So you like Westerns, but don’t know where to start? There’s a great many varieties of Western out there, many good (Django), many bad (The Searchers), and here’s some that may help you do what I’m doing right now, which is starting out in exploration of this on-and-off Hollywood pastime…

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

If you’re a fan of action movies period, check this movie out. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe headline this gritty, energetic readaptation, which makes me think it must have been a pretty difficult shoot, but they’re great talents flanked by familiar and welcomed faces (Ben Foster, Alan Tudyk). The story is classic, and the final gun battle heaves with its narrative weight. The shootout is cathartic, and the resolution satisfying. All around a great flick, in the vein of Collateral or The Rundown — modern Hollywood action movies that’ll surprise you with just how good they are, and just how far a good screenplay can take something.

The Proposition (2005)

Ugh, I don’t know. This might be your cup, but it ain’t mine. I had mixed feelings going in, expecting something grim and overly violent (thumbs up) with not-so-successful artistic pretensions (thumbs down), but what I got was really neither of those things. The violence is honestly pretty minimal, and the philosophical yammerings are infrequent and not that offensive. What is offensive is that the movie seems to neglect the audience, forget that its duty is to be entertaining. I can’t stand it in movies when the audio and video are grating and hard to look at, respectively, simultaneously. What’s accomplished, then? I will say that Ray Winstone’s character and performance were the sole saving grace. He did a great job, but damn–the opening ten minutes or so held so much promise. It’s Apocalypse Now in the Old West… Go. But alas, it was stopped before then, and now they’re just floundering.

You might like this movie. A lot of people do, and it’s perhaps worth a fair shake.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Alright, back we are. This is a Coens Brothers movie, so we can expect a story about money and people on the run and corruption — and we get it, but this is actually based on preexisting material, a novel by Cormac McCarthy, which is allegedly just Blood Meridian-lite. I’ve yet to read either, though I did do a little of The Road and thought it was trash, so I might have to revisit that one, or just watch the John Hillcoat-directed adaptation (he also did The Proposition). Anyway, No Country is a neo-western, or a modern western, so it’s taking the ideals and scenarios (it’s in the title) and transplanting them to the modern day, although technically this is a period piece, taking place in the 80s. It’s a fun movie with a great scare at the end that always gets me.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)

What’s to be said of this little-known, pretty obscure foreign film? Well whatever there is, I’ll add this: be sure to check out the extended edition, which has one of my favorite scenes of all time, where Angel Eyes tours through the bombed out Confederate camp to Il Forte by Ennio Morricone. Really powerful stuff.

Unforgiven (1992)

Gladiator, Return of the King, and No Country for Old Men were among the few Best Picture nominated movies that won and deserved it. Unforgiven is certainly in this category, also being nominated for Best Screenplay by David Webb Peoples, who you might know as the co-writer of Blade Runner (and Soldier). This is a truly beautiful movie, one that discusses the tragedies of the Old West with grace and grit. It might be a little slow, I especially think that English Bob’s section goes on a bit long for no conceivable payoff, but by the end, when Clint Eastwood faces down a gallery of enemies with the weight of cinematic history on his shoulders, it’s all worth it. And the scene where he admits to be afraid of death brings a tear to my eye every time.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)

Familiar settings and scenes abound in this action and star-packed Korean western. Like a lot of modern genre films, and in particular modern westerns, this one pays homage to those that came before it, though The Good, the Bad, the Weird isn’t as inaccessibly as Sukiyaki Western Django in this regard, which is more genre-literate. This movie would rather be just plain entertaining, and it’s got a number of pretty spectacular set pieces, all the while looking incredibly good. One of the few colorful westerns out there. GBW also gets a mention here because it somehow manages to reference The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West essentially at the same moment.

Serenity (2005)

Like westerns? Like space? Like Cowboy Bebop? Here’s a movie with Nathan Fillion. Your welcome.