scenes of the making of all five Oscar-nominated films. In each case, years were spent simply trying to get the movies into production.

The material on “Bonnie & Clyde” is particularly interesting, detailing the half-decade spent by Esquire magazine writers Robert Benton and David Newman trying to interest directors in their off-beat gangster film. Harris shows us how their screenplay grew out of the writers’ love of the French New Wave pictures that opened here in the early 1960s and that “Bonnie & Clyde” was almost directed by Francois Truffaut (he opted instead for “Fahrenheit 451” as his English language debut).

“Pictures at a Revolution” is based on fresh reporting and fresh insights into a pivotal moment in the history of movies. And the mixture of commerce and art represented in the Oscar race of 1967 is still true of the Academy’s thinking 46 years later.

Joe Meyers

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