Friday, June 6, 2008

The Ten Best Westerns of the Last Ten Years, pt 2

Alright, and now the list. The Ten Best Westerns of the last 10 Years:

10. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Type: Modern Day
By the Numbers: Metacritic 87/100, 4.5/5
Brokeback Mountain received all of its acclaim mostly for being a gay-cowboy movie, although some observers cynically pointed out that it was actually about bisexual sheep ranchers. Well, I don't know about the gay/bisexual part, but a cowboy is a cowboy, even when he's herding sheep, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger are cowboys - rodeo riding, ten-gallon hat wearing, modern day cowboys. I admired the film most for its stunning cinematography, featuring breathtaking vistas of the mountains of Montana. Otherwise, it was a fairly standard, albeit masterfully rendered, modern day western, with a "twist." And that's a pun.

9. Kill Bill, v2 (2004)
Type: Samurai
By the Numbers: Metacritic 83/100; Allmovie 4/5
Unlike Kill Bill v1, which was an over-the-top live-action anime, Kill Bill v2 is clearly an old-fashioned, black-and-white western, although admittedly one where the samurai semantics are firmly in place (see here). Michael Madsen, who was once supposed to be the next great action star but has been under- and un-utilized by every director outside of Tarantino, plays the regretful western villain perfectly. Add that to great performances by Darryl Hannah and David Carradine, almost adequate acting by Uma Thurman, the inspiration for Kobe Bryant's nickname, and several eyes being snatched from peoples' faces, and you've got a great neo-western.

8. Shanghai Noon (2000)
Type: Traditional (with Jackie Chan!)
By the Numbers: Metacritic 77/100; Allmovie 3.5/5
Shanghai Noon offers a whole host of pleasures. It's a broad buddy-comedy western, deeply indebted to the ultimate buddy-comedy western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But it's chock full of references to other westerns, ranging from outright scene recreations to silly puns, and manages to put it all together into a satisfying package. Plus it's got Owen Wilson's first (and possibly still best) mainstream star turn, and offers up Jackie Chan's best Hollywood slapstick. By far the most fun film on this list, save perhaps #1.

7.The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
Type: Modern Day/Revisionist
By the Numbers: Metacritic 77/100; Allmovie 4/5
Tommy Lee Jones made his directorial debut with a modern day western that was so influenced by revisionist master Sam Peckinpah that I had to name it revisionist as well. Barry Pepper, a border agent, mistakenly kills rancher Tommy Lee Jones's legal immigrant friend, so of course the perfectly reasonable Jones decides that the only logical course of action is to kidnap Pepper, steal the corpse, and take them both on a journey to bury his friend in his Mexican hometown. Rather gruesome craziness ensues. You can't go wrong.

6. Tears of the Black Tiger (2000/released in US 2007)
Type: Traditional/Insanely Colorful
By the Numbers: Metacritic 69/100; Allmovie 4/5
The only way I can describe this movie is: if Romeo and Juliet were adapted for the screen by Sam Peckinpah, then directed by Douglas Sirk, while set in Thailand. One of the most colorful films I have ever scene, quite gory, but also quite traditional in its western hero and love triangle. Early in the film, our hero The Black Tiger makes six-gun shot that's impossible to believe, as the bullet ricochets multiple times before finding its target (someone's face). At which point a title card asks "Did you manage to see what happened?" and proceeds to show the shot again, this time in slow motion, for your viewing pleasure. Also, The Black Tiger's gang includes an armed and angry dwarf. Tarantino and Rodriguez would be proud to have made this film. So would a group of colorblind toddlers interested in fingerpainting fluorescent paint all over the screen.

5.Deadwood (2004)
Type: Revisionist (TV)
By the Numbers: Metacritic 85/100, Allmovie 3.5/5
Did you know cowboys used to say "cocksucker" in every sentence? At least, so this revisionist HBO TV show would have us believe. The second western on this list to feature a son of the classic western actor John Carradine, Deadwood gives us Keith Carradine (as Wild Bill Hickock), Timothy Olyphant (Die Hard 4), Ian McShane (Deadwood), Powers Boothe (Tombstone), and the lovable Ricky Jay (every PT Anderson movie) all in a mining town with no law, lots of hookers, and, as I mentioned earlier, plenty of profanity and a great deal more obscenity. The show unfolds slowly, and I haven't finished it yet, but it's a pitch-perfect western with a number of interesting strands criss-crossing as the plot develops. Its success is at least partially responsible for all the other westerns we've been seeing lately.

4.The Proposition (2006)
Type: Revisionist (Australian!)
By the Numbers: Metacritic 73/100; Allmovie 4/5
As you know, John Hurt (Hellboy) and Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) were both recently featured in Indiana Jones 4, which greatly pleased moviesetal, seeing as they're both moviesetal favorites. In The Proposition, a gritty and metaphysical Australian western written by gothic rocker Nick Cave, the local lawman Winstone gives outlaw Guy Pearce an unenviable task: find and kill his homicidal older brother (played by Anjelica Huston's half-crazed half-brother Danny Huston) or he'll hang their slow-witted youngest brother. The result is a mesmerizing postcolonial exploration of Australia, flies, heat, aboriginal dream-time, the disastrous attempt to bring English customs and mores to the outback, and Nick Cave's clear love of Sam Peckinpah.

3. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Type: Modern Day
By the Numbers: Metacritic 91/100; Allmovie 4.5/5
Everyone, I'm sure, is familiar with this Best Picture winner. Classic Texas sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones). Modern day cowboy (Josh Brolin). Homicidal Madman with a pneumatic bolt gun and Ringo Starr's haircut (Oscar-winner Javier Bardem). Creepier and more painfully violent than any horror film I have ever seen. Also, pit bulls.

2. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Type: Traditional/Revisionist
By the Numbers: Metacritc 76/100; Allmovie 4/5
There's no way that 3:10 to Yuma is a better film than No Country or The Proposition, but it's a remake of a 50s western which was right on the curve of revisionism, and it delivers an experience superior even to that classic. It has by far my favorite two actors working today (Crowe and Bale) with Bale delivering a classic method performance by disappearing into his character and Crowe giving a showier performance that's so charismatic that everyone in the film (including a female bartender, Bale's wife, and even his own second-in-command) practically swoons when he looks their way. Although the ending still gives me pause, this film captures everything that made both traditional westerns and revisionist westerns successful; both traditional masculine honor and revisionist moral ambiguity are on display. This is the one to show to any fan of classic westerns who's looking for a contemporary example of the genre. This is the one that shows that today's Hollywood knows a great western when it sees one.

1.Cowboy Bebop (1999)
Type: Space! (and occasionally samurai)
By the Numbers: Allmovie 4/5 (Metacritic gave the movie 61/100, but the movie was not up to the show's standards. Still excellent, though)
Cowboy Bebop is not only the best Western to have been made in the past 10 years. It's also the best space western ever, best Japanese TV show ever, best sci-fi TV show ever, and quite possibly the best TV show and western ever. In fact, it might be the best anything ever.
Unfolding over 26 episodes, Cowboy Bebop is the story of gunslinging gangster-turned-space-bounty-hunter Spike Spiegel. The story alternates between Spike's episodic bounty hunter adventures and his samurai-esque attempt to redeem himself after the fall of his master. Along the way, the show does noir, space-opera, horror, kung fu, and con-man stories, all within its space-western framework. Plus, every episode comes packed with wall-to-wall jazz tunes (hence the Bebop in the title), save Pierrot le Fou, where the absence of music makes Spike's monstrous adversary even more terrifying. The last six or so episodes, when the shit really hits the fan and each character must slowly come to terms with both their past and their commitment to Spike's journey, never fails to move me. I have the whole series if anyone wants to watch it. As long as you don't give up on it, it won't disappoint.

Honorable Mention: Trigun
I didn't want to have more than one anime space-western on the list, so Trigun, from the same year as Bebop, gets only an honorable mention It too follows a gunslinger in space who must slowly work his way back into conflict with enemies from his past, although this particular gunslinger, Vash the Stampede, is a much kinder, gentler figure than Spike. This is a great series, but the first few episodes especially are really heavy on all of the manga/anime idiosyncrasies that drive western viewers insane (giant eyes, giant sweat beads of nervousness, characters assuming a weird cartoon shape to express their current emotion, etc) and that can get on anyone's nerves. Still, this is one of the finest anime series I have seen, and it's the first thing you should watch if you've seen Cowboy Bebop and the Cowboy Bebop movie and want more.

So, outside of the 4 I mentioned in the previous post (Assassination of Jesse James, Firefly, Open Range, and Seraphim Falls) what do you guys think. Are there any other westerns from the last 10 years that I should see? Do you hate any of the westerns I chose? Does it enrage you that I called Kill Bill v2 a western? Let me know.


Anonymous said...

so i wanna find this western ive looked everywhere theres this cowboy that has to leave town i duno if hes exiled or what but nativeams find him nurse him to health they use some kinda crazy drug to have spiritual journeys and battles in the end the cowboy has to fight the indian but inside each others mind in some sort of hallucinagenic spiritual battle theres a girl of course and he gets with her after the battle thus the end any ideas?

Graham said...


That doesn't ring a bell to me immediately, but I'll look and ask around. Do you know when the Western is from?

My only guess right now is Dead Man, with Johnny Depp, directed by Jim Jarmusch, but I haven't seen it so I can't say for sure.

OkraJoe said...

Good list.

Anonymous said...

the movie is called blueberry or alternatively renegade. made in 2004 based on comics by the artist mobius.

Anonymous said...

Klinkt goed, ik wil graag uw blog te lezen, net toegevoegd aan mijn favorieten;)