In the latest episode of the Substandard (subscribe, review, etc.), Vic, JVL, and I discuss the Super Bowl (ugh, JVL is disgustingly happy) as well as westerns, tied to Hostiles. What better time to rank the five greatest post-Unforgiven westerns?
I think pre-Unforgiven and post-Unforgiven is as good a break point as any; it's the last western to win best picture (as long as we don't really count No Country for Old Men as a "proper" western, meaning cowboys and horses and six-shooters and repeating rifles and damsels and such) and will probably be the last proper western to ever win a best picture. I just don't think the public interest is there, and the genre feels somewhat spent, artistically.
But that doesn't mean we haven't had some really solid westerns in the last 25 years! Here are my five (or so) favorites.
5. Django Unchained/The Hateful Eight (tie)
Quentin Tarantino is probably the only person capable of mashing up classic western tropes and modern ideas about race and the power of stories. The Hateful Eight is the best movie about Black Lives Matter, and I remain convinced that Django Unchained is a movie about the power of stories to shock the conscience into pushing for societal change. That movie may tell the story of Django's quest for freedom, but it's about Dr. Schultz's evolution from an ambivalent opponent of slavery to someone who is willing to die to end it on basic principle.
4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Included mostly because this is the moment I (and many others) realized that the Academy must have some sort of personal vendetta against cinematographer Roger Deakins.
3. The Quick and the Dead
I'm sorry, this is a Sam Raimi picture starring Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Stone, Lance Henriksen, Keith David, Pat Hingle, and Gary Sinise? And it's all about gunfights? And it features a bunch of dutch-angled zooms? SIGN ME UP.
2. Open Range
Probably the last really good, classic, no-bullshit western I've seen. Love it from start to finish, and the final shootout is among my favorite such scenes in years.