Quentin Tarantino making an appearance on this list was an inevitability. Tarantino is the forbearer of the spaghetti western tradition working today. The Hateful Eight is a beautifully-shot, drawn-out story of the intersecting paths of characters played by Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth and more.
The future of the western may in fact lie with Taylor Sheridan and Taylor Sheridan alone. His ability to take the western canon and reconstitute it for a modern American southwestern setting is unmatched. Emily Blunt shines as the protagonist in Denis Villeneuve's cynical, engaging Sicario.
John Wick and its successive films could fit easily into a handful of genres, but western is undeniably one. A lone assassin with nothing to lose seeks both revenge and catharsis to those who did him wrong. Keanu Reeves’s titular character has as much as common with Clint Eastwood’s the Man with No Name as he does with anyone.
After two fantastic and widely-praised films at the writer’s desk, Sheridan took his talents to the director’s chair with Wind River. An investigative procedural in an underrepresented setting, Jeremy Renner and Elisabeth Olsen look into the disappearance of a Native American woman in a Wyoming reserve. A characteristically grim film with a worthwhile message.
Tarantino’s skill as a filmmaker is in little doubt and Django Unchained is one of his best. As usual, he imagines a volatile, hyper-violent past in which the titular former slave (played by Jamie Foxx) takes on one of the cruelest plantation owners in the American south (Leonardo DiCaprio) as his wife (Kerry Washington) is among his slaves.
Small wonder that Joel and Ethan Coen make an appearance on this list. Their 2007 adaptation of No Country For Old Men is one of the best westerns of any decade. Their remake of the 1967 John Wayne vehicle True Grit is also praiseworthy, with a star-studded cast of Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon and then-newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.
The Sheridan-written, David Mackenzie-directed Hell or High Water is both an exciting western and a timely critique fitting of the modern era. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play two west Texas brothers who are hit with hard times—like many rural Americans—and opt to rob a series of banks. Jeff Bridges, for his part, plays the sheriff who chases them across the desert.