Forgive me if you have read this paragraph before, but anyone considering this title has also to consider the other four major annual film review titles - "Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide", "Radio Times Guide to Films", "Time Out Film Guide", and "The Twelfth Virgin Film Guide". I've reviewed each, and have repeated this review across all five ... and hopefully encouraged you to take a look at all the possibilities. Please understand, I'm not trying to cheapen the process of review - my next paragraph makes an important and vital point about your choice.
A good film guide is an excellent resource to have within easy reach of your remote control: is it worth watching this movie, is it worth renting this video/DVD? The problem is, does the film guide in any way reflect your tastes in films? There are five very useful film guides. Each will give you a few lines of information about a film, and score. five stars, four stars, etc. If the book is to be useful to you, you need to know where its reviewer stands in relation to your own tastes.
If you think "Psycho" is worth five stars, you probably won't find many to disagree with you. But what of the 1937, "The Good Earth"? How would you rate that without seeing it? Giving five stars to a modern classic is not a problem. But think of a dozen films you've seen. Think of the ones you'd rate as five star. Think of the ones you'd rate as awful. Think of the ones you'd rate as average.
If you're buying a book like this, you're probably doing so because it will guide you in your choice of films to watch on TV, or rent on video or DVD, or watch at the local flea pit. Whether I rate the book high or low is irrelevant - what you want to know is, do the reviews in this particular book come close to your own evaluation of how the firm rates?
What I have to suggest is that you go look at each of these titles in a bookshop. By all means buy them through Amazon (it's cheaper), but look at each title in the flesh. Go armed with a dozen films you've thought about - good ones, bad ones, average ones - and check how they're reviewed in each of the five titles. Does one of them come closer to your tastes than the others?
As a rough guide, I offer the following advice about the five titles:
"Halliwell's Film, Video and DVD Guide" has a sound reputation, and to some extent its reviews are the most conservative insofar as they do achieve a balance which the other titles don't. On the down side, the book is a bit dowdy and cheap and not as well organised as some of the others.
"Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide" is very definitely the poorest quality offering in terms of paper, printing, organisation or lay out, but you may find the reviews are well balanced, and this is definitely the most portable of the range.
"Radio Times Guide to Films" is probably my pick of the bunch: quality paper, very well printed, the titles in blue ink, it's more legible than the others (particularly important if your eyesight is less than perfect), and the page edges are marked in descending alphabetical order so you can rapidly find titles beginning with the letter P, or Q etc. The layout and organisation is very accessible. You may, however, find some of the reviews quite eccentric.
"Time Out Film Guide" has paper quality and layout comparable to the Radio Times (perhaps marginally less good), and comes with the added extras of a few pages of interviews and extended reviews. It is, of course, the product of a weekly listing magazine in London, so many of the films it reviews may never come the way of your local art house cinema, particularly if you live in a small town. 'Time Out', however, appears to be going on line ... so may be more accessible in years to come, and may take on a more internationalist approach.
"The Twelfth Virgin Film Guide" is a very good product - it offers the most extensive reviews of the lot, twice the length and more of those carried in the other titles. Again, excellent paper quality and a layout almost as good as the "Radio Times". I'd rate it a very close second.
But paper quality, lay out, etc., are poor seconds compared to the ability of the book to reflect your own tastes and evaluation of a film. Please go check them out in your local book shop - if possible. Think about a few films you know and how close each of the books is attuned to your own evaluation of the film. Hope this proves useful and that it enhances your ability to choose and enjoy film.