David Thomson’s Have You Seen . . . ? (Knopf) is another massive guidebook to the movies; it comes saddled with the verbose subtitle A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films, including masterpieces, oddities, guilty pleasures, and classics (with just a few disasters). This guide is much less visually appealing than Before You Die (no illustrations at all, and no fact-filled sidebars), but it does offer movie watchers a lot more written substance for their money: a full page on each film.
David Thomson is a British-born film critic and historian who writes on film for the New York Times and the Guardian, among other publications. Each of his “introductions” to these thousand films is a compact and well-considered essay rather than a review, and I liked having one person’s opinions and perspectives to measure against my own (as contrasted with Before You Die’s scattergun cast of seventy-three contributors). Other differences: Have You Seen . . .? organizes the films alphabetically, and does not include an index (a big mistake, in my opinion); Before You Die includes both a director index and an index by genre (ninety-nine films are listed under Horror) but awkwardly presents the films in chronological order.
For me the clincher came when I discovered (courtesy of Wikipedia) that David Thomson’s list of his ten favourite films includes Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974 ), an obscure French film that I’ve enthused about for more than thirty years (and written about in Geist: see geist.com; so in the end it is Thomson— obviously a kindred spirit!—and his omnibus that get my vote.