Total Recall: Oliver Stone's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Savages director.
5. Talk Radio
A rare starring vehicle for monologist/playwright/character actor/cult hero Eric Bogosian, Talk Radio found Stone behind the cameras for a loose adaptation of Bogosian's play of the same name. Inspired by the real-life assassination of Denver DJ Alan Berg, Radio centers around Dallas radio personality Barry Champlain, whose deliberately provocative style (and decidedly non-Red State political views) make him a target of hate mail and bomb threats even as his show is poised to achieve national syndication. Saying it "has the loony intensity of those impassioned conspiracy theorists who look out at the world and see patterns of corruption spreading in all directions," the Washington Post's Hal Hinson declared, "it's another of Stone's wake-up calls to America."
A two-time Oscar winner and controversial, career-rejuvenating smash hit for Stone, JFK reconstructs John F. Kennedy's assassination and then spends most of its epic 189-minute length sifting through the wreckage, treating the killing as a murder mystery that New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) doggedly attempts to solve at any cost. With an impeccable supporting cast that included Sissy Spacek, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, and Gary Oldman, as well as a screenplay that challenged long-held assumptions about Kennedy's death, JFK reignited interest in the assassination, eventually leading to new legislation that ordered a reinvestigation and promised that all documents related to the killing would be made public by 2017. And while many critics agreed that the movie could have benefited from a more rigorous approach to the facts, it remains, in the words of the Washington Post's Desson Thomson, "A riveting marriage of fact and fiction."
The first installment in Stone's so-called Vietnam trilogy, 1986's Platoon took a hard look at American involvement in the Vietnam War -- and earned Stone Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars and the Golden Globes in the bargain. Taking a grunt's-eye view of the war, it puts a human face on the conflict, pitting Willem Dafoe (as Sergeant Elias, mentor to Chris, the young soldier played by Charlie Sheen) against a fellow sergeant (played by Tom Berenger) in a dreadful battle for the platoon. It is, as Roger Ebert wrote, "A film that says...that before you can make any vast, sweeping statements about Vietnam, you have to begin by understanding the bottom line, which is that a lot of people went over there."
He earned positive reviews for his role in Rain Man, but to many scribes, the Tom Cruise of the late 1980s was little more than the pretty face out in front of critically savaged hits like Cocktail -- likable under the right circumstances, but lacking real depth. Oliver Stone saw something different, trusting Cruise with 1989's Born on the Fourth of July -- and Cruise repaid him by delivering the most harrowing performance to that point in his career, committing so deeply to his portrayal of paralyzed Vietnam vet Ron Kovic that, according to Stone, he came close to injecting himself with a solution that would have incurred temporary paralysis. Not all critics loved Fourth of July, but even those who had issues with the film were forced to take notice of Cruise's performance -- and for Vincent Canby of the New York Times, the end result was "the most ambitious nondocumentary film yet made about the entire Vietnam experience."
Stone's films have received a combined 31 Academy Award nominations (and counting), but he picked up his first for his co-writing credit on the screenplay for Salvador, a 1986 war drama about a rather unlikable American journalist (James Woods, also nominated for an Oscar) who's burned so many bridges that his only professional recourse is to head to El Salvador with his unemployed DJ buddy (Jim Belushi) to try and find stories in what they initially regard as a relatively inconsequential war. Like a lot of films that try and shine a light on war while shots are still being fired, Salvador bombed at the box office -- but it found an appreciative audience with writers like Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic, who called it "One of Oliver Stone's best films, and absolutely James Woods' best performance."
In case you were wondering, here are Stone's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. Platoon -- 91%
2. JFK -- 84%
3. Salvador -- 83%
4. Natural Born Killers -- 80%
5. The Doors -- 79%
6. Wall Street -- 78%
7. Talk Radio -- 78%
8. Nixon -- 72%
9. Any Given Sunday -- 70%
10. Heaven & Earth -- 70%
Finally, here's the trailer for one of Stone's earliest directorial efforts -- The Hand, from 1981: