The release of Mateo Gil’s “Blackthorn” last week gave me reason enough to write up a piece I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while now, and one a number of readers have asked about for a good long while: my list of the best westerns ever made.
Once upon a time I was considering cranking out a list of 50, right around the release of last year’s “True Grit,” but that quickly became a fool’s errand and I abandoned it. If you want something that dense (and a list quite singular and worth debating, I must say), I’d suggest you dig into Time Out London’s massive collective published on the occasion of Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff” hitting theaters earlier this year.
As I set out to chart the list, I knew a couple of things. I knew what would have a firm grip on the top spot. I knew a few contenders that were likely to situate themselves throughout, but I wasn’t all that sure how my perspective on this or that entry would have changed over the years. So I sat down and re-watched a great many.
Interestingly, two of my favorite stewards of the genre, Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher, didn’t register an entry on the list. I find that their portfolios in general stick out more than specific installments. I was surprised to see one favored John Ford entry (“Stagecoach”) slide out, while another that has never clocked as high for me as it does with most (“The Searchers”) found a foothold. And I must say I was somewhat surprised to let undeniable but ultimately frothier efforts like “Rio Bravo” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” slip away.
In any case, it’s fair to say I’m an enthusiast of the form. I’m consistently hopeful it can maintain some kind of stay and no longer scare financiers away, as I am that it can find a relevance in a very different socio-political climate than its long-gone heyday. But in listing my favorites of the genre, I’m reminded, as ever, how truly potent an arena of filmmaking it has been and can be.
Take a look at my list in our new gallery, and feel free to offer up your favorites in the comments section below.