Greatest Westerns

Greatest Westerns



Greatest Westerns: 2010s
Film Title/Year/Director/Length/Studio, Setting (or Time Period) and Brief Description
Movie Title Screens

True Grit (2010)
d. Joel Coen, 111 minutes, Paramount Pictures

In 1878 at Fort Smith (Arkansas), then on a mission into Choctaw Indian territory

A superb, more violent remake of the classic 1969 western with John Wayne, made by writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen. An exceptionally fine narrative of the Old West - this renewed version had a flashbacked structure.

Determined, precocious, and stubborn orphan 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) enlisted the aid of notorious, broken-down, hard-drinking, aging yet resourceful one-eyed federal Marshal Reuben "Rooster" J. Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), who was reluctantly allied with cocky and vain Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) in her relentless quest to bring her recently murdered father's killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and his desperado partner "Lucky" Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) to justice. Mattie stubbornly joined the other two lawmen to pursue Chaney, to be assured that he would be hanged. During the search, the headstrong and vengeful Mattie insisted on joining the boozing Marshal and often bickered with him.

Their search led to a climactic shoot-out and the deaths of the two main outlaws: desperado partner Ned Pepper was shot by La Boeuf from 400 yards away, while Chaney was killed by Mattie herself wielding La Boeuf's rifle. Mattie suffered a rattlesnake bite, and was sped on horseback to a doctor by Cogburn, but she had to have the arm amputated to avoid gangrene poisoning.

The film concluded 25 years later, when elderly 40 year-old spinster Mattie missed reuniting with Cogburn (a performer in a traveling wild west show) who had died only three days earlier. She had his body buried in her family cemetery.

Django Unchained (2012)
d. Quentin Tarantino, 165 minutes, Weinstein/Columbia Pictures

Between 1868 and 1869 during the period of slavery in the Deep South (Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi), a few years before the Civil War and five years before the Emancipation Proclamation

Writer-director Quentin Tarantino's violent and dramatic "spaghetti" western epic - and blaxploitation movie, peppered with the N-word, had the tagline: "Life, liberty and the pursuit of vengeance." Two past inspirations for the revisionist film included director Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti western Django (1966, It./Sp.), and director Richard Fleischer's Mandingo (1975). Also, the film duplicated the German mythic legend and Wagner's opera of Siegfried rescuing Brunhilde.

German-born dentist Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in a horse-drawn carriage with a giant molar, also serving as a bounty hunter, teamed up with a slave named Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) to hunt down slave masters and overseers wanted by the law, beginning with the three outlaw Brittle brothers. Django was offered his freedom if he assisted Schultz. At the Bennett Manor in Tennessee, they were able to subdue Spencer "Big Daddy" Bennett (Don Johnson) and accomplish their mission by killing the Brittles.

Their main efforts, however, were to rescue Django's enslaved, German-speaking wife Broomhilda "Hildi" von Shaft (Kerry Washington) from a Mississippi plantation (Candieland) owned and managed by sadistic, debauched and sociopathic slave owner "Monsieur" Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio). Their secondary goal was to seek bloody revenge against Candie, who for sport and profit, trained Mandingo warriors to fight to the death, and who heaped abuse on Django's half-dead naked wife with punishing torture in a metal sweat-box for attempting to escape.

Candie was supported by Uncle Tomish head house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), in the administration of whippings, brandings, beatings, dog attacks and castration. The film's finale was the blood-letting 'Mexican-standoff' unleashed by 'Django Unchained" upon Candieland's remaining opponents (both Candie and Schultz were earlier casualties) to free Broomhilda, and explosively blow up the mansion with Stephen inside.

The Hateful Eight (2015)
d. Quentin Tarantino, 167 minutes, Double Feature Films & FilmColony

In the 1870s (post-Civil War), during a Wyoming blizzard inside a frontier stagecoach station, Minnie's Haberdashery, near Red Rock

Writer-director Quentin Tarantino's eighth self-indulgent film, a violent Western 'who-dun-it' (with six narrative sequences) and tale of vengeance and double-dealing. [It had some resemblances to John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), and Tarantino's own Reservoir Dogs (1992).] Shot in an ultrawide-screen format, it was accompanied by music from famed composer Ennio Morricone (his first complete Western score in 35 years).

Caught inside a stagecoach way station/store were a number of individuals, including stagecoach driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks), black ex-Union soldier Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) (an infamous bounty hunter), another bearded bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) - known as "The Hangman" - handcuffed to battered prisoner-fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) on the way to being hanged in Red Rock. Also holed up was Red Rock's new Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) - and ex-Confederate soldier, itinerant Britisher executioner Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) from Red Rock, suspicious quiet cowpuncher Joe Cage (Michael Madsen), doleful Bob (Marco the Mexican) (Demián Bichir) who claimed he was temporarily running Minnie's store, and retired Confederate General Sanford "Sandy" Smithers (Bruce Dern) guilty of massacring black Union soldiers during the war.

Immediately, there were tensions within the group between different factions: between North-and-South, black-and-white, American-foreigner, and between law-abiders and law-breakers. During the forced time spent in the store, a number of violent incidents occurred: the shooting murder of Smithers by Maj. Warren, the poisoning of the coffee by Cage (incapacitating Ruth and O.B.), Daisy's killing of Ruth with his own gun, and the murder of Mexican Bob by Warren who was rightfully suspicious that the lodge owners had been killed earlier (by a gang of four, including Bob, Mobray, Gage, and a fourth person hiding in the cellar named Jody (Channing Tatum)).

Others were also shot during gunfire: Warren (shot by Jody), Mannix and the lethally-wounded Mobray. Daisy, who was Jody's sister, bargained to be let free, and was shot in the foot. Gage was shot dead by Mannix and Warren. To free herself from handcuffs, Domergue sawed off Ruth's arm, but was shot by Mannix. The only two remaining survivors (but dying) were Warren and Mannix, who in the final scene listened as Mannix read Warren's 'forged' personal letter from martyred Abraham Lincoln.

The Revenant (2015)
d. Alejandro González Iñárritu, 156 minutes, 20th Century Fox

The wilderness of the unsettled Great Plains of the Louisiana Purchase Territory (Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota) in 1823

A brutal and unforgiving adventure-western tale and period drama of heroism, survival and retribution, about a frontiersman and fur trapper. It was based partly on Michael Punke's 2002 historical novel, "The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge." An earlier film about the real-life protagonist, Hugh Glass of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, was made many years earlier, Man in the Wilderness (1971), with Richard Harris as Zachary Bass and John Huston as Captain Henry.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) was an expert tracker and frontiersman in 1820s Wyoming, working for a commercial fur company in the snowy Rocky Mountains (in the wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase), hunting for bear pelts. He was a single father (with an unnamed deceased Pawnee wife (Grace Dove) murdered by white troops) and had a half-Pawnee son named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), who was disliked by racist and cruel John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), another hunter-trapper.

During a Native American Arikara tribe attack, Glass and only some of his group barely survived. Then, Glass (separated from the group) was viciously mauled by a raging mother bear, and was near death, and slowing the group down during continuing pursuit by the tribe. Scrupulous hunting party leader Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) proposed that a payment be offered to two people willing to remain behind and care for him. For a greater reward, Fitzgerald also opportunistically remained behind with Hawk and innocent Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). Once the hunting party left, Fitzgerald attempted to smother Glass to death, and when discovered by Hawk, killed him with a Bowie knife. Then, Fitzgerald (after burying Glass alive in a shallow grave) lied to Bridger before the two fled.

After returning to camp, Fitzgerald fabricated a false heroic tale (in order to receive the reward) that they couldn't save Glass, and that they left him with his son. Meanwhile, Glass revived, crawled out, slowly recovered, and was helped by a Pawnee. He evaded hostile Arikaras, and survived the elements before being rescued by a search party. Realizing that Glass would defy his outrageous claims, Fitzgerald fled the camp. When Glass and Captain Henry went after him, the Captain was ambushed and killed by Fitzgerald, after which Glass used his corpse as a decoy to fool Fitzgerald. Ultimately during their one-on-one face-off, Fitzgerald was seized and scalped by angry Arikaras, although they let Glass live - in respect for his earlier rescue of rape-threatened Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk'o), the daughter of Arikara Chief Elk Dog (Duane Howard).

Hell or High Water (2016)
d. David Mackenzie, 102 minutes, CBS Films/Liongate

In modern-day West Texas

The central character of director David Mackenzie's neo-western crime drama, with the tagline: " Blood always follows money," was a soon-to-retire, southern-accented, weary, wise-cracking Texas Ranger lawman, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).

In the intense character study, the veteran lawman was pursuing a string of bank robberies targeting the Texas Midlands Bank by the two Howard brothers (in order to save their inherited family ranch that was threatened to be foreclosed by the same bank). The thieves were unemployed, divorced father Toby Howard (Chris Pine) with two boys from an estranged marriage, and his ex-con, volatile older brother Tanner Howard (Ben Foster).

During a long pursuit after an additional branch of the same bank was robbed and two people were killed (a civilian bystander and security guard), Hamilton was able to track after Tanner and kill him. Meanwhile, Toby was able to successfully launder the money at an Indian casino in Oklahoma, and pay off the $40,000 debt to prevent the bank from foreclosing on the ranch. The case was closed on Toby (he was eliminated as a suspect), since the ranch was pumping oil which was bringing in more income than any of the robberies ever could.

Greatest Westerns
(chronological by film title)
Introduction | Silents-1930s | 1940s | 1950-1955 | 1956-1959 | 1960-1965
1966-1969 | 1970s | 1980s-1990s | 2000s | 2010s

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