Top Western Movies, Part 1

No Country for Old Men Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen / Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem
This bleak entry from the Coen Brothers stripped the romance from the life of rugged isolation and deservedly won 4 Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, and best supporting actor for Javier Bardem, who created one of cinema’s greatest monsters. Tommy Lee Jones is also excellent as an aging sheriff up against an evil he “may not be equal to.” He’s right: he’s not. No one is.


Unforgiven  (1992) / Director: Clint Eastwood / Stars: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris
Formerly a drunk and a villain and now desperate single father facing bankruptcy William Munny (Clint Eastwood), his old comrade in firearms Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), and a naïve wanna-be are hired by a group of revenge-minded prostitutes for one last adventure (er, job): the murder of the man who brutalized one of their co-workers. This unforgiving look at the awful truths of the American frontier dispenses with the romantic stereotypes that made the Old American West a figment of imaginations worldwide. An ugly business maybe, but the result is a masterpiece that won four Academy Awards, including best picture, best director and best supporting actor for the incomparable Gene Hackman as the mean sheriff Little Bill.

High Noon (1952) / Director: Fred Zinnemann / Stars: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges
Gary Cooper won his second Oscar for playing Will Kane, a stoic marshall who is about to leave town with his religious, violence-abhorring bride (Grace Kelly) when news arrives that a killer he put in prison is free — and returning for revenge. The wife says, in effect, “Let’s get out of here… What part of “Quaker” don’t you understand!” Kane choose to stay and fight for the townspeople, who turn out to be quite a disappointment. (The punishment of good deeds come to mind.) The story is told in real time (previously seen in few films of the era, such as Rope in 1948); the result is a taut, suspenseful masterpiece that garnered a second Oscar for Cooper (the first one was for Sgt. York).


Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) Director: John Huston / Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt
In the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution, Fred Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), Howard (Walter Huston) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) search for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains. What they find is paranoia and insanity. Based on the novel by B. Traven. Wait a minute, Why is this a Western? Because this is my list, and I say so.


Shane (1953) Director: George Stevens / Stars: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon De Wilde
A weary gunfighter with good hair, Shane (Alan Ladd) is a drifting horseman who attempts to settle down with a homestead family, whom he feels compelled to help in their conflict with rapacious cattlemen. Shane has left his history of violence behind, but his affection for his host family compels him into battle… one last time. With Jean Arthur as the unrequited love and Jack Palance as a formidable hired gun. Memorable friendship between Shane and the son of a farmer.

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