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.


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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