Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Top Western movies

I gathered my thoughts and wondered what might be the best Western movies in my opinion, at the present moment. I've seen more than 250 and viewed the better ones several times.

The list contains films I've "Facebook-ranked" with four or five stars. The order is not very thought-out, especially when going further than Top 10. But in any case I would perhaps build the list differently at different times.

Edit 4.8.2016: I added a couple of pictures and tightened the text a bit. The list stays the same though.

Once Upon a Time in the West

.1968 Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone)

I'd like to present something less typical as the "best western ever", but I can't avoid it. It is such a great summary of the genre, and works on so many levels.

.1968 The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci)

I'm not going to let Leone entirely dominate the top 3. The Great Silence is bound with intriguing visuals and the fantastic Morricone score. Corbucci shows an almost supernatural wintry West, even harder than the normal west, where a normal western character does not survive long.

.1966 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone)

The Western "small story" opens up into a war movie, the three protagonists worming their way within the chaos around them. Ultimately, it does not have all the depth of Once Upon...

.1971 Duck, you Sucker! (Sergio Leone)

This is not often rated very highly, supposedly Leone even distanced himself from the product. What is now available is a sort of reconstruction. I consider the themes in it to be very moving, and I usually like James Coburn better than Clint Eastwood.

Duck, you sucker!
.1952 High Noon (Fred Zinnemann)

High Noon is able to combine psychological and social "political" themes without making them too underlined. Tends to get better in multiple viewings, almost as if the ultimate outcome - the one we keep waiting for - didn't matter all that much.

.1970 The White Sun of the Desert (Vladimir Motyl)

Perhaps not strictly a western, but clearly plays with Western themes within a war setting, albeit in smaller way than, say, the Good, Bad and the Ugly. The tempo, tones, compositions, editing and generally everything shown on-screen are so delicately put that it doesn't even much matter if the plot is fairly simple. I almost expect Corto Maltese to show up.
Some villains from The White Sun of the Desert.

.1969 The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah) 

An all-around classic film.

.1982 Barbarosa (Fred Schepisi)

One of the first post-1960s movies that tried to positively re-affirm the Western hero myth, yet still remain revisionist.
Willie Nelson and Gary Busey in Barbarosa.
.1971 McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman) 

This is probably the peak of "revisionism" in Western movies. The scenery and the Leonard Cohen soundtrack remain haunting.

.1962 The Man who shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)

I'm always astonished how this film manages to provide a very grand scenario and at the same time a small, but interesting, Western story. The only John Wayne film here.

.1966 Big Gundown (Sergio Sollima)

One of the "political" spaghettis made by Sollima. Face to Face may be better as a more serious work, but for once I feel the humour, music and extravagant characters are spot on and do not detract from the broader themes.

.1967 Face to Face (Sergio Sollima)

The more serious of the Sollima Westerns, the plot and the "moral" delivered are both interesting yet boiled in a good spaghetti styling.

.1959 Day of the Outlaw (Andre de Toth)

Another winter movie and a true original. A really gripping scenario that just gets tighter all the time. The winter environment is well integrated with the plot.

.1954 Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray)

Yeah it's a bit theatrical but somehow even that functions to serve the expressiveness and psycho-dynamics between the characters. It's a rare time women get the spotlight in a Western without everything becoming a silly affair.

Johnny Guitar
.1965 For a few Dollars More (Sergio Leone)

This one I would have previously ranked higher, but recent viewing revealed there are many spaghettis I prefer to this one. Some of the best Lee van Cleef material here, though.

.1976 Keoma (Enzo Castellari)

The last really significant spaghetti western, Keoma is pretty ingenious work, especially due to the music-image synergies and editing. On occasions I can't help feeling it's more of a "best of the guilty pleasure movies" than a truly, truly great movie.

.1971 Lawman (Michael Winner)

This film plays well with the elements of classic western yet turns them around. The revisionism is not for revisionism's sake, but helps deliver the moral problem for the viewer's consideration. Rarely, if ever, have the motivations of "small time henchmen" bad guys been fleshed out so well.

1973 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah)

This is a more uneven film than the Wild Bunch but I've found it emotionally satisfying. The focus is clearly on Pat Garrett here, which James Coburn delivers as the more interesting character.

Some good sound-visuals combinations with the Dylan soundtrack (that "knocking on heaven's door"...), but Dylan's presence in the film is perhaps less successful.

.1990 Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner)

I thought it predictable at times, but then again things that sort of needed to happen, happened. I suppose for a certain generation it's almost impossible not to know something about the film even if you've not seen it.

.1960 The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges)

Initially I did not think much of this, it seemed to have all the hallmarks of what I consider a boring western, but it has grown on me.

.1987 A Man from the Boulevard des Capucines (Alla Surikova)

A Soviet "Western", but not bogged down with the kind of politics one might expect. It's not often that stunts, acrobatics and technical hijinks manage to support a Western film well, but here it happens.

.1952 Viva Zapata! (Elia Kazan)

Maybe not a Western either, and perhaps a bit suspect politically even, but the story arc works well for me and leads to a great ending. Hilariously Marlon Brando cuddles some puppy dogs.

.1951 Westward the Women (William Wellman)

Many Wellman Westerns would deserve to be mentioned (The Ox-Bow Incident, The Yellow Sky, Track of the Cat) but this has a more grand scenario, with appropriate humor and seriousness mixed in good proportion.

Edit: Recently I have watched the three and a half hour version of Heaven's Gate (1980, Michael Cimino) and the zapata-western Tepepa (1969, Giulio Petroni). Both might easily be included, but of course the list reflects the situation by the end of 2014...

No comments:

Post a Comment