For a genre that still feels very much like a relic of cinema's 'Golden Age', the Western has made something of a remarkable comeback since the turn of the Century. Hot off the spurs of Best Picture winners Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven in the 1990s, the last two decades have seen the genre dust of its old reputation and branch out in new directions.
When we see a Western in 2017, we no longer expect to see cheesy John Wayne romps, nor do we expect to see racially ambiguous actors lip-syncing their lines in a Spaghetti Western. Movies about cowboys and Indians, be they old-fashioned or contemporary, have become prestige pictures, and regularly dominate awards coverage and box-offices around the world.
Although Westerns will always be remembered for John Wayne, Sergio Leone, Enio Morricone and tinny revolver sound effects, the torch has well and truly been passes to some of modern cinema's brightest and most creative filmmakers, innovators who have taken it upon themselves to incite a new 'Golden Age' of stetsons and sawn-offs.
10. Django Unchained
Although there’s a case to be made in favour of the Hateful Eight being Quentin Tarantino’s best Western movie, Django is by far the more focused and less self-indulgent of the two. Propped up by three uniquely brash performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, Django is indeed unchained, a goofy splatterfest and love letter to pulp Westerns.
Although hardly the heartfelt and measured response to slavery that 12 Years a Slave was, Django revels in the simpler pleasures of revenge and retribution. Like Inglorious Basterds before it, Tarantino’s 2012 revisionist Western is all about making evil men pay for their crimes, through the most violent means necessary.
It’s not an easy watch, per se, and certainly won’t be winning any prizes for subtlety, but Tarantino’s Academy Award winning screenplay features some of his finest exchanges and monologues (a high bar to reach, when you consider his track record), and exquisitely reimagined the themes and subject matter that could be tackled within a Western setting.