18. Dances With Wolves (1990, Costner)
Yes I am a huge Kevin Costner fan, and this is one of my favorites out of all his movies. Say what you will about this not deserving to win best picture, it is indeed a well made and engaging picture, one that does not drag at all or wander despite its immense running time. Never minds its admirable take on the American Indian, it exists also as one man’s journey from being lost to finding his own place, even if it is in a world different from him his. Costner’s army man willingly departs from being a white man and changes cultures because he recognizes his own people are lacking in not just body, but also in spirit and soul. Plus it features one hell of a soundtrack-John Barry’s work on this is quite strong, and the magnificent, soaring orchestra cords better state what the characters are thinking than words possibly could.
When it comes to westerns, the American Indian has been served up as a cannon fodder, and serve as reliable bad guys. Even though other westerns exist on this list that do just that, I acknowledge that they were created in a time and place where that was acceptable, even if they were wrong to do so. I view Costner’s effort in the context of trying to do the opposite, although I don’t think he necessarily romanticizes the Native Americans, either. He shows them committing both good and bad actions, although he does paint the white man as crude bastards privy to engaging in acts of senseless violence and having a severe lack of appreciation for nature and man’s place in the world.
Aside from those rather obvious sentiments, this movie sports some amazing set pieces, such as the suspenseful and exhilarating buffalo hunt, an enemy tribe’s attack on the Sioux camp, and the savage massacre of an entire army squad. What this movie sets forth is something different from some of the others on this list in that you have a deep character study but also an examination of an entire culture, now long gone but having left behind an unforgettable imprint upon the now settled American West.