An uneven, often arch and smug collection of essays on recent US moviemaking--fairly strong on the business side, erratic on movie-by-movie criticism, and shakiest of all on esthetic or socio-cultural generalizations. Thomson's basic argument is that US films are ""capitalist,"" that they take no risks, that they ignore the special potential of the medium (""the delirium of dream, the headlong passage of time and image""). And he's persuasive enough when suggesting the specific time/money pressures which work against creativity: directors who must ""do the work of producers"" (with no studio system to protect them); writers pushed into the ""literary haste and impulse"" of short-form ideas, unable to rethink and rewrite. But Thomson's lament for film's lost potential is undermined throughout. By his rhetoric: ""A movie is about a wall that becomes alive with an overwhelming myth couched in the semblance of reality and propelled by the momentum of narrative."" And, more crucially, by his esthetics: according to Thomson, the sort of movies that Hollywood should be making more of are (besides European masterworks) Mickey One, The Missouri Breaks, Syberberg's Our Hitler, The Shining (""it has the mystery of art""), The King of Marvin Gardens, and. . . American Gigolo, which receives pages and pages of unconvincing analysis and--with reservations--endorsement (""better and more challenging than Sunset Boulevard""). Likewise, Thomson's nay-says are not likely to inspire confidence: overblown assaults on easy targets (Neil Simon, the ""vapid positivism"" of Star Wars, Hollywood's catering to teenage fantasies); the familiar anti-Godfather line (""a fantasy that lets us be less concerned with our real experience""); and a shrill, unoriginal diatribe on Hitchcock's ""neurotic fastidiousness"" (leading to the overstatement that ""by dwelling on the momentous dark, the American movie has turned its back on human richness and enlightenment""). There are also slippery profiles of Warren Beatty and Bruce Dern, scornfully obvious pieces on L.A. and telethons. . . plus shrewd essays on Coppola and Pauline Kael, a sharp swipe at many young directors' ""adolescent"" approach to love and sex, and some neat observations (""There is a recurring shot in American films--a religious image--of someone opening a case neatly filled with wads of money""). A highly mixed and opinionated bag, then, often annoying but with clear talking-point appeal for those with a stake in the movie business.