Armchair Vacation: Five Great Westerns To Watch At Home This Weekend (July 5-7)

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Every day, more and more films are added to the various streaming services out there, ranging from Netflix to YouTube, and are hitting the airwaves via movie-centric networks like TCM. Therefore, sifting through all of these pictures can be a tedious and often times confounding or difficult ordeal. But, that’s why we’re here. Every week, Joshua brings you five films to put at the top of your queue, add to your playlist, or grab off of VOD to make your weekend a little more eventful. Here is this week’s top five, in this week’s Armchair Vacation.

5. The Shooting (YouTube)

Best known for his legendary Two-Lane Blacktop, director Monte Hellman has become one of the most beloved cult auteurs of his time. However, one of this best films has yet to really see the proper respect that it truly deserves. Known as The Shooting, this Western stars Warren Oates, Will Hutchins and Jack Nicholson (who also produces the film), and while the transfer currently available on YouTube is poor at best, it’s a perfect way to introduce yourself to a truly exciting experimental Western. Following two men tapped to escort a woman to a town miles away, they find themselves the ire of a gunslinger who intends to end their journey before it every truly gets started, Hellman’s existential Western is a thrilling “acid western” that has become as definitive a ‘60s counterculture masterwork as you’re bound to see. As gorgeous as it is challenging, this dark B-picture is an masterful meditation on the West that could fit perfectly within the ranks of something like, oh, The Criterion Collection. Who knows?

4. Tears Of The Black Tiger (Netflix)

Yet another visually startling Western, this Thai Western is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. From director Wisit Sasanatieng, the film debuted at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, garnering much praise, only to seemingly fall to the wayside, becoming a forgotten gem. Only seen stateside over five years later, the film jumped from Miramax to Magnolia, where the film now happily resides among the ranks of many of that distributor’s underrated pictures. Following a hero and the governor’s daughter he falls for, the film is a Sirkian melodrama that is as much inspired by the Western genre it mimics so potently as it is classic ‘50s pastel melodramas. With vivid photography, some genuinely inspired set pieces and some performances that are as charming as they are technically solid, Tears Of The Black Tiger is one of the most underrated modern Westerns around.

3. Stranger On Horseback (Fandor)

Sometimes, a cast and crew is truly impossible to avoid. With director Jacques Tourneur behind the camera and the likes of Joel McCrea, Miroslava and John Carradine in front of it, this Western is, once again, an underrated genre picture that seems to have been forgotten through the waxing and waning of the Western genre. Following the story of a judge who is forced to kill to find justice, the film gets a collection of superb performances from its great cast, and some of the more intriguing Western filmmaking from Tourneur, a director best known for his use of atmosphere and mood with films like Cat People and Out Of The Past. Tourneur is one of this writer’s favorite filmmakers, and while it may not be quite as potent a Western as, say, his film Canyon Passage, it’s none the less an intriguing example of a filmmaker trying to spread his artistic wings.

2. Fort Apache (Amazon Instant)

A list of great Westerns wouldn’t be legitimate without the genre’s most iconic name, John Ford. And what better way to talk about the director than by mentioning a film that teams two of his greatest stars, John Wayne and Henry Fonda. The latter stars here as a cavalryman who has become something of an icon during the Civil War, only to be sent to the frontier where he meets a veteran captain, Capt. Kirby York, played by Wayne. The film is one of Ford’s greatest pictures, and marks the beginning of what has been deemed as Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy. Shot in Monument Valley, the film is a gorgeous picture, a visually superb retelling of the Custer, Battle Of Bighorn mythos. As anti-jingoistic a Western as Ford ever made, the film is the best example of why someone like Quentin Tarantino is out of his depth describing Ford as a racist, proving that Ford may have romanticized the West and what it means for America, but he didn’t always do it with a one-sided sense of race. With a performance unlike most given by Fonda, this film is a superbly thought provoking meditation on the West, and is as much a brazen bit of social commentary as it is a beautiful, elegiac frontier picture.

1. McCabe And Mrs. Miller (Warner Archive Instant)

This is one of those films where the highest level of superlatives still don’t feel like they do it justice. Very likely the greatest Western ever made, Robert Altman’s anti-Western tells the story of a gambler who teams with a prostitute to set up shop in a mining town. However, when big money types get wind of the buisness’ boom, things change, and what follows is one of the most brooding and dark views of the west as there has ever been. Sighted as one of the films that marked the end of the genre as it was then known, the film joins a picture like Pat Garret And Billy The Kid as the greatest “anti-westerns” ever made. With stunning direction from Altman (this is very likely his greatest achievement), and performances from Warren Beatty and Julie Christie that became definitive performances for an entire generation. A thoughtful and darkly pensive meditation on the death of the American West, the film is simply one of the greatest films ever made. And you can watch it from the comfort of your own home.

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