Film Fiend: top six Western films

I have recently marathoned every western I could get my hands on in preparation for watching the western-inspired superhero movie, “Logan.” Much to my pleasure, I found myself enjoying quite a few of them; with that in mind, I composed this list of my favorite ten westerns arranged in no particular order.

1. “The Cowboys” (1972)

“The Cowboys” is not the best movie in this list, but I am convinced it has the most heart. The film follows an aging rancher (played by John Wayne) being forced to replace his cattle drivers with schoolboys and all the problems associated with taking a group of inexperienced children on a 400 mile cattle drive. The first half of the movie is fairly predictable and comedic; however, “The Cowboys” takes a really interesting turn at around the halfway mark that alone warrants its inclusion on this list. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s really jarring and sort of tears an otherwise goofy movie down to reality.

2. “The Good, the Bad, And the Ugly” (1966)

The final chapter in Sergio Leone’s “The Man With No Name” pseudo trilogy turned out to be the only one really worth watching. Clint Eastwood reprises his gunslinger persona in this film as his character, Blondie, must work with two other gunslingers to find buried confederate gold. While the story itself is pretty straightforward, the truly interesting aspect of this movie is how every character trades partnerships and allies liberally. Two people might be working together in one scene only to be shooting at them in the next; it really keeps the audience on their toes. In addition to being an all around cool movie, “The Good, the Bad, And the Ugly” also has one of the most intense final moments to any film regardless of genre.

3. “Shane” (1953)

Despite being the oldest movie on this list, “Shane” is one of the more nuanced of the movies listed here. It follows a mysterious gunfighter named Shane riding into a small valley town sometime after the Civil War. Throughout the movie Shane actively avoids conflict whenever possible and seems to be ashamed of his abilities, a stark contrast to the other western heroes of the time. In fact, “Shane” actively critiques and provides commentary on many aspects of western films, and violence in general. This film is a groundbreaking treatise on the genre it also actively celebrates; I cannot recommend it enough to those who value emotional storytelling over bombastic action.

4. “True Grit” (2010)

“True Grit” is a remake of a much older movie of the same name from 1969, and is the only remake on this list. Remakes are lazy, insufferable cash grabs that rarely deliver on an ounce of the heart or character of the original, yet somehow the Coen Brother’s remake of “True Grit” surpassed the original in every way that matters. As for the general plot of the film, it follows a young girl looking to bring the man who killed her father to justice. The way she does this is by hiring a fat, one-eyed U.S Marshall, Rooster Coughburn (Jeff Bridges) to hunt him down for her. From there the movie becomes a breathtakingly well shot western that takes the mediocre acting and direction of the original and returns with masterclass improvements of quality on all counts.

5. “Django” (1966)

Many will argue that I am completely and wholly out of line for including “Django” and not its sort of remake, “Django Unchained.” Now, I do superbly enjoy “Django Unchained;” however, it only surpasses the original in one way: gore. Moving on to why “Django” is a must watch western, the movie follows this strange guy named Django who lugs around a coffin where ever he travels. I won’t spoil why he carries a coffin, but it is a real doozy. Anyway, Django gets into a bit of a brawl with the Klu Klux Klan, and the rest of the movie revolves around his ongoing battle with the dastardly gang. “Django” maintains an air of mystery and intrigue that is lost in Tarantino’s remake while still keeping the enjoyable violence against racists making it an all around better film and one you should check out.

6. “Unforgiven” (1993)

I truly saved the best for last when it comes to “Unforgiven.” See, “Unforgiven” manages to have the same level of introspection and morose commentary of “Shane” without sacrificing the bombastic action seen in “Django.” The cast all turn in genuinely breathtaking performances, this is not strange considering the star power of Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, and Richard Harris filling out this film. As for plot, this movie follows the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) recruiting two retired outlaws (Eastwood and Freeman) to hunt down a couple killers with a bounty on their heads. Along the way “Unforgiven” addresses the problems of age, the naivety of youth, and whether there ever is escape from one’s past. Even if you think that this list is complete garbage, you owe it to yourself to check out this positively quintessential western film.

Westerns are really fun movies, and, after watching as many as I have, I really hope the genre makes a comeback in the coming years; hopefully, after watching these six, you’ll feel the same way.