6. Valdez Is Coming (1971)
There is no movie star or actor in cinema like Burt Lancaster. His powerful performances burst through the screen when you watch him. Whether it’s his Academy Award winning role as Elmer Gantry or the Doctor that Kevin Costner visits in Field Of Dreams, he grabs your attention when he steps into frame. In fact, he’s so good the frame steps to him. Within his town, Lancaster is Bob Valdez, a patrolman of sorts who’s collecting a sum of money for the widow to make up for the murder of her innocent husband. Lancaster takes matters into his own hands as any western hero would. Try to spot the incomparable character actor Hector Elizondo a decade before he became a staple in Garry Marshall’s films.
The novel of the same name its based on was written by Elmore Leonard. A popular figure in the 90’s associated with Quentin Tarantino who adapted his novel Rum Punch into Jackie Brown. Leonard also wrote the novels Get Shorty and Out Of Sight, two popular film adaptations from the decade. The former also adapted into a television series as well. All the talents involved produce a great western that a lot of people need to see.
7. Wyatt Earp (1994)
In 1994, this three hour expensive film was not a success. Part of that was due to a less expensive Wyatt Earp film that was and closer to two hours, Tombstone, released six months earlier and a hit at the box office. Maybe Wyatt Earp suffered because of its timing, but that doesn’t take away what a fabulous film it is. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, a fine screenwriter and director, known for writing The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. His career has spanned over some unique and interesting projects including Body Heat, The Big Chill, and another western, Silverado.
Kevin Costner stars as Wyatt Earp at a time when he got to choose any project he wanted. Interestingly enough, Costner was involved in Tombstone, but left over creative differences. He joined forces with Kasden on what was initially a television miniseries and made the film for theaters. With an all-star cast including Dennis Quaid who received Oscar buzz for his commanding role as Doc Holliday, the only Oscar nomination the film received was for Cinematography which is nothing short of beautiful. Wyatt Earp proves that if a film makes little money that doesn’t mean its short of artistic merit.
8. The Frisco Kid (1979)
The majority of Westerns are serious films. With the exception of Blazing Saddles, there are very few western comedies. So here’s one that happens to be with an actor from Blazing Saddles – Gene Wilder. Instead of a drunk cowboy, here he plays a Rabbi on his way to San Francisco. He meets a gunfighter played by the one and only – Harrison Ford – in his only western (Hoping that everyone forgot Cowboys & Aliens). As a comedic duo, these two legendary actors make the movie work. Their characters develop an unusual friendship who provide lots of laughs.
While Ford is as great as he always is, it’s interesting to know that John Wayne was originally cast for the role of the Gunfighter. That’s quite a coincidence since at one point he was up for Gene Wilder’s role in Blazing Saddles. It just goes to show that Wayne was synonymous with Westerns. It’s hard to imagine this film without the final cast because they’re so good. Gene Wilder was an actor who thrived in the 70’s because of his unique look and voice. He ended up doing so many memorable films in a time when cinema was reinventing itself. For this reason, he will always be remembered in all his iconic roles. As far as Harrison Ford, he’s still around and busier than ever.
9. Let Him Go (2020)
Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play concerned grandparents who get in deeper than they thought. After their son dies, his widow remarries an abusive man who’s part of a dangerous family that go by the name Weboy. When the man takes Costner and Lane’s grandson and daughter-in-law to stay with the Weboy family, they go to get him. But it’s not that easy. The Weboy family is headed by Blanche, played brilliantly by Lesley Manville. This family is terrifying and will do anything to keep the grandson. Costner and Lane’s daughter-in-law is scared to death to run away because she knows the consequences will be terminal. This gives them only one choice: to abduct their grandson and bring him to safety.
Costner is an actor who still can pull off a strong performance. He has always had that quietness where he can only be silent for so long. Eventually his courage surfaces when he enters dangerous territory. Diane Lane carries a strength about her that comes through when she needs it. Together they’re a mighty duo who will hopefully be on screen together again in the future. This film was released during the pandemic and never received a proper audience. But it deserves one for its compelling story and top notch acting.
10. Appaloosa (2008)
Ed Harris can transform himself to fit any role. Whether it’s an office salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross, an FBI Agent in The Firm, a NASA Apollo Mission Control Director in Apollo 13, or the creator of the ultimate reality TV in The Truman Show, Harris feels like he was born for the role. Even his role as Director which he takes in addition to Writer, Producer and Star of this film.
This was only Harris’s second directorial effort after the successful Pollack where he earned an Oscar nomination for playing Jackson Pollack. From a biopic about a famous painter to a Western about two friends in charge of protecting a small town, he knows what he’s doing. Especially by casting Viggo Mortensen as his compadre, Jeremy Irons as the heavy and Renee Zellweger as a widow who causes trouble. Back in the golden age of cinema, there were more westerns than you could count. It was by far a popular genre. Today they’re pretty rare. So when one comes along that’s done well, it’s appreciated. Appaloosa definitely falls into that category.