The Part-Time Critic

Friday, April 2, 2021

1997 Leaman Awards

12:18 PM 0
1997 Leaman Awards


One Paragraph Summary: The cultural memory of this year is dominated by the phenomenon of Titanic. As a teenage boy when it came out, I think I instinctually hated the film simply because it was seen as a "teen girl's romance film" - though I did acknowledge the disaster scenes were done well. Over the years, I've grown to see Titanic as a masterpiece and that's kind of the story with the best films of this year (Contact, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, Gattaca); didn't quite get them as a teenager, but slowly came to love them. The year's best is quite top heavy, with three of the top ten finding their way into my top ten of all time at different points of my life. Still, beyond that there are some solid offerings beyond the usual dramas: action entries (Tomorrow Never Dies, Face/Off), comedies (Men in Black, Austin Powers, Wag the Dog), and science fiction (Gattaca, Contact, Fifth Element). 

1997 Films Seen: 83
1997 Films Seen in the Theater: 19
Number of Films with A or A+ Grade: 4

-1997 Ambassador's List-
(Top 25 Films)

25. The Man Who Knew Too Little (B-)
24. Breakdown (B-)
23. Air Force One (B-)
22. Police Story 4: First Strike (B-)
21. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (B-)
20. Scream 2 (B-)
19. The Sweet Hereafter (B)
18. Wag the Dog (B)
17. Mrs. Brown (B)
16. As Good As It Gets (B)
15. Donnie Brasco (B)
14. Princess Mononoke (B)
13. Face/Off (B)
12. Tomorrow Never Dies (B)
11. Jackie Brown (B)
Top Ten Movies: 
10. The Game (B)
9. The Rainmaker (B+)
8. The Apostle (B+)
7. Men in Black (B+)
6. Amistad (A-)
5. Gattaca (A-)
4. L.A. Confidential (A)
3. Titanic (A)
2. Good Will Hunting (A+)
1. Contact (A+)

-Superlative Awards-
(Winners Bolded)

Most Surprising Film
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Titanic
Most Disappointing Film
  • Batman & Robin
  • Chasing Amy
  • The Ice Storm
Most Underrated Film
  • Contact
  • Double Team
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little 
Most Overrated Film 
  • Boogie Nights
  • Chasing Amy
  • The Ice Storm
Worst Film
  • Batman & Robin
  • Chasing Amy
  • The Postman
Eric Bana Award (Best Performance in a Bad Film): Michael Ironside in Starship Troopers
Best Compilation of Work: Minnie Driver for Good Will Hunting, Grosse Point Blank, & Princess Mononoke
Guilty Pleasure of the Year: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

-Technical Awards-
(Winners Bolded)

Best Make-Up and Hair Design 
  • Amistad
  • Boogie Nights
  • Men in Black
  • Mrs. Brown
  • Titanic
Best Costume Design 
  • Amistad
  • Boogie Nights
  • Kundun
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Titanic
Best Sound Design 
  • Con Air
  • Contact
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  • Men in Black
  • Titanic
Best Original Score 
  • Contact
  • Kundun
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Men in Black
  • Titanic
Best Visual Effects 
  • Contact
  • The Fifth Element
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  • Starship Troopers
  • Titanic
Best Art Direction 
  • Amistad
  • Kundun
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Men in Black
  • Titanic
Best Cinematography 
  • Amistad
  • Boogie Nights
  • Contact
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Titanic
Best Film Editing 
  • Contact
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Jackie Brown
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Titanic

-Major Awards-
(Winners Bolded)

Best Documentary Feature: n/a

Best Animated Feature:
  • Anastasia
  • Hercules
  • Princess Mononoke
Best Adapted Screenplay 
  • Contact
  • Donnie Brasco
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Men in Black
  • Wag the Dog
Best Original Screenplay 
  • Amistad
  • The Apostle
  • Gattaca
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Titanic
Best Supporting Actress 
  • Joan Allen The Ice Storm
  • Kim Basinger L.A. Confidential
  • Minnie Driver Good Will Hunting
  • Julianne Moore Boogie Nights
  • Uma Thurman Gattaca
Best Supporting Actor 
  • Djimon Hounsou Amistad
  • Tommy Lee Jones Men in Black
  • Jude Law Gattaca
  • Kevin Spacey L.A. Confidential
  • Robin Williams Good Will Hunting
Best Actress 
  • Judi Dench Mrs. Brown
  • Jodie Foster Contact
  • Pam Grier Jackie Brown
  • Helen Hunt As Good As It Gets
  • Kate Winslet Titanic
Best Actor 
  • Matt Damon Good Will Hunting
  • Robert Duvall The Apostle
  • Ethan Hawke Gattaca
  • Ian Holm The Sweet Hereafter
  • Jack Nicholson As Good As It Gets
Best Ensemble Acting 
  • Amistad
  • Boogie Nights
  • Good Will Hunting
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Titanic
Best Director 
  • James Cameron Titanic
  • Curtis Hanson L.A. Confidential
  • Gus Van Sant Good Will Hunting
  • Steven Spielberg Amistad
  • Robert Zemeckis Contact
Best Picture 
  • Contact
  • Gattaca
  • Good Will Hunting
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Titanic

-Great Dramatic/Comedic/Musical Sequences of 1997-
(In Alphabetical Order by Movie & All-Time Great Sequences are Bolded)
  • "Recounting the Middle Passage" –Amistad
  • “Drug deal gone bad to an 80’s mix tape” -Boogie Nights
  • “Preparing to enter the pod/traveling/meeting the aliens” -Contact
  • “It’s not your fault” -Good Will Hunting
  • “Regret and meeting his wife in a bar” -Good Will Hunting
  • “Taster’s Choice moment for men at the pond” -Good Will Hunting
  • “Rose passes away and is greeted by the others on the ship and Jack on the stairway” –Titanic
  • “Nearer My God To Thee: The Band plays as several characters meet a watery death” –Titanic
  • “The Titanic cracks, bobs and goes under as passengers fall off and hang on” -Titanic
  • "Give us, us free" –Amistad
  • “Talking to the members of a car wreck, giving a chance of hope” –The Apostle
  • “Partying in the 80s with a murder-suicide” – Boogie Nights
  • “A Saboteur Brings Down the Machine” -Contact
  • “Ellie must explain her experience to the court” -Contact
  • “The whole family sings a love song out to dinner” -My Best Friend’s Wedding
  • “Soaring into space/meeting his end” –Gattaca
  • “Interrogation of the Night Owl Suspects” –L.A. Confidential
  • “Shotgun chase of the escaped Night Owl suspects” -L.A. Confidential
  • "Opening Stab Premiere" –Scream 2
  • "Climbing Over a Knocked Out Killer" –Scream 2
  • “Mitchell learns of his daughter being HIV positive over the phone” –The Sweet Hereafter
  • “Rose is drawn by Jack” –Titanic
  • “Mr. Murdock shoots a passenger and then takes his own life” –Titanic

-Top 10 Action Sequences of 1997-

10. “Snowmobile and Helicopter Shootout” -Police Story 4: First Strike (B)
9. “Mononoke attacks Iron Town and Eboshi and is saved by Ashitaka” -Princess Mononoke (B)
8. “Yen vs. Steel Claw in the Woods” -The Legend of the Wolf (B)
7. “Finale: Funeral Shootout/Boat Chase” -Face/Off (B) 
6. “Shark Tank Scuba Fight” -Police Story 4: First Strike (B+) 
5. “T-Rex Knocks a Trailer Over the Edge” -The Lost World: Jurassic Park (B+)
4. “Remote Control Car Chase in the Garage” -Tomorrow Never Dies (A-)
3. “Finale: Victory Motel Shootout” -L.A. Confidential (A-)
2. “Escape from Carver: Handcuffed Bike Chase” -Tomorrow Never Dies (A)
1. “Chairs, Ladders, and Brooms Oh My!” -Police Story 4: First Strike (A)

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Part-Time Recommendation: The Wisdom Pyramid

3:06 PM 0
Part-Time Recommendation: The Wisdom Pyramid


You can purchase the book HERE *I don't get referral money :)

I've had McCracken's The Wisdom Pyramid on my radar since he first announced it. As a Christian and a fan of film, I've known McCracken for some time since he essentially makes a living commenting on both Christianity and film. You can find his excellent BLOG that gave life to this book. 

I love this book. It's a concise, relevant, and accessible guide to wisdom in our challenging digital age. The Christian educator in me loves the metaphor of the "Wisdom Pyramid" as it provides an incredibly accessible heuristic for the concept of wisdom that I have found to be notoriously difficult to convey. Selfishly, I love this book because it feels like it has put into words thoughts and concepts that I have long harbored but lacked the polish and ambition to craft them so simply and articulately. In particular, McCracken's chapter on "Beauty" is worth the price of the book alone. I've read entire books on beauty that are not as informative, direct, or concise as this short chapter. I recommend this book to all Christians higher than middle school. 

Part of my reading process is to synthesize and paraphrase major quotes/ideas from the book to make a book summary. I enjoy the process of taking the best and most substantive quotes and mashing them together into something more concise, without losing the punch of the book. I thought you might get something out of the summary I created so I've shared it with you below. Keep in mind that this is my synthesis of McCracken's key quotes (meaning it's almost entirely composed of his words) with a bit of light paraphrasing of my own. You can purchase the book HERE.


McCracken, Brett. The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-truth World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021.

Our world has more and more information, but less and less wisdom. Our eyes are strained, brains overstimulated, and souls weary. As we walk down the buffet line of social media snacks and online junk we have eaten too much, too fast, and only what tastes good to us. We live in an age of “too much” where the convenience of all the information in the world on our phones a few clicks away has overwhelmed us, produced angry tribalism, addictive triviality, and an environment where chaos and sin can reign. We live in an age of “too fast” where we go scan media without purpose, focus, and intention. As we scroll aimlessly through our information feeds we lose the ability to think critically, synthesize, and filter media through generational wisdom. We live in an age of “too focused on me” where we create “my truth” and shun facts and expert advice. We need to be educated and apprenticed by others if we are to become truly knowledgeable or skillful in any area but following the path of “my truth” puts an incredible, self-justifying burden on the individual that becomes a rat race of performative individuality resulting in depression and loneliness. In other words, our information age has made us all sick - destroying our self-control, patience, and humility.

The world needs wisdom desperately, truth that is unshakable and foundations that are solid. How can Christians become flourishing storehouses of wisdom in this era? To bring the light of Christian wisdom to the darkness of our unwise age Christians must recover habits of wisdom in their own lives. We need for our mental and spiritual health what the ‘Food Pyramid’ was for our physical health. We need a Wisdom Pyramid. Like our health, a life flourishes when built on the right foundation and collapses when built on the wrong one.

The book of Proverbs tells us that Wisdom is the God-created, God-given, God-fearing, God-oriented ability to synthesize, filter, evaluate, and apply information in ways that lead to right judgments and overall flourishing. Put simply, to gain wisdom is to learn to live well in light of truth gained. Our sources of information intake are vitally important in our quest for wisdom as they can make us healthy, or they can make us sick. This is where the Wisdom Pyramid comes in; it is a guide for our information intake. The bottom sections of the pyramid are more crucial priorities in our everyday knowledge habits than the top sections: Looking at the pyramid from the bottom up it goes from: the most enduring sources to the most fleeting ones, the sources mostly directly mediated by God to the least, and the clearer and more reliable communication of truth to less clear.

The foundation of the Wisdom Pyramid is the Bible. If we are to become wise, our information diet must begin with this ancient collection of Jewish literature and two-thousand-year-old Mediterranean letters and use it as the grid though which all other sources are tested. It is our most important source of wisdom because it is the eternal God revealing himself to us. God’s word is our most important and indisputable authority. To properly handle the Bible is to acknowledge that it should inform everything in our lives, no matter who we are, what we do, or how we feel. The Bible, God’s self-revelation, as our foundation in the pyramid does not make what stands above it irrelevant; it makes everything above it structurally sound.

The second level of the Wisdom Pyramid is the church, the people of God. Attaching oneself to the church – the global, growing, two-thousand-plus-years-old body of Jesus Christ on earth – can be like finding a lighthouse when you are lost in a raging sea. The church grounds us in a bigger story – one that transcends us, precedes us, and outlives us. The church provides us an interpretive community where collective wisdom across church history and in various denominations provides guardrails against interpreting the Bible poorly. The church offers a physical haven for the lonely digital ghosts of our age by providing an enfleshed community that plants us in tangible geographic reality and reminds us that we are embodied people made for physical connection with people in real places. It can be a place where healing – emotional, spiritual, physical – happens and where you can do physical things together: sing, stand, sit, kneel, hug, and even eat and drink the communion elements. Yes, all sorts of communities can help us: our family, our friends, our professional and civic groups; however, a church community – a faithful, God-glorifying, Christ-centered community, with its wisdom-infusing patterns and rhythms of worship – offers irreplaceable nutrition for a healthy wisdom diet.

The third level of the Wisdom Pyramid is nature. Just as you can know things about Vincent Van Gogh by examining his paintings, we can know more about God by observing his creation. Nature is there to sustain our lives, to be enjoyed, but also to challenge us, to put us in our place, and to impart to us wisdom – if we are willing to listen. In listening to nature for wisdom we must avoid deifying, destroying, or denying it. We must remember that nature as a communicator of wisdom is always imperfect and indirect. We must recognize that human beings are not only part of nature, but the ‘crown’ of it, and are tasked with being the steward and caretaker of it. We must accept that we are creatures and not the Creator. Our bodies, and the natural world, are not just playthings, they are gifts to accept, respect, and carefully steward. May we demonstrate our love for God by loving his creation, cherishing it, and learning from it – becoming wise as we accept with gratitude that every created thing gives glory to the Creator.

The fourth level of the Wisdom Pyramid is books. Books are a vital source for cultivating wisdom – not only for the truths they contain, but also for the way they help us think. Reading a variety of books (from different eras and places and worldviews) educates us, are important sources of both empathy and synthesis, helps us make connections across disciplines, gives us perspective, space to reflect, focus, and helps to keep our and self-centeredness in check. However, it would be folly to build one’s wisdom diet around great books but not also the greatest book, the Bible. Without the reference point of God, the ‘truth’ of books is relative. Books are great to the extent that they confirm and clarify the truth of the greatest book.

The fifth level of the Wisdom Pyramid is beauty. It is impossible to create theorems and testable hypotheses about what beauty is, how it works, and why humans, throughout time, gravitate to it. But we all know beauty exists even though it is mysterious. We know it when we see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, touch it. It reveals truth to us on the affective, often subconscious level which is why movies, TV, and other narrative arts are so powerful. Beauty gives truth a feeling, tone, and resonance. Truth without beauty often falls on deaf ears, just as beauty without truth rings hollow.God uses beauty to communicate in Scripture: story, metaphor, poetry, song, heroes and villains, and all manner of literary devices. Beauty stirs our souls, wakes us up, and tunes our hearts to something harmonious and pleasant about the world. What is that something? I believe it is God. I believe all that is beautiful bears witness to God because God is the source and standard of beauty. Beauty does not have to exist. The fact that humans delight in sunsets, symphonies, and well-proportioned faces has no bearing on our survival as a species. The only explanation that makes sense of beauty is that we are created in the image of God who relishes it. Beauty shapes our hearts, orients our lives, quiets our minds, and stills our souls in a noisy and weary world.

The sixth level of the Wisdom Pyramid is the Internet and social media. In folly we gorge on this portion of the wisdom diet like a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet. The Internet and Social Media can benefit wisdom by providing access to knowledge for a wider range of people than ever before and it can give a platform to more potential voices of truth (and lies) who might otherwise never be heard. At its best, the Internet and social media can be a village green where people can interact, debate, and learn from one another. With self-control and the right intentions, one can get the best out of this source. We should go online with a purpose and stay on only as long as we need to. We should carefully select what we read, watch, listen to, and experience, giving priority to a diversity of sources and those that have stood the test of time.

The life of wisdom is glorious because it is the way we were created to be. As our lives are rightly ordered and oriented around God (Looking to God, Listening to God, and Loving God) they naturally become more fully alive. And as they do, they bring glory to their Creator. When we are unwise – feeding on a toxic diet that warps our minds and suffocates our souls – we become like a sickly, emaciated tree whose leaves are brown and whose fruit is rotten. We don’t bring beauty and oxygen to the world; only blight and bitter fruit. Our roots are shriveled, our branches snap off easily, and the slightest wind could knock us down. We are like chaff. But when we are wise – feeding on the bread of life (John 6:35), abiding in the vine (John 15:4-5), and drawing upon God-given sources of truth – we become like a robust tree planted near water (Ps. 1:3), with green leaves and vibrant fruit even when drought comes (Jer. 17:8). Our roots deepen securely into the ground, drawing life from vibrant streams. And our branches keep growing upward – like hands lifted in praise to their Creator. When the winds come – as they inevitably will, sometimes with furious force – these branches of wisdom won’t break off. They will simply sway, as if clapping or dancing with joy, turning every storm in an opportunity to sing. Soli Deo gloria. Wisdom is worship.

You can purchase the book HERE *I don't get referral money :)

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Greatest Westerns of All-Time: Overview

12:34 PM 0
Greatest Westerns of All-Time: Overview

You can find films 25-11 in the first part of my Top 25 Western Films of All-time HERE
You can find the Top Ten in the second part of my Top 25 Western Films of All-time HERE
You can find my Greatest Western Actions Scenes of All-time list HERE

To keep my Top 25 Westerns list to something manageable and readable, I excluded a lot of other possible lists I wanted to create. For instance, how would I rank the Eastwood films I've seen? What Western "classics" do I think are the most overrated? How would I rank the best musical scores from Westerns? That's what this post is for. Scroll through the following overview of the Western genre and remember that while I was able to watch well over fifty of the most talked about Westerns, I didn't watch everything in the genre. There is a lot I missed - this isn't meant to be comprehensive. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. Is there a glaring omission here?

  • Brutal Reality of Life on the Plains: The Homesman
  • Nihilism Behind the Moralist Veneer of the West: The Wild Bunch
  • Gunfighter Myth vs. Reality: Unforgiven
  • Cattle Drive / Settling the West: Red River
  • Fur Trapping / Wilderness Survival: The Revenant
  • Life of the Upper Plains Indians: Dances with Wolves
  • Mountain Man Living: Jeremiah Johnson
  • The Gold Rush: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (hon. Ment. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)
  • Civilization vs. Barbarism: The Proposition
  • River Rapids Sequence: How the West Was Won
  • Buffalo Hunt: Dances with Wolves
  • Train Robbery: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  • Best “Wyatt Earp” Movie: Tombstone
  • Best Western Character: Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in Tombstone
  • Western Musical: Oklahoma!
  • Western Collage of Stories: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

  • 1990's Dances with Wolves - Romantic Western Score LINK
  • 1960's Dollars Trilogy - Stylized Western Score LINK
  • 2014's The Homesman  - Contempoary Western Score LINK
  • 1980's The Long Riders - Traditional / Folk Wester Score LINK
  • 1960's The Magnificent Seven - Classic Western Score LINK

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Despite the pleasant chemistry and jokes between the two titular leads, this Western feels rather aimless, rambling, and unable to justify glorifying thieves that end up taking the lives of many. There are a handful of fun moments and some nice dialogue, but everything feels rather pointless since there’s never any genuine goal or obstacle to overcome other than don’t get caught. I don't get the "classic" status this film gets.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A grossly overrated Western that never comes close to justifying its three-hour runtime. Like Sergio’s Once Upon a Time in the West, this film is drenched in memorable style (spaghetti Western art direction and that iconic Morricone score) but lacks genuine substance. I don’t think there’s a single thing this film does better than the two previous entries. If anything it doubles down on all the worst parts of the first two. This is the Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End of the “Dollars Trilogy” – tons of ambition, drenched in the style of the first two, but it never feels substantive or clicks like the earlier ones. The plot is a cat and mouse chase for confederate gold with the Civil War in the backdrop. The narrative always feels like a continual wheel spinning to me and I never remember it long after watching. The shootouts are dramatic and iconic (but not shot as ‘action’ scenes), and like the previously mentioned style, are the saving grace of this three bore fest.
  • Once Upon a Time in the West: My thoughts on this one are similar The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The opening standoff sequence might be the most famous one in the entire film & it's a good bellwether for how you will like the rest of the film...I'm not a fan. I concede the great cinematography, art direction, & concept behind it, but I think it's ultimately just too indulgent. For more, check out my live tweeting during my recent viewing.

*For commentary on these three films, see the Top 25 List
  • The Homesman
  • Open Range
  • The Proposition

*That I've seen
  1. Unforgiven
  2. High Plains Drifter
  3. Pale Rider
  4. A Fistful of Dollars
  5. The Outlaw Josey Wales
  6. For a Few Dollars More
  7. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

*That I've seen
  1. Red River
  2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  3. The Shootist
  4. The Searchers
  5. Rio Bravo
  6. Stagecoach
  7. Fort Apache
  8. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
  9. Rio Grande
  10. True Grit

  1. Unforgiven (A) 1992
  2. The Revenant (A)  2015
  3. The Homesman (A-) 2014
  4. The Wild Bunch (A-) 1969
  5. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (A-) 1948
  6. Red River (B+) 1948
  7. The Ox-Bow Incident (B+) 1943
  8. Dances with Wolves (B+) 1990
  9. Django Unchained (B+) 2012
  10. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (B+) 1962
  11. High Noon (B+) 1952
  12. Jeremiah Johnson (B+) 1972
  13. The Proposition (B+) 2005
  14. Hostiles (B) 2017
  15. Open Range (B) 2003
  16. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (B) 2018
  17. Lonesome Dove (B) 1989
  18. High Plains Drifter (B) 1973
  19. Shane (B) 1953
  20. True Grit (B) 2010
  21. 3:10 to Yuma (B) 2007
  22. Pale Rider (B-) 1985
  23. A Fistful of Dollars (B-) 1964
  24. The Shootist (B-) 1976
  25. News of the World (B-) 2020
  26. Tombstone (B-) 1993
  27. The Magnificent Seven (B-) 1960
  28. The Outlaw Josey Wales (B-) 1976
  29. The Searchers (B-) 1956
  30. How the West Was Won (B-) 1962
  31. Bone Tomahawk (B-) 2015
  32. For a Few Dollars More (B-) 1965
  33. The Long Riders (B-) 1980
  34. Pat Garret & Billy the Kid (B-) 1973
  35. Rio Bravo (B-) 1959
  36. 3:10 to Yuma (B-) 1957
  37. The Hateful Eight (B-) 2015
  38. Stagecoach (B-) 1939
  39. The Quick and the Dead (B-) 1995
  40. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (C+) 2007
  41. The Magnificent Seven (C+) 2016
  42. Fort Apache (C+) 1948
  43. Geronimo: An American Legend (C+) 1993
  44. My Darling Clementine (C+) 1946
  45. Wyatt Earp (C+) 1994
  46. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (C+) 1949
  47. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (C) 1969
  48. Silverado (C) 1985
  49. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (C) 1966
  50. Heaven’s Gate (C) 1980
  51. Appaloosa (C) 2008
  52. True Grit (C) 1969 
  53. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (C) 1971 
  54. Once Upon a Time in the West (C) 1968
  55. The Lone Ranger (C-) 2013
  56. Young Guns (C-) 1988
  57. Rio Grande (C-) 1950
  58. Cimarron (C-) 1931

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Greatest Westerns of All-Time: Top Ten

8:43 PM 0
Greatest Westerns of All-Time: Top Ten

You can find films 25-11 in the first part of my Top 25 Western Films of All-time HERE
You can find my Greatest Western Actions Scenes of All-time list HERE 

I think this top ten of films represents a diverse collection of Westerns that when put together, offer an educative and entertaining window not only into that slice of history, but into human nature as well. If you are looking for a list of best gunslinger movies, this probably isn't for you. However, if you are looking to better grasp the sheer scope of the Old West, then this is for you.

10. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) - Trailer
- My favorite John Ford Western is oddly one that wasn’t shot in his favorite location of Monument Valley, instead it was shot mostly on sets. I really like the cynical and pessimistic story here that highlights the false nature of Western legends and the real world ramifications on the people and societies that believe them. The film is well anchored by James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, and John Wayne, but I feel like the film is held back by the conventions of its time. A story like this would have benefitted by the commitment to verisimilitude from the 1970s as Andy Devine's cowardly Sheriff and other stock figures, sets, and cliches of Hollywood Westerns weigh the film down from the lofty heights it reaches.
9. Django Unchained (2012) Trailer
- The first act is nearly a perfect self-contained film. Dr. King Shultz (the scene stealing Christoph Waltz) retrieves Django in a instantly iconic sequence followed by an equally great sequence (that manages to organically provide exposition while being incredibly engaging and building character) that sees Dr. Shultz shoot a Sheriff in the middle of the street and get away with it. With Django alongside, they chase down the Brittle Brothers in another harrowing sequence on a plantation with Don Johnson. From there, the movie follows the bounty hunters in a great montage with homages to many Western films. The problem with this film (a common issue in Westerns) is that it just doesn’t stick the landing. I’m a firm believer that the film should’ve ended with Shultz going out and Django making it out of the films main shootout. That Django doesn't get out is a big deal to me because it leads to the entirely unneeded sequence of Django almost losing his nether parts and the ridiculous Australian slavers sequence. All of these are deleted scene material that drags the film out. It’s a real misstep that holds this film back from near perfection.
8. Dances with Wolves (1990) - Trailer
- An excellent revisionist Western that works so well for most of its running time. After becoming an accidental hero in the Civil War (beginning the revisionist theme of the film), John Dunbar is able to choose his future military posting. After a memorable stop-off with his insane superior officer, another hint that this film is set to demystify the era, Dunbar heads across the American West with his provisions to his post in South Dakota. The following sequences of an isolated Dunbar embracing his new solitary life at the outpost are the best sequences of the entire film to me. I loved watching him repair Fort Sedgewick, making friends with local wildlife (where the name Dances with Wolves comes from), and starting relationships with the territory Lakota Sioux Indians. The highlight of his relationship with the Sioux is the incredible buffalo hunt sequence. As the relationship grows with the Indians, the biggest revisionist aspirations take shape – the Sioux Indians are primarily peaceful and friendly. There's no problem with this in concept, but for a film that takes the history seriously, portraying the Sioux this one sided is an odd choice. There is some complexity given to them, but it’s clear they are the good guys. By the time the end of the film comes into view, the revisionism becomes too heavy handed for me. For instance, the Pawnee Indians and US Cavalry are painted as unthinking villains (with practically zero shades) while the Sioux and Dunbar are the only enlightened ones to see the peace. For a movie that gets so many details right, this oversimplification is really jarring and tough to take. This film works so well for about two thirds of its runtime, gets so much of the details correct (a sweeping romantic score, beautiful real life locations, taking seriously the Indian roles, etc), that the comically villainous US Cavalry in the final act of the film and the revisionist axe begin to overshadow it.
7. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) - Trailer
- This unconventional (and refreshingly short) Western feels closer in spirit to 12 Angry Men than the usual tone of a 1940’s Western. When news of the robbery and murder of a respected local man gets to town, a posse immediately forms with a bloodlust to lynch. As the posse forms without the Sheriff in town, different characters begin asking serious questions about the morality of their quest. On their quest they come across a group of three men sleeping in the Ox-Bow valley with a story that sounds a bit suspicious – at least not good enough to satisfy the mob. What happens next I won’t divulge except to say that as a parable or moral tale, it’s a satisfying and challenging conclusion. A thoughtful story with well-drawn characters and a challenging theme. Good stuff.
6. Red River (1948) - Trailer
- Despite a shoehorned love story (that's glaringly dated) and an oddly anti-climactic final moment with the love interest trying to torpedo the film, Red River is a majestic and layered classic Western that manages to live up to the critical hype. John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and the always welcome Montgomery Clift are fantastic (this is perhaps my favorite John Wayne performance), but it's the dramatic story about manhood, the settling of the west, the shady ethics of it all, set against the ups and downs of a large cattle drive that ultimately steal the show here. Well worth a viewing! "Get a shovel and my Bible. I'll read over him."
5. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) - Trailer
- “I know what gold does to men's souls” - One of the most fascinating stories about the “Old West” that you don’t see covered by many modern films is the gold rush. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre follows a couple of down on their luck Americans, one played by Humphrey Bogart in a career best performance, in Tampico, Mexico who team up with an old prospector played by Walter Huston to search the Sierra Madres for gold. When their exploration strikes it big, the men begin to change - especially Bogart's Dobbs. Despite the setup, this isn’t a fun adventure film. It’s an expertly written and executed morality tale that illustrates the nature of greed; how easily it can change a man and what he’s willing to do to keep it. Once they strike gold, each successive scene cranks up the stakes and tension. The moral situation gets dire when a stranger shows up to their camp, when bandits arrive, when local Indians approach them, and finally when they have to get the gold back to civilization. Walter Huston’s old prospector in this film did more than win the Oscar for his supporting role in this film, he crafted the archetype and stamped this role forever in his image – he’s that good in this.
4. The Wild Bunch (1969) - Trailer
- 1969's controversial and violent (not so much by today's standards) western is a "classic" that lives up to all the hype. The film features three strong action set pieces, that still stand up to this day, but it's the film's depiction of "the West" as a place of brutal nihilism under the veneer of moralism (from all sides) that will stick with you the most. It's not a perfect film, it's a little too long, and there are still some dated elements (the entire bathhouse, Mexican army sequence is skippable) despite many of its universal qualities. This is easily one of the best Westerns about outlaws ever made.
3. The Homesman (2014) - Trailer
- What is sanity in a world as perilous and trying as the Old West? I know this is an unconventional pick as a top five Western, but it’s one of the few films in the genre that has continued to occupy space in my mind forcing me to reflect on its story and characters. How the weariness and heaviness of life’s trials can traumatize us differently sits on this film and the viewer like few I've seen. Usually, with such a theme comes a mind-numbing crawl of a plot, but this two-hour film moves along briskly from sequence to sequence. Beautiful sweeping prairies open the film up with Marco Beltrami’s melancholy score playing above it. We are introduced to Mary Bee Cuddy (played by Hilary Swank) working hard in the Nebraska territory on her property. It’s clear she is productive, plowing, cooking, and taking care of her property. She’s alone, unmarried, and is visited by a town bachelor, where she wines and dines him. After dinner she sings a song (which the man falls asleep for a moment) and then she proposes a match between them. He is offended and calls her “too plain.” It’s a sad moment – she’s done everything she can it seems to be an attractive pairing and yet she remains alone and by herself. This sequence is followed by a montage of three wives who have each gone insane for different reasons, driven that way by a wearisome life on the prairie. The women need to be taken back East to Iowa to be taken care of, but when none of the men are willing to do it, Mary Bee steps up. She is joined by an untrustworthy claim jumper named George Briggs (played by Tommy Lee Jones). 

The rest of the film is about the journey and the obstacles they encounter along the way. The film is also directed by Tommy Lee Jones and I’ve never felt more connected to the positives of the “Old West” embodied in the natural landscapes and the goodness/perseverance seen in the character of Mary Bee Cuddy. However, behind that is the ugliness of the “Old West” – the harsh life of the plain, the thin veneer of religion hiding the fact that everyone is scared, and the swirling vultures of humanity looking to sweep down selfishly on any prey that shows weakness. Yes, the plot is about ferrying three women whose minds have been broken by life back to the East, but the movie argues that we’ve all been traumatized by life’s trials and not everyone handles the burdens equally. The entire film is affected by the trauma of life that ripples through every character; we all feel ashamed by it, we all try to hide it, but we are all affected by it. I think the thing that makes this theme sting so greatly is a kind of surprise turning point the film takes (I won’t spoil it here) with about thirty minutes left in its runtime. There are things we are just not able to bear and I’ve never felt that heaviness like I have in this film – especially given the film’s narrative twist. What moral compromise and what level of selfishness is necessary to remain sane in a world with this much random and purposeful suffering? In a way, this film does a better job at revising the myths of the “rugged individual” West than most explicitly revisionist ones. It’s a healthy antidote to the romanticizing of the Old West and I think it’s one of the most essential Westerns ever produced.
2. The Revenant (2015) - Trailer
- This part brutal survival story, part revenge tale, & part insightful spiritual mediation really connected with me. It felt to me like a perfect mix of Michael Mann's eye for visceral action, the historical verisimilitude of The Last of The Mohicans, Terrance Malick's visual/spiritual meditations in Tree of Life, the fever dream pyschology of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and the complex moral dialogues of Inarritu's own Biutiful
In other words, it has a lot going for it beyond being just a superbly crafted tale of surviving the elements (in a standout performance from Leonardo DiCaprio) of the wilderness and getting revenge. In the final moments of the film (in the picture seen above), DiCaprio's Hugh Glass ponders and reflects on his journey to revenge. The final taunts of his nemesis John Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy) take hold of Glass and took hold of me as well, "You came all this way just for your revenge, huh? Did you enjoy it, Glass?... 'Cause there ain't nothin' gon' bring your boy back."

1. Cowboys & Aliens (2011) - Trailer
- An unexpected pick I know, but just here me out...okay, I'm just kidding. Here's the real number one.

1. Unforgiven (1992) - Trailer
- A Western masterpiece directed by and starring Clint Eastwood that acts as about as good an education on both the myth and the reality the "Wild West" as one could possibly expect in two hours. Beyond its ability to educate about the historical period, it is the insight into human nature, violence, and justice that raises the story beyond the genre trappings. Eastwood plays the former gunslinger William Munny (killer of women and children) who was reformed by his wife Claudia and is settled down now as a farmer raising children, despite the untimely death of his wife. When the young Schofield Kid (looking like Emilio Estevez in Young Guns) arrives at Munny's farm to entice him to claim a bounty put up by a group of prostitutes to kill two cowboys who harmed one of the girls, Munny is tempted. The irony of this offer is that it completely subverts the hero's call of the typical film. In this case, our main character's call is to re-enter the world he didn’t want to go back to - of the morally repugnant world of gun slinging. Munny eventually decides to take up the call and bring along his old partner Ned, played by Morgan Freeman. They join up with the young and prideful Schofield Kid and journey to kill the cowboys.

As the film progresses the film unfolds its agenda: the evaluation of the moral and aesthetic value of the common mythical view of the "Old West". This is often achieved through humorous means like Eastwood having trouble getting up on his horse, English Bill (Richard Harris in fine form) playing a perfect archetype of the quirky Old West gunslinger, and the town Sheriff (Gene Hackman in an Oscar winning role) being horrible at construction. More often though, the evaluation plays dramatically and provides a nice gut punch to audience: Ned no longer having the stomach to shoot to kill, Sheriff Little Bill telling author W.W. Beauchamp how shootouts in the West really take place, the Schofield Kid's instant moral regret, and the luck Munny has in the final shootout. 

So why is the film called Unforgiven anyway? Not sure I could explain it better than this quote from a good William Beard essay on the film. Read the whole essay, it's better than my blurb!
“Munny’s wife Claudia, in attempting his regeneration, in pulling him out of the maelstrom of nihilistic compulsive violence and drunken self-obliteration into a world of principle and language and family and human self-recognition, forgives him. The act of forgiveness produces the (feminine) redemptive result of self-forgiveness. In addressing at last the buried consciousness of horror and guilt, the fiery cycle of repression and violence whose first victim is the perpetrator is broken, and the functional person William Munny (the “good”) is dredged up into view. Once established in the social world of human relationships, gainful occupation, the code of civility and “decency,” Munny is happier than before...As the film proceeds Ned develops into Munny’s anchor to the world, his reassurance that he has forsaken the old ways (which Ned also witnessed), and his guarantee that his actions have some foothold in a worthwhile life-pattern, in decency and fellow-feeling. But Munny makes the mistake first of returning to killing (however different his motives this time) and second of pulling Ned with him. When this happens the results are different from what was anticipated (this too is morally instructive). It is Ned who is punished for the transgression, a transgression he did not truly commit; Munny does everything and goes free, and gets paid to boot. It is not just that any notion of a higher system of justice and moral equilibrium is derisorily contradicted by this development. The death of Ned is also Munny’s personal loss of his “good” self, his loss of Claudia’s forgiveness and his own self-forgiveness. When he walks into Greely’s to kill Skinny and Little Bill he is a creature who has lost salvation, a damned soul, “unforgiven.”
Good guys doing bad things and bad guys doing good things, can make this feel look like it's morally grey from afar. However, the film has become such a strong moral evaluation/condemnation of the typical Western that it has become a judge of nearly all other Western films. Take away all of the analysis I've given above and the simplest through-line of the film is that violence breaks not just the victims but the perpetrators and glorifiers as well. William Munny, who could be the aged "Man with No Name" from Eastwoods earlier films, can never truly recover from his violent acts. The prostitutes, despite having their bounty claimed and the cowboys killed, are no better off than before. The Sheriff, who never rights the injustice done to the prostitute (the violence that launches the plot of the film) can't help but use violence on those who take up the charge of justice on their own. He ultimately meets his own death because of his violence. The Schofield Kid is a broken down wreck after his first confirmed kill. In one of the best scenes of the film, Schofield laments how his violence has broken him and Munny responds:
The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don't seem real... how he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever... how he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger. 
Will Munny: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have. 
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming. 
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
There's an endless cycle to violence that sullies us all and brakes a part of us for good. Like Frodo's bearing of the ring of power, there's a pain that time just cannot heal in us. Sitting here in 2021, my generation looks back on the Old West and is still trying to reckon with the violence that took place. Sometimes we've glamorized it and cast it in black and white terms. At other times we have "revised" it, swung the pendulum to the other side - keeping the black and white terms but switching the sides. The harder task is to accept that the reality is much more difficult. The Old West was filled with humans with great ambitions, heavy burdens, tragic imperfections, and all must be understood and judged with as much context and empathy as we can offer. Unforgiven feels is Eastwood's artistic grappling with reality and I think it's the best Western our culture as to offer.

Greatest Westerns of All-Time: 25-11

6:25 PM 0
Greatest Westerns of All-Time: 25-11
Have you ever traveled to a place where few speak your language, you aren't familiar with the layout, and you knew that if you lost your wallet things would be truly desperate? That feeling of a extreme vulnerability is one of my favorite aspects of frontier living in Western films and tt's one of the many diverse themes and settings that you can find in the genre. In my judgment, the "Old West" can legitimately cover ground from the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 until the closing of the West in the late 1800s or early 1900s (The Wild Bunch takes place in the 20th century) - essentially the entire 19th century. While Westerns tend to focus on cowboys and gunslingers, that span of history includes explorers, fur traders, mountain men, gold rushes, boom towns, homesteaders vs cattlemen, the building of the railroads, settlers vs the Indians, the US cavalry vs the Indians, Mexican army vs Americans, outlaws, bandits, bounty hunters, Civil War and reconstruction tensions, and so much more. If a writer or director can't find an interesting conflict (NSFW) in this time period, they just aren't human. For this list, I consider movies that cover these topics in that time period to be a Western.

The Western film genre took off in the 1930's and peaked in the 1950's. According to, between the years 1930 and 1954 approximately 2700 Westerns were made! They continued to be made in the decades that followed though they began to look and feel very different with Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns catapulting Clint Eastwood to stardom in the mid-1960s. Into the late 60s and 70s the Western genre would see an increase in violence through the likes of directors like Sam Peckinpah and its mythologies deconstructed and spoofed by the likes of Robert Altman and Mel Brooks

As I stated when I covered the Best Western Action Scenes of All-Time, I was never partial to the Western genre growing up. I mostly enjoyed modern action films, particularly anything with fighting turtles. As I've grown older though, I have become quite fond of the Western genre's penchant for reflecting deeply on violence, justice, morality, civilization, adventure, trauma, and regret. Many Westerns are fantastic moral allegories or parables. I also don't mind the occasional fun shootout and action sequence we get as well. You'll see all of these themes represented in my top 25 list. 

For this top 25, I (re)watched well over fifty of the highest rated Westerns. Given just how many films have been released in this genre, I knew it was impossible to be comprehensive, so I targeted the most publicly loved, critically acclaimed, and well-respected entries. I spent a lot of time looking over other lists to be well-informed and I'm confident I hit nearly all the ones with a significant claim to being on this list. I made the choice to exclude animated Westerns (sorry for another disappointment Fievel!), comedies set in the West and anything that features "Western" themes but takes place in contemporary times (Think Wind River and No Country for Old Men). Maybe I'll make those lists another time. I hope you enjoy the list and discover for yourself some of the better films out there. Let me know what you think!

  • The Searchers (1956) - Trailer: The film featuring an engaging Western premise (a young girl is kidnapped by a Comanche tribe), gorgeous location shooting, and a dynamic bull-headed performance from John Wayne is enough to commend this solid Western. I don’t think it holds up to the masterpiece acclaim it commonly gets, mostly on account of the poor humor (the trading for an Indian wife bit has never worked for comedy) and the pacing that often feels too episodic and padded. For example, the protracted “wedding” sequence where Ethan and Pawley return to goes on for too long, feels ‘written’ vs organic, and the humorous fighting no longer really works. I appreciate the reflection on ethics in the West and the layered performance of Wayne, but most everything this film does has been done much better in later movies.
  • The Magnificent Seven (1960) - Trailer“If God didn’t want them sheared, he shouldn’t have made them sheep” – thus is the stark boldness of the morality in the battle between a group of bandits exploiting a poor rural Mexican village. The film’s morality tale is anchored by the goodness in Yul Brenner’s Chris (who, beyond that goodness, is about as interesting as an anchor). When the three poor and humble Mexican villagers proposition him to come and protect their town, Chris senses their decency and desperate situation. The viewer gets the feeling that for a good man like Chris, he ultimately can’t turn them down. Unlike the 2016 remake there’s no promise of a large payoff for the recruited mercenaries, just a measly payout that isn’t really worth it. This is an essential difference because it hints at the character of the men, their morality, rather than, as in the 2016 remake, their entertainment value. How did this score not win the academy award in its year? It’s got to be on the shortlist of greatest scores of all-time and gives this film a sense of adventure and excitement that few Westerns have. The recruitment process moves quick and entertains, but the film bogs down back in the village waiting for the bad guys to show up, and then eventually comes to a fairly satisfying end. I like the little moments of humanity that pop up in the second act (my favorite being the boys who idolize Charles Bronson’s character), but I don’t think all of the directions the film takes in this act work. One other remark about this film, the musical score is absolutely fantastic. This is a decent film, but I think that music that calls the viewer to adventure has given it a longer life and resonance than it would have had otherwise.
  • How the West Was Won (1962) - Trailer: This is a dated production (the opening narration calls the Indians “primitive man” from which we had to win the West), but I think the desire to tell multiple stories as a kind of collective montage of The West” is a big boon to the film as it means the plot is always moving and keeping busy. One of the worst faults of historical epics during this time period is their indulgence for melodrama and glacial pacing in favor of actors getting big scenes (looking right at you Cleopatra). Thankfully, this movie keeps the sequences going fast, the real locations plenty, and isn’t afraid for its characters and their dreams to be dashed in the West. All those positives aside, not all the episodes are equal in quality and some sections do begin to drag or feel like they are included just for educational purposes. Uneven, decidedly imperialist (at least with a guilty conscience), but a worthy, engaging, and admirable collage of Western stories, nonetheless
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) - Trailer: After Yankees burn down his house and kill his family, Josey Wales joins a band of Confederate marauders during the Civil War. After hostilities end, Josey refuses to swear loyalty to the Union (becoming the titular outlaw) and the movies turns into a kind of road trip movie as Josey makes his way to Mexico, encountering cavalry, Cherokee, Comanche, and bounty hunters. I really wanted to love this Western, but if I’m being honest, the different sequences on his way to Texas/Mexico are uneven, the action is mostly forgettable, and the film ends up being just too long. 
  • Tombstone (1993) - Trailer: This is a tough film to rank because there are so many elements of it that are engaging and enjoyable: the recreation of Tombstone, some of the punchy dialogue, Russell’s aggressive Wyatt, and especially Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday. That said, there’s something about how the plot seems to meander and take on lots of directions and never quite know how to end that makes it feel long and drawn out. Additionally, there never feels like a true awareness or reflection on Wyatt’s morality. It feels like a lost opportunity given that everyone is supremely well cast. I’d say the great irony of this Western is that it’s entertaining in spite of itself and it’s supposedly about Wyatt and the Earp brothers, but it’s completely stolen by Kilmer’s Holliday.
25. News of the World (2020) - Trailer
- This film is the first re-teaming of Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass since their excellent 2013 collaboration Captain Phillips. The thought of one of my favorite actors and directors tackling the Western genre had me excited. Tom Hanks plays a Civil War veteran Captain Kidd who has taken up traveling town to town to read the news to small gatherings who can’t. In his travels, he comes across an abandoned white girl who has been raised by Kiowa Indians. When authorities don’t step up to return her home, Captain Kidd determines to do it himself. The film does a wonderful job capturing the feel of reconstructionist Texas after the Civil War with the presence of Union soldiers, the anger at the North, and the politics of getting back into the Union all filling in the background and context of the film. The film does take an odd detour for an “action” scene in the hills that feels somewhat unconnected to the rest of the story for such an involved and long sequence. The best scene in the film sees a self-serving town dictator force Hanks to read his personally written news to a town gathering. Hanks subversively reads the story of another town, parable like, encouraging the citizens to stand up. The message that in hearing the news and stories of others struggling and surviving around the world, we can understand they are more like us than not. It’s a comforting message.
24. The Shootist (1976) - Trailer
- John Wayne's final film role see's him play the aging lawman/gunfighter J.B. Books who has just received the news (from Jimmy Stewart no less) that he will die soon due to cancer. For his dying days he rents a room from the widow Bond Rogers (played by Lauren Bacall) in Carson City. Slowly the rest of the town learns of the dying gunslinger and conflicts arise. The screenplay here is well considered and efficient for its hour and a half running time as there isn’t much fluff to be had. I think Wayne gives one his best performances here, showing nuance and layers of pride, confidence, doubt, vulnerability, and sadness. Harry Morgan’s US Marshall is another enjoyable character, boasting freely about his desire for Book’s death and how his city is getting sophisticated and moving beyond the savage old days. I won’t spoil the ending here except to say it feels satisfying and wraps up this short and solid film.
23. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - Trailer
- The first entry into Eastwood and Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy. This series of films were known as "spaghetti westerns" since they were filmed cheaply in Italy instead of Hollywood. The story sees Eastwood’s gunslinger stroll into a Mexican border town in the throes of a battle between two groups looking to rule it. Eastwood uses this battle as an opportunity to con both sides against each other and get rich while doing so. I like some of the tricks the amoral Eastwood pulls off here, even if it requires his marks to be dumber than I’d like. This simple story dynamic, along with Leone’s style and Eastwood’s charisma, combine to make a worthwhile Western.
22. Pale Rider (1985) - Trailer
- The film begins when a small group of gold panners with a claim to Carbon Canyon in California are violently attacked by an area mining outfit wanting to run them off their claim. After a young girl’s prayers for a miracle, Clint Eastwood arrives as a mystery man wearing a preacher’s collar and standing up to the mining outfit. I really like the mythical/mysterious quality to Eastwood’s character here; there are some hints that he’s not just there as an answer to prayer for the panners but as retribution for the mining company’s greed, destruction of the environment, and for the Marshall and deputies he ultimately hires to do his dirty work. Eastwood gets a lot of great lines and moments here. The second act drags quite a bit, but there’s a nice ending as Eastwood gets to have a town shootout that plays more like a mini-run of Jason Vorhees picking off teenagers at a camp one by one. It’s a smart idea since Eastwood’s character is more mythical here than realistic.

21. 3:10 to Yuma (2007) - Trailer
- Like the remake of The Magnificent Seven, this feels like a Western that has both benefited and been burdened by the time period it was made. On one hand, it’s always entertaining, anchored by actors trying really hard, and features high production values. On the other hand, it’s trying so hard to be entertaining and “more” that it ends up being exasperating and the finale action sequence so over the top that it becomes a bit much to stomach.
20. True Grit (2010) Trailer
- Improving upon the John Wayne film in every conceivable way, this Coen Brothers Western shines in its language, acting, music and cinematography. I’m not big on the story itself and I think the central hunt for the bad guys ultimately takes a back seat to the dialogue and chemistry between the actors. Combine that with a production that captures the feeling of the West well, and you’ve got a solid film.
19. Shane (1953) - Trailer
- A very watchable Western telling the popular conflict between homesteaders and cattleman in the West. When a cattleman fails to run some homesteaders off their claims through intimidation, he brings in a hired gun to up the temperature. Into this story walks Shane, a weary gunslinger looking to live a quiet life. Inevitably, there’s a showdown and Shane is a central part of it. This is a good film, but it features a child actor that nearly sinks the entire film with his annoying performance. Strangely enough, the kid got a lot of award nominations. What were they thinking (NSFW)?
18. High Plains Drifter (1973) - Trailer
- My first memories of this film are watching it with my Dad as a young kid. I didn’t quite understand the film then and its slowly revealed themes were mostly lost on me. Coming back to it now as an adult I can better appreciate the parable like nature of the story. This isn’t a traditional Western – it’s an allegory about retribution for past violence (a major thread in most Eastwood films) and about just how far people are willing to go to hide their guilt and shame. Eastwood’s Drifter reminded me of Samuel’s warning to the Israelites about electing a king and what the king would take from them. The first act ends with Eastwood’s Drifter essentially being given carte blanche over the town as long as he helps them against some returning outlaws. The second act features Eastwood exploiting the town’s guilt and pushing their boundaries further and further than they ever imagined. The finale act, which I won’t spoil, caps off the allegory in a satisfactory way. Even at an hour and forty-five minutes, the film feels a bit lengthy for what it ultimately covers. This non-traditional Western is worth seeking out and pondering it’s parable like quirky tale.
17. Lonesome Dove (1989) - Trailer
- This television mini-series adapted from Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer prize winning novel is a sprawling epic that covers the story of two old and storied Texas Rangers making a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones’ McRae and Call anchor the film (Rich Schroder and Angelica Houston turn in great performances too) and their chemistry and colorful language combine with the commitment to natural settings and detailed production design to reproduce the time period wonderfully. It’s a genuine draw of the mini-series. Dragging these two rich characters along a torturous and long cattle drive allows the story to cram in a lot of Western tropes and side stories. Unfortunately, there are two things that bring the story down, one of them being the uneven side stories. At their best, they color in and organically enrich the main plot, but at their worst they just never end up feeling connected to the main story and aren’t half as interesting. Every time the side story about an Arkansas sheriff searching for his wife comes on, it feels like a different and lesser movie is being told. The other weakness of the film is that it must confirm to the decency practices of network television. The story here does not shy away from some of the darker sides of the West: the violence, abuse, famine, rape, moral ambiguity, outlaws, prostitution, poverty, and more. Far too often though what visually ends up on the screen feels far too restrained and tamed in a way that feels incongruous with the story/themes. I think this is the kind of story that would have benefited from being filmed today with HBO and given the chance to tell this story unflinchingly. Due to the pedigree and popularity, this is the only television Western I thought about admitting to this list.
16. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) - Trailer
- This is a tough film to rank relative to other Westerns since, like How the West Was Won. it’s a collection of a short stories rather than a single narrative. Still, as a collage of sometimes quirky, humorous, serious, and reflective stories set in various Western settings and cliches (the gunfighter, hangings, gold miner, the wagon train, etc) – it is quite commendable. Some stories are more interesting than others, but the film is nearly always engaging and thanks to the stellar production values, literary quality, and artistic vision – it’s nearly always insightful as well. The gold mining story shines brightest to me. 
15. Open Range (2003) - Trailer
- A solid Western that plays like the reverse of Shane - free grazers being the good guys and clashing with a town cattle baron who wants to pen in the land. The film is told with a sense of romanticism about the West that is refreshing. At times that romanticism can be a strength (the sweeping vistas, the wholesome dialogue and morality, the score) but it can also be a detriment; none moreso than the stilted and boring romantic relationship between Costner and Benning. In the end, it’s a nice Western, a little long, that stands out mostly for its excellent finale shootout.
14. Hostiles (2017) - Trailer
- Scott Cooper’s 2017 Western has a dream setup for me: Christian Bale plays Capt. Blocker tasked with escorting a former outlaw Indian chief (played by Wes Studi) who is terminally ill to his homeland in the upper Midwest to be buried. Capt. Blocker is a veteran of many US Cavalry campaigns, has seen many slaughtered by Indian foes and by his own hands, he is weary and he doesn’t want the task. The beginning of their journey is like an “Old West” fan’s dream as we start out at a US Fort and travel north across sweeping vistas, glimpse camp life, and encounter an Indian raid. Throughout the journey, Capt. Blocker must confront his hatred for the Indian chief, even after he begins understanding that much of what they did was out of necessity, being backed into a corner, and due to the same warrior spirit he has. As their mutual understanding grows, the story throws more and more obstacles at the traveling group. After about 2/3rds into the film, the obstacles feel less organic to the plot and more straight from the writer’s pen. Ultimately, the final act of the film is a strong let down for me. Although it matches with the themes of the film, it feels too sudden, too arbitrary, and unsatisfying to the story. I wanted to love this film, and quite nearly did, but the last act cannot be ignored. Had it stuck the landing, this could've been much higher on the list.
13. The Proposition (2005) - Trailer
- This Western takes place in the Australian "West" - as British soldiers were looking to tame and civilize the frontier there. Ray Winstone plays Capt. Stanley who is charged with capturing the notorious outlaw Arthur Burns. To get Burns, Stanley captures his two outlaw brothers first, and offers Charlie (played by Guy Pearce) a pardon and freedom for his younger brother Mikey if he betrays his oldest brother Arthur. The cat and mouse game Stanley is playing becomes an affront to the civilized town folk who want all the brothers punished, but Stanley knows its really Arthur who is the ring leader. In one powerfully affecting sequence, the town demands that Mikey be whipped, but when it becomes too bloody and severe, they turn away. This is a solid Australian Western that explores the thin line between our barbaric nature and civilization. 
12. Jeremiah Johnson (1972) - Trailer
- It is glorious to finally see the sequence my all-time favorite gif hails from. This film is the best film about the mountain men of the Old West. Filmed primarily on real stunning locations in Utah and Idaho, this film is a nature fans dream. Following Jeremiah's trails as a trapper, hunter, and keeping alive from the surrounding Indians is quite the education. One of my favorite moments is a scene where he comes across a panicked woman whose family had just been slaughtered by Indians. Johnson notes he is a friend by saying "We have graves to dig." What a subtle but completely disarming (literally) gesture of common humanity. The film is filled with nice moments like that.
11. High Noon (1952) - Trailer
- A Western I admire more than I genuinely enjoy watching. I love the moral tale of the lone righteous man who will stand up and not make excuses to face off with evil. The best element of the story is learning the various reasons and ways men come up with to not join him and seeing what eventually happens. The process, however, can feel a bit slow and a bit repetitious to me. It’s produced well, looks fantastic, is acted well, and features a nice little finale shootout – especially for the time period.