6. Meek’s Cutoff (2010)
Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s 2010 film following a group of settlers traveling the Oregon trail, doesn’t just smash the typical conventions of the western, it completely blows them up. It’s been called a feminist western, and a post-feminist western, thanks to the non-stereotypical lead, played by Michelle Williams. But really, you could call this a post-western western in a way.
There’s no charming, folksy racism, no exciting, climactic gunfights, no emphasis on the beauty and majesty of the American frontier. There’s just the terrifying expanse of the west, and all the uncertainty that went with it.
Some find the end infuriating, while others think it solidifies why the movie is great. But for everyone, it’s at least worth a watch.
7. Casa de mi Padre (2012)
This Will Ferrell comedy about a son trying to save his father’s ranch from a drug lord owes just as much to Mexican soap operas and telanovelas as it does to the western genre. But as a Mexican western, the film still succeeds, in no small part thanks to Ferrell and company’s commitment.
Directed by SNL alum Matt Piedmont, Casa de mi Padre is an all Spanish-speaking homage you didn’t know you even needed, co-starring great actors like Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal. It’s also a different spin on Ferrell’s patented brand of weirdness, and an experience all its own in the indie western canon.
8. The Salvation (2014)
The reunion of the terrific Eva Green (Penny Dreadful) and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal), both European film stars who ended up on American television, working together for the first time since Casino Royale (2006), is reason enough to watch this movie alone. But there are other reasons to watch The Salvation too.
In the film, a Danish settler (Mikkelsen) loses his family under tragic circumstances, setting off a chain of events which eventually cast him as the lone gunmen going up against a gang of vicious outlaws. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the leader of that gang, and gives an entertainingly evil performance, and the action scenes from director Kristian Levring are rewardingly tense.
9. Slow West (2015)
Slow West feels a bit like what would happen if Wes Anderson made a western, with a little Coen brothers mixed in for good measure.
When young Scotsman Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travels to America to find Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), the love of his life, he gets a lot more adventure then he bargained for in this impressive feature debut from musician John Maclean. The ending to Jay’s story isn’t exactly happy, but it is rewarding, and his journey is certainly entertaining along the way.
The movie’s real lead though is Silas Selleck, a gunslinger played by the consistently excellent Michael Fassbender in classically western stoic but heroic fashion, who agrees to help Jay on is mission. And if that wasn’t enough to get you onboard, the villain (fittingly named Payne) is played by the great Ben Mendelsohn, who could probably do this kind of role in his sleep at this point, but who is also crazy fun to watch in this movie, thanks in no small part to his character’s ridiculous coat.
Slow West combines elements of magical realism and folklore to create a western which isn’t so much slow, as it is delicate. At 84 minutes, it’s a brisk watch, but one that’ll leave you thinking about it after the credits stop.
10. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Though released the same year, Bone Tomahawk may be the opposite of Slow West in terms of its visceral style. Both films are violent, bit where Slow West merely wants to poke you, the violence of Bone Tomahawk is an outright attack.
Both a true western and a true horror movie, this film is a competent genre mashup from first time director S. Craig Zahler, who previously received attention for a script called The Brigands of Rattleborge – another hyper-violent western, which has been stuck in development hell forever and was at one point being circled by Oldboy’s Chan-wook Park.
Bone Tomahawk starts out a fairly typical western, with a posse led by Kurt Russell setting out to find one of their missing wives. But when they do find her abductors, things quickly deteriorate into something else.
Let’s just say cannibalism enters the picture. Any other details, you’ll have to see the film to find out.
Author Bio: Chris Osterndorf is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on The Daily Dot, Mic, Salon, xoJane, The Week, and more. He currently lives in Los Angeles.