The Best 'New Hollywood' Movies You Probably Haven't Seen

I like the fact that the band is still called Sonic Youth, even though they're all in their 50s. Similarly, there's the term New Hollywood, which represents a very specific time in which the studio bosses gave free reign to independent-minded, radical filmmakers looking to push the artistic boundaries of film. It is a cinema movement that came out guns blazing in 1967 with Bonnie and Clyde and suffered its first wound from Jaws in 1975, then sank into the mud under its own weight by 1977 with Sorcerer. (Yeah, that's right, Roy Scheider represents the end of New Hollywood from both directions.)

But these movies still feel "new."

These were films made by a generation influenced by European Art Cinema, reacting against big studio bloat and, in many cases, taking advantage of new technical advances. There are a hundred books you can read about this movement, and the safest bet it to check out Peter Biskin's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" as a primer.

Like most people my age, New Hollywood is a sweet spot – and it was a real chore to limit myself to just eight underrepresented gems. My initial brainstorm had twenty-five titles that all fit the "obscure" and "great" parameters. Maybe I'll revisit this column with a Volume II if there are calls for it in the comments. (The people have the power!)

Hats off to Twitter's @MoviesByBowes for the suggestion.

Who's That Knocking At My Door (1967); Martin Scorsese, director.

Nine years before Taxi Driver delivered us the perfect blend of New Hollywood via a brooding, artistic, gunshot to the head, Martin Scorsese put together this scrappy low budget New York City mini-masterpiece. It has the jazzy cuts of French New Wave, documentary-style performances found in John Cassavetes' work, plus moody, music-driven montages. Story-wise, it is something of a precursor to Mean Streets, which some still consider his REAL debut.

You're A Big Boy, Now (1966); Francis Ford Coppola, director.

Ya don't normally think of FFC as a comic filmmaker, but his first studio film as a director is a spry, youth-oriented, woe-is-me love story filled with music, antics and a marvelous use of the main branch of the New York Public Library.

You're A Big Boy, Now is bursting with attitude and is just subversive enough to hint at where this unpredictable artist/entrepreneur would take his career. No shortage of women in boots and mini-dresses, either.

Hi, Mom(1970); Brian De Palma, director.

Oh, no! Another underground movie set in New York from an Italian-American director. Are we seeing a trend? Well, I promise this is the last one, but Hi, Mom! is probably my favorite of the bunch. It has all the drive of an angry young radical, with an artistic prankster streak that makes Banksy look like an underachiever.

In some ways, Hi, Mom! is a sequel to De Palma's earlier Greetings, though the Richard Lester-ish frivolity of that film is swapped out for a "burn, baby, burn" mentality. The film takes a mid-picture tangent when the lead, "peep artist" Robert De Niro, agrees to be in an experimental theater piece called "Be Black, Baby" which doesn't just break the fourth wall, it shatters it.

There are stories-within-stories here (and a nice play on Rear Window using a genuine, and controversial for its time, Greenwich Village apartment complex) and it can be difficult to know what is fantasy and what is the "real movie." I have a hunch that was very much De Palma's intent.

Brewster McCloud (1970); Robert Altman, director.

Hard to pick just one Robert Altman film, but I'm going with this whacked-out screwball comedy starring Bud Cort as a bird-obsessed youth stashed away at the top of the (new!) Astrodome as a string of violent crimes tear Huston society apart.

This is a real movie-lovers' movie, as it plays a lot with, as professors like to say, "formal conventions." There are many tricks in the sound design, playful editing techniques and a self-mocking use of the opening credits. Rene Auberjonois (yes, Odo from Deep Space Nine) acts as a Greek Chorus, giving a series of bizarre speeches on avian topics until his slowly turns into a bird. Hey, just go with it.

The Last Detail (1973); Hal Ashby, director.

This one may not be obscure enough, but I don't care. It is one of my favorite movies of all time and if I can convince one person who hasn't heard of it to go see it, I'll withstand ten cries of "bullshit!" in the comments.

This was the movie – not Easy Rider – that cemented Jack Nicholson's badass persona. Hell, his character's name is Bad Ass! In The Last Detail he and Otis Young must escort Randy Quaid across the country to waste the rest of his life in the brig for a stupid, petty crime. It is so counter-culture that it actually presents characters who love the military as rebellious anti-heroes. (In 1973!)

The Last Detail is a vulgar and hilarious road picture with an extended sequence of three sailors in their underwear drinking canned Schlitz. It might be the best film made about male bonding and if Todd Philips ever watched it he might feel compelled to burn the negatives of The Hangover Part II.

Fat City (1972); John Huston, director.

One of the exciting things about New Hollywood is how it gave a shot of adrenaline to a number of Old Hollywood artists. Chief among them John Huston.

The director of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Maltese Falcon ended his career with a series of innovative films, my favorite of which is the depressing-as-all-hell skid row boxing picture Fat City.

It stars Stacy Keach as a washed-up fighter looking for something, anything, to cling to before his destroyed body conks out. Jeff Bridges co-stars as the chipper, eighteen year old newcomer and Susan Tyrrell is heartbreaking as the barfly/lover. Kris Kristofferson's drunk barroom music provides the score, Steinbeck-country California provides the setting. Have a drink ready after this one.

Taking Off (1971); Milos Forman, director.

New Hollywood took a lot of its cues from Europe, but there were a few Europeans who took advantage of the studios' desire to try new things and came over here. Milos Forman, the central figure of this period in Czech cinema made his American debut with this satire on the generation gap.

In Taking Off Lynn Carlin and Buck Henry come face to face with modern times when their daughter runs away from home to live with hippies in New York's East Village. It is a great example of Forman's ability to touch upon important social issues through inappropriate humor. I've no doubt that this marijuana sequence was quite controversial in its day. (Yes, that's Mr. Bentley from The Jeffersons who is "beginning to feel something.")

The Hired Hand(1971); Peter Fonda, director.AND

The Last Movie (1971); Dennis Hoppper, director.

I'm including both here because I'd like to maintain detente between the Fonda and Hopper camps.

The creators of Easy Rider parted company after changing the world and each followed up with a spin on the Western.

Fonda's is the more traditional of the two, following the story of a Western roughneck trying to right the wrongs of his past. It makes grand use of evocative montages and music, more of a tone poem than a white hat/black hat tale.

While Fonda kept his focus small, Hopper went bananas with one of cinema's more famous boondoggles. Most people have heard of this movie, not that many have seen it. I have (in a theater! Yay NYC's Anthology Film Archives!) and I can assure you that it is actually kinda good. It is a hallucinatory, rambling tale about a film crew that comes to shoot a Western in Peru (with Samuel Fuller!) and a stunt man who doesn't leave. Much like Hi, Mom! there are sequences that split from the narrative – that may or may not be "real" – that parody sitcom conventions. It is easy to shrug this film off as stoned mumbo-jumbo, but there is a method to it, as well as some really marvelous scenes.

So these are my eight picks. If you are a true movie nut you are boiling with rage over the ones I left out. Let me hear about it in the comments – but if you say something like Chinatown you are forgetting that these have to be underrepresented movies, and we will all come and yell at you.

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