Are contemporary American movies talking to us? On the whole, I think not."" So begins the first--and by far the best--part of Monaco's overview of recent U.S. filmmaking: an 80-page lament, protest, and expose that condemns the ""empty entertainment machines"" that pass for films these days, glossy but ""intellectually preadolescent"" movies that are all one can expect from a nostalgia-soaked, blockbuster-oriented packaging business (""a conglomerateur's hobby""). This jeremiad is a bit hysterical and not always convincing, but it's strong and sharp and tight. Then, however, follows the bulk of the book: Monaco's self-indulgent listings, groupings, appreciations, attacks, trend-spottings, and personal bits of advice to moviemakers--a non-cumulative hash that lumps genuine insights right in there with trivia and downright nonsense. (For example, Monaco idiotically points to the dead-end careers of the scene-stealing amateur actresses in World of Henry Orient as evidence of Hollywood's anti-female stance.) Directors, inevitably, are the primary focus here. Monaco (How to Read a Film) thinks that Scorsese has been wasting himself on nostalgia (""Marry should return to his roots and come home""), that Bogdanovich and Friedkin and Spielberg have similarly gone astray, that Woody should stick to comedy and that Mel should stick to Jewishness (""Come on back to New York, Mel""). So whom does he like? For comedy, the underground-ish Albert Brooks. And slurpy praises go to Altman (""Thank you, Robert Altman. . . for understanding the great, quiet funniness of it all""), Cassavetes, Coppola (for his mythic preoccupations), Michael Ritchie and Paul Mazursky (for their hipness on lifestyle). Many of the film-by-film commentaries are shrewd, most are merely glib. And Monaco's final chapter--a Utopian proposal to guarantee movies financial independence from Big Business--is both inane and pompous Some 24-karat stuff in them thar hills; but you'll have to dig through a whole heap of fool's gold to get to it.