3 thoughts on “Leonard Maltin’s 2010 Movie Guide”

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    As anyone familiar with Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide series can tell you, Leonard Maltin’s preference for traditionalism in film has always meant that “golden age” films (films produced circa 1900-1965) tend to be somewhat overpraised; the same can be said of his reviews for standard Hollywood “Oscar-bait” dramas, self-consciously quirky “indies” and certain types of foreign films. As a result, it is not unexpected that well-made but problematic films such as “The Reader”, “Out of Africa”, “Troy” and “The Kite Runner” receive an overly-enthusiastic response by Mr. Maltin.

    In spite of this, Mr. Maltin’s Movie guide has always been a perennial must-own for me, as it is a true standard bearer for film reference guides in terms of both its construction and execution: film reviews are smartly written, unpretentious and thoughtful, the layout of the book is intuitive and his passion for (and knowledge of) film comes through loud and clear. However, Mr. Maltin’s classicist stodginess is becoming more and more pronounced in his film reviews, and for the first time in twenty years of reading his guides, his biases are starting to grate on me.

    For instance, Mr. Maltin feels uncomfortable (and clearly states so in his reviews) when certain themes (and particular degrees) of realism, “vulgarisms” or darkness are incorporated into types of “Hollywood escapist fare” (as he calls it) and penalizes such films accordingly, regardless of technical, artistic or historical merit.

    Some examples: edgy modern cinema gems such as “The Dark Knight”, “Blue Velvet”, “Fight Club”, “Donnie Darko”, “The Prestige” and “Taxi Driver” all receive only two stars out of four; “The Matrix”, “WALL-E”, “The Bourne Supremacy”, “The Fly” (1986), “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, “Amadeus”, “Narc”, “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Oldboy”, “Ghost World” and “Iron Man” are all halfheartedly acknowledged with two-and-a-half star reviews; highly influential modern classics such as John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), “Scarface” (1983) and “Blade Runner” are each summarily dismissed with one-and-a-half star critiques; Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking “Alien” was stuck with a mediocre two-and-a-half star review for years, until Mr. Maltin (surprisingly) re-rated it recently as a (now-glowing) three-and-a-half star film; the same goes for Clint Eastwood’s grim masterpiece “Unforgiven”, also initially stuck with a tepid two-and-a-half stars until it was (no doubt begrudgingly) changed to three (stars).

    On the other hand, Mr. Maltin is generous to a fault when reviewing conventional (i.e. non-threatening) Hollywood mainstream fare that is steeped in so-called traditional Hollywood truisms (e.g., 1930’s “matinee” style action-adventure flicks, screwball comedies, historical drama/epics and old-school style Hollywood musicals and fantasies), and in his reviews will cite such classicist attributes as a prime reason for giving great reviews of good pictures and overly favorable reviews for quite a few merely-passable films.

    Some examples: forgettable film mediocrities such as “Superman Returns”, “Ghostbusters 2”, “Scoop”, “Star Wars – Episode One: The Phantom Menace”, “Daredevil”, “The Terminal”, “Batman Forever”, “Honey, I Blew Up The Kid”, “National Treasure” and “Terminator: Salvation” all earn substantial three out of four star reviews; “Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull” was originally bestowed a ludicrous three-and-a-half star review until it was downgraded to a still-generous three stars; lukewarm films such as “The Reader”, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, “Hidalgo”, “The Good Shepherd”, “Troy”, “The Family Man” and “Out of Africa” all receive glowing three-and-a-half star reviews; unsurprisingly, a classicist Hollywood fantasy like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is anointed with a coveted four star review, one of only a handful of recent films to receive one.

    Even the (usually interesting) left-field recommendations from Mr. Maltin feel dismally off the mark of late: “While She Was Out” (two-and-a-half stars) is praised as a “nicely done noir thriller… (that) maintains tension from start to finish”, while “Repo! The Genetic Opera” (three stars) is hailed as an “imaginative, wild ride”; wrong on both counts, as “While She Was Out” is a flatly directed, laughably inane cliche-fest devoid of any thrills, while “Repo! The Genetic Opera” is a painfully conceived fourth-rate “midnight movie” wannabe, aimed squarely at people who still find “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to be cutting edge… both qualify as two of the worst films I have seen in recent memory. Sadly, even Mr. Maltin’s “cult film” recommendations feel musty and out of touch.

    For me, a modern perspective is an important factor to take into consideration when choosing a film review guide, particularly if you (like most people) are only going to purchase one; unfortunately, a sense of outdatedness permeates throughout “Leonard Maltin’s 2010 Movie Guide”. Mr. Maltin is clearly squeamish with the darker and edgier themes that have become more and more prevalent in modern mainstream filmmaking; this fact, coupled with the knowledge of his love affair with bygone film eras, means that those under the age of 40 should take his reviews with a grain of salt, as his filmgoing sensibilities lean more towards older mainstream filmgoers and “golden age” film buffs (in fact, for those two specific groups, I would bump up my rating of this guide from that of three stars to four).

    However, despite my caveats, I would still recommend “Leonard Maltin’s 2010 Movie Guide” to those in need, as the combination of its reasonable price, abundance of informative and articulate reviews (well over 17,000 of them), smart layout and convenient portability (a rare attribute in film guides nowadays) still make this book a solid choice for a film reference guide.

    * IMPORTANT NOTE I: If you do decide to pick up this guide, be sure to seek out the (slightly) physically larger, (slightly) more expensive edition of this book, as both are available right here on Amazon.com; although the content is the same, the larger edition of this guide contains a far more readable font size than the cheaper edition, while its physical binding holds together much more successfully than its smaller counterpart. *

    ** IMPORTANT NOTE II: For old school film buffs and completists, be sure to pick up “Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide”, as it contains thousands of reviews for “golden age” films (1900-1960’s) both popular and obscure, which were excised from the annual guide due to space limitations; unlike the annual guide, it does not need to be replaced perennially. **

    >>>> OTHER FILM REFERENCE GUIDE RECOMMENDATIONS: For those who don’t mind its formidable physical size and lack of a grading system (e.g., no “star” ratings), the “Time Out” film guide series is an exceptional (if occasionally pretentious) perennial film reference guide that feels thoroughly contemporary in its smart critiques and is well worth the time of both casual moviegoers and film buffs alike. <<<<

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    This book is fun if I am wanting to watch a movie on TV. But Maltin and his crew are no Ebert’s. And his dissing of such movies as Blade Runner and Dark Knight are problematic for me. It is pretty much the only such expansive reference of its type out there in a consistent way but sometimes I think if it isn’t in Maltin’s “taste” it won’t get a good review. That is elitism.

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