NEW YORK - The best movies of the year are often those with the least hype, as they appear with little fanfare before winning you over slowly and surely until you realize your life is better for having seen them.
"Hostiles" is such a film.
It is savage and soulful -- a lament for the dead, but a hymn of hope for the living -- provided those left alive can face their own hatred.
"This is a Western that ain't your Mum and Pop's Western," star Christian Bale said. "It's not a black hat/white hat, good cowboy/bad Indian propaganda Western."
Bale gained considerable weight to play former Vice President Dick Cheney in another movie, but in "Hostiles," he is lean and mean as a U.S. Army captain forced to escort his sworn enemy, Chief Yellow Hawk, home to Montana to die.
Wes Studi gives life to the chief in a movie directed by Scott Cooper, who made "Black Mass" starring Johnny Depp.
As a Cherokee playing a Cheyenne, Studi admired Cooper's determination to make the movie authentic.
"I think he went to great lengths to understand not only the language, but a lot of the values inherent in the different cultures," Studi said.
Cooper learned a lot on the movie.
"All the sorts of things that you can't learn from textbooks," he said. "(It made me) a more compassionate person and a better father."
The movie takes place in 1892, just before the start of the 20th Century, when the western frontier of the United States was still wild. We see a family slaughtered by Comanches, leaving only Rosamund Pike's character alive to be rescued by the captain and his men.
The British star, who like many Brit performers manages a perfect American accent, said her main objective playing this character "was trying to do an honest representation of the most unimaginable experience."
Her performance is so real and the emotions she tapped so deep that it's still tough for Pike to talk about it more than a year after filming ended.
"Oh my God, it still gets me," she said with tears in her eyes.
At the heart of this movie is a gradual reconciliation between two bitter enemies: The captain and the chief who are forced to face danger together in order to survive.
Facing death, Chief Yellow Hawk tells Bales' character, "I have lost many friends, and you have lost many as well."
"Hostiles" moved me more than any other film this year, and it was the only picture I didn't want to end. It recalls and is a worthy successor to the classic John Wayne western, "The Searchers." The new movie revives the genre and takes it a step forward while honoring its traditions.
The film is in just a few theaters this weekend, and then many more on January 19. If you see one Oscar contender this year, please make it this one.