Although I missed the very first edition of this book in 1980, its second edition has been among my favorite film books for a decade. This is despite the fact that most of the film-makers discussed within (especially Scorsese & Altman) had made numerous films since the last ones featured in that edition. Now I have the joyful experience of catching up on their films with one of the finest writers on the topic of American film ever and his third edition of one of the finest books on American film ever published.
Kolker has gone back to his earlier editions and used the newer films to both confirm and refute his earlier evaluations. Many fans of film in general (and some of these directors, in particular) will not agree with many of Kolker's points. What makes this book so wonderful, though, is that you don't have to agree to enjoy it. Kolker understands that film criticism is meant to be a lively art, rather than a process of emalming great works of art. I may not agree with his assessment of each Scorsese picture but his analysis of Scorsese's significance is right on the money. At the same time, his newly added discussion of Oliver Stone is the first writing about the controversial director that gave a fair picture of his artistic strengths (there are many) and weaknesses (fewer but still significant).
Deserving of special note is the book's section on the late Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick's passing makes him the only film-maker in the book whose body of work is completely finished, a matter which Kolkee addresses in a special epitaph. It is indicative of both the quality and bold approach of the book that the author uses Kubrick's final film, "Eyes Wide Shut" as a springboard to ponder how Kubrick's work will fit into the history of cinema in the years to come. He does not make pat, easy judgements but rather admits that the still vital medium is ever shifting and even old works can take on new meanings in hindsight. It's almost enough to make me eager for the fourth edition.