• Five Easy Pieces

This week Chicago moviegoers are serendipitously treated to a trio of notable works by New Hollywood directors. The Northbook Public Library has Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club, a successful rehashing of the themes he explored in his Godfather films; Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center; and Roman Polanski’s famous Chinatown will be on the TVs at Delilah’s. Sure, Chinatown is the only film that could be considered part of the New Hollywood period proper, but The Cotton Club and The Right Stuff both stand as strong middle-period works from directors who made a name for themselves in the late 60s and early 70s.

The occasion got me thinking about other films from the era, largely considered American cinema’s renaissance following the decline of the traditional studio system. Not everything that emerged from the period was great (stuff like The Graduate and Easy Rider, considered radical at the time, now seem like nothing more than canonical nostalgia pieces), but much of it has lasted, thanks in no small part to the general public’s desire (however brief) for smarter, more personal movies. This, of course, has a lot to do with the simultaneous golden age that was occurring in film criticism—the age of Sarris, Kael, Ebert, Shickel, and Canby. You can catch my five favorite New Hollywood films after the jump.