1. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005): Tommy Lee Jones pulled double
duty on this critically acclaimed neo-western drama, making his directorial
debut while offering a precise, subtly detailed performance that earned him the
Best Actor award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. Written by Guillermo Arriaga
(Babel, 21 Grams) and filmed in various locations in Texas, the film details the
fateful journey of Texas cattle rancher Pete Perkins (Jones) after Melquiades
Estrada (Julio César Cedillo), an undocumented laborer in his employ, is killed
by a reckless Border Patrol agent (Barry Pepper). “Pete takes justice into his
own hands,” critic Roger Ebert wrote in his four-star review. “And not simple
justice, which might involve killing the agent, but poetic justice, which
elevates the movie into the realms of parable.” (available on DVD and online)
2. The Proposition (2005): After an outlaw gang led by his notorious older
brother slaughters a family in the Australian outback of the 1880s, desperado
Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce of Memento) is offered a hard bargain by Captain
Stanley (Ray Winstone), the closest thing to a law enforcer in the area. He must
either track down and kill his bad brother Arthur (Danny Huston) within nine
days or Mikey (Richard Wilson), his feeble-minded younger sibling, will be
hanged on Christmas Day. The Proposition sparked many favorable comparisons to
the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone when it reached U.S. screens a year
after its Australian premiere. Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal hailed
it as “a visionary tale of a fragile civilizing impulse crushed by family
loyalty and a lust for revenge,” and Chris Barsanti of Film Journal
International raved: “Very simply, this is the finest, strangest and most
uncompromising western to hit screens since Unforgiven.” (available on DVD and
3. Meek’s Cutoff (2010): Director Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women) immerses her
audience in the ordeal endured by frontier settlers seemingly on the road to
nowhere in this demanding drama loosely based on real-life events. In 1845,
Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a cocksure mountain scout, is contracted to lead
three families by wagon train on a journey westward through the high desert of
eastern Oregon. Unfortunately, Meek seriously miscalculates when he takes the
group on what he claims will be a time-saving shortcut. Even as provisions run
low and water becomes scarce, Meek adamantly refuses to admit his
mistake — leading to a clash of wills between him and Emily Tetherow (Michelle
Williams of All the Money in the World), a member of the party whose growing
mistrust of Meek drives her to defiance. “Imagine a collaboration between John
Ford and Wallace Stevens,” wrote Chicago Reader critic Ben Sachs, “and you might
get a sense of what [Reichardt] pulls off here: a sincere re-creation of the
pioneer experience, brought to life through careful, often unexpected
detail.” (streaming on Netflix and Hulu, available on DVD)
4. Django Unchained (2012): A rousingly melodramatic and furiously violent
mash-up of ’60s spaghetti westerns and ’70s blaxploitation flicks, Quentin
Tarantino’s love-it-or-hate-it pre-Civil War pastiche follows the vengeance
trail of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who gains his freedom by becoming the
protégé of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a cunning and grandiloquent
bounty hunter. The two men forge such a strong bond while going about their
bloody business, Schultz agrees to help Django locate his beloved wife
Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) — who’s currently the property of Calvin Candie
(Leonardo DiCaprio), the gleefully decadent owner of a lavish plantation named,
of course, Candyland. Look closely and you’ll spot a cameo appearance by a
clearly bemused Franco Nero, who portrayed the title character in Sergio
Corbucci’s Django (1966), one of the many spaghetti westerns that Tarantino drew
upon for inspiration while concocting this box-office hit. (available on DVD and
5. Hell or High Water (2016): As we said back when we placed this extraordinary
modern-day western atop our list of 2016’s top 10 movies: Hell or High Waterfully deserves to be ranked among all-time classics of the genre.
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (who made his directorial debut last year with the
equally impressive, C&I Movie Award-winning Wind River) and director David
Mackenzie evenly divide our sympathies between two desperate brothers (Chris
Pine, Ben Foster) methodically robbing small-town branches of the bank that may
foreclose on their family land, and two Texas Rangers — a grizzled veteran (Jeff
Bridges) on the verge of retirement and his half-Mexican, half-Comanche partner
(Gil Birmingham) — relentlessly following their trail. The final face-off is all
the more powerful, and memorable, for what doesn’t happen between the last men
standing. (available on DVD and online)
6. Appaloosa: Ed Harris
directed and starred in the 2008 western based on Robert B.
7. The Ballad Of Lefty
Brown: Bill Pullman stars as a longtime sidekick turned
improbable hero in the western drama.
8. Borrrowed Time: Pixar
animators’ side project is a stunning western tale.
9: Brimstone: Guy Pearce and
Dakota Fanning co-star in the violent revenge western.
10. Diablo: Like father like
son, Scott Eastwood stars in a gritty western drama.
11. Forsaken: The western
stars Brian Cox, Demi Moore, Kiefer Sutherland and Donald
12. GONE ARE THE DAYS: Lance Henricksen plays an aged outlaw and co-stars with Tom Berenger
and Danny Trejo.
13. THE HERO: Sam Elliott
is cast as Lee Hayden, a former western movie icon who, while
waiting in vain for new roles, divides his time between doing
voiceover gigs and hanging out with his best buddy (Nick Offerman).
14. HICKOK: Luke Hemsworth
makes the move from Westworld to the Wild West.
15. HOSTILES: Christian Bale,
Wes Studi, and Rosamund Pike star in Scott Cooper’s treacherous,
soul-searching, life-changing journey through the American West.
16. IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE:
Ethan Hawke plays Paul, a wandering ex-solider who’s
psychologically scarred by his experiences in the Indian Wars.
17. JANE GOT A GUN: Natalie
Portman stars as Jane Hammond, a woman whose outlaw husband
returns home riddled with bullets and barely alive.
18. LUCKY: The late Harry Dean
Stanton stars to perfection in the title role as a doggedly
self-sufficient eccentric in an off-the-grid desert town.
19. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: A
star-studded cast led by Denzel Washington helps director
Antoine Fuqua put a new spin on a western classic.20. MOHAWK: Director Ted Geoghegan’s violent drama details a clash between
Native Americans and vengeful militiamen.
21. THE REVENANT: Leonardo DiCaprio takes the lead as true-to-life
stuff-of-legend Hugh Glass.
22. ROUGH JUSTICE: Nathan Parsons, Stephen Lang appear in director Richard Gabai’s western.
23. STAGECOACH: THE TEXAS JACK STORY: Trace Adkins, Kim Coates, and Judd Nelson
co-star in the western.
24. THE TIMBER: James Ransone
and Josh Peck head the cast of director Anthony O’Brien’s drama
about survival in the wilderness.
25. WIND RIVER: Taylor
Sheridan’s acclaimed drama starring Jeremy Renner claimed five
of the seven inaugural C&I Movie Awards chosen by online