Check It Out: Reading up before the Oscars

On Feb. 24, the 85th Academy Awards ceremony will take place at the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theatre in Hollywood. The show has grown considerably from its humble origins in 1929 as a private banquet for 270 guests at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

This year's event is expected to draw around 40 million viewers in the U.S. and will be broadcast live in 200 countries. ABC has announced that commercial time has been sold out at an average price of $1.8 million for a 30-second spot. Film production companies are expecting a big payday also. By one estimate, ticket sales for nominated films in the Best Picture category will increase by an average of one third.

No clear front-runner has emerged in the Best Picture category. Academy voters have several highly acclaimed films from which to choose. "Lincoln," "Les Miserables" and "Zero Dark Thirty" have all garnered attention, although the smart, late money seems to be on "Argo." Dark-horse candidates include "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Life of Pi."

Robert Kline, a film and television producer and longtime Academy member, will offer his perspective on this year's nominees during a special event hosted by the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation at the Port Theater in Corona del Mar at 7 p.m. Wednesday. For information about tickets, visit the foundation's website at

This past year has also seen the publication of several notable books on film history. A few of these are mentioned below. All are available to cardholders of the Newport Beach Public Library.

In "The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies," film critic and historian David Thomson gives us a wide-ranging narrative about the role of film in modern life. He discusses the rise and global spread of motion pictures, the development of new technologies for creating movies, and the singular achievements of many influential figures from film history. Thomson poses a central question in this work: Should the purpose of film be to inform or to entertain?

Jeanine Basinger, in "I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies," surveys how Hollywood has portrayed the subject of matrimony from silent films to the modern era. She finds that movies about marriage were rarely marketed as such. Films that end with weddings were more likely to be sold as romances or love stories. Good marriages lack a dramatic story arc, Basinger says, so films about married couples were more likely to feature scenes of domestic conflict than marital bliss.

In "The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century," Margaret Talbott, a staff writer for the New Yorker, reminisces about her father Lyle Talbot, a little-known actor whose work in film, and later, television, spanned several decades. Talbot's evocative memoir about her father's long career serves dual narrative purposes as both a biography and as a history of the rise of Hollywood and 20th-century mass entertainment.

"Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation" is a collection of interviews with some of the most prominent writers, directors and actors of the last 50 years. Compiled by George Stevens, Jr., this companion to an earlier volume includes dialogues with influential figures such as Charles Champlin, David Lynch, Francois Truffaut, Roger Corman, Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman and more. Essential reading for anyone with an interest in film history.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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