Westerns are often a hard sell for current American audiences. Like biblical epics the market was saturated in the fifties and early sixties, so many have abandoned the genre as being cliche. It's difficult to narrow down what it is that turns so many off to a setting that's ripe with possibilities of great drama, but I'm saddened to see this distinctly American type all but go the way of the dodo.
While Westerns have a history of producing incredibly corny films, and some even can be considered racist by modern sensibilities, there are some powerful movies that should not be ignored by buffs. So without further ado...
1. The Searchers - Probably one of the darkest Westerns, if not films, I've yet to see. While John Ford pictures can be ridiculously corny and stupid, this one tackles tricky subject matter and casts John Wayne as one of the most complicated protagonists ever. Wayne pulls off this performance brilliantly and it's still widely regarded as his best work.
2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Audiences largely panned this film accusing it as being overly long and poorly paced. Most expect wild gun fights and chase scenes when watching a western I can see why they were disappointed in this. While I agree it's almost Malik-like, but this film is captivating with it's haunting soundtrack and excellent visuals. It's themes are universal and the acting is worth a look. A great character study as well as analysis of celebrity culture I would highly recommend this. Casey Affleck steals the show.
3. Shane - Maybe dated for today's audiences, but this wonderfully shot film set near the Teuton mountains is a tear jerking story of a gunfighter who attempts to live a quiet life by befriending a family of homesteaders. As this theme has been repeated numerous times in films afterwards the plot doesn't contain many surprises, but the performances alone, especially by a very young Jack Palance, makes this a movie I revisit often.
4. High Noon - Some would call this overrated and to a little extent I agree, but there are few movies finer than this one. A simple story of a marshall set off alone to fight criminals seeking vengeance, but it's pacing, characters, and soundtrack make it somewhat timeless.
5. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Although I think this is highly overrated it's influence cannot be denied. Although it sparked a genre that's often produced some of the worst westerns ever this movie is highly entertaining even with all it's flaws. I would recommend this for it's soundtrack alone.
6. The Proposition - Setting itself apart from the rest of these films in it's Australian setting this is a remarkable piece of storytelling. An excellent cast leads this incredible, albeit dark script. Although audiences largely panned this probably due to it's graphic violence, but I highly recommend it.
"The strength of The Proposition is its relentless moral ambiguity." - James Berardinelli