Top 10 Westerns of the 21st Century

The western genre has been an American staple since the invention of movies. We love dressing up like cowboys and pretending to fight villains. In many ways, cowboys were the first superheroes. With Disney's THE LONE RANGER opening this weekend, lets look back at the best western movies released since the year 2000. You may have forgotten some of these contemporary classics. If your favorite didn't make the list, feel free to add it to the talk backs below. Giddyup, pardner!


There will be two reactions to THE PROPOSITION being number one here. For those of you who have seen the movie, you will agree. John Hillcoat directed this pathologically violent western from the script by musician Nick Cave that takes the entire genre and brings it to a head. Guy Pearce heads a cast of actors including Ray Winstone, John Hurt, David Wenham, Emily Watson, and Danny Huston that takes the films of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood and simultaneously imitates them while respectfully making something new and unique. A violent masterpiece of the genre, THE PROPOSITION is the benchmark for all westerns of the last two decades.


The Coen Brothers other western from the last decade is also the polar opposite of TRUE GRIT. While both are adaptations of critically acclaimed novels, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is unlike anything else put to film. A combination of noir, mystery, thriller, horror, and yes, western, the movie is propelled by the grizzled Tommy Lee Jones, the understated Josh Brolin, and the terrifying Javier Bardem. Anton Chigurh chilled me on the written page and Bardem brings him to life. Never has Dora the Explorer's hair been as frightening as it is in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

#3 - RANGO

I almost made this my #1 on this list because it is just so damn good. What amazes me is how bad THE LONE RANGER is when RANGO was made by the same director (Gore Verbinski) and star (Johnny Depp). RANGO is the ultimate western in that it has a posse, major action sequences, a dastardly villain, and a phenomenal hero. Plus, you have references to CHINATOWN and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. The entire voice cast is excellent and this movie is not to be missed. Even if you aren't a fan of animated movies, I beg you to see RANGO. It is one of the best movies of the last few years.


Quentin Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED is a great movie. While it may not have been Best Picture at the Oscars, it is a love letter to the genre and the forgotten films that many of us have never seen. While this may be the first "Southern", the movie pays homage to multiple films and shows that a western doesn't just have to be a bleak, serious drama or an action movie. In fact, it can be both as well as a blood-spurting, rip-roaring good time. Plus, another brilliant performance from both Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz.

#5 - 3:10 TO YUMA

Another remake that I consider to be better than the original, James Mangold's 3:10 TO YUMA gives us a great pairing of Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as they traverse New Mexico and examine what it means to be a good guy versus a bad one. This is a brutal movie that is a great introduction for those who don't really like many westerns. The highlight has to be the performance by Ben Foster who is one of the best maniacs on screen in a long time.


Roger Deakins again lends his brilliant eye to this western directed by The Coen Brothers. Unlike many of their other films, TRUE GRIT is a true adaptation of the source material that doesn't try to shoehorn in any of their trademark humor. The darkness of their films like BLOOD SIMPLE and MILLERS CROSSING do show in this story but it is the acting by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld that sets this movie apart. While the original TRUE GRIT is a classic, I prefer the Coen Brothers take on the story.


Another non-traditional western, THE LAST SAMURAI transplants Tom Cruise's Civil War veteran to Japan where he teaches warriors the modern way of battle while learning the old ways himself. Japanese samurai movies have long been a parallel and source material for westerns like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, but Edward Zwick is able to combine themes from both in this great movie.


There are no gunfights in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, but this is still a western. Not all westerns are about heroes and villains, but Ang Lee's beautifully shot movie does feature a stand-off between cowboys in white and black hats. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver devastatingly real performances in a movie that goes beyond being a flick about gay cowboys. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is a stirring drama that is the highlight of many genres.


Ron Howard is not known for subtlety and THE MISSING is as unsubtle as a movie can be. Still, it is a moody and atmospheric western starring Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones, which in itself makes it worth seeing. The movie almost feels like a horror flick with the way scenes are shot. The use of real Native American dialogue was unique to this film and makes it feel all the more authentic.


Andrew Dominik's movie turned audiences off with a long-winded title that made it sound like a boring drama. While not an action-packed movie, THE ASSASSINATION is in fact a brilliantly made look at what starf*cking can do. Casey Affleck is excellent as Robert Ford and Brad Pitt turns in a very understated performance as the notorious criminal Jesse James. If anything, watch this movie for Roger Deakins beautifully lensed nighttime train robbery sequence.

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