Total Recall: Oliver Stone's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Savages director.
He's won 10 Golden Globes, nine Oscars, and four BAFTAs during his long and illustrious career -- but Oliver Stone has somehow never been the focus of his own Total Recall, so we decided to change that in honor of this weekend's Savages, an intriguingly cast drug drama based on the Don Winslow novel about a pair of pot farmers racing to free the woman they love from a Mexican drug cartel. Given his lengthy filmography, you know Stone's got some good stuff in his filmography -- and the cream of the crop is right here in this week's list.
The most recent chapter of Stone's presidential trilogy, W. served George W. Bush -- who was wrapping up his second term while it was filmed -- with a somewhat muted, surprisingly sympathetic biopic that traced his occasionally haphazard rise from political scion to oil baron and back again. While Josh Brolin earned near-universal praise for his work in the title role, critics found W. as a whole a little harder to take, citing its laconic pace and insufficiently hard-hitting approach as particularly troublesome flaws. For others, however, it proved a warm, fairly witty farewell for the GWB years; as the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips put it, "The film may be ill-timed, arguably unnecessary and no more psychologically probing than any other Stone movie. But much of it works as deft, brisk, slyly engaging docudrama."
For a lot of Americans -- especially those who grew up during the early years of the Cold War -- Fidel Castro is less a world leader than a shadowy boogeyman whose thirst for brinkmanship nearly triggered World War III. But whatever his sins, Castro remains a longtime veteran of international politics and a subject worthy of investigation -- hence Oliver Stone's Comandante, a 93-minute distillation of the three days he spent filming the Cuban leader in 2002. While a sizable number of critics chafed at Stone's aggressively friendly attitude toward his subject, others saw something of significant, albeit flawed, value; as Alan Morrison argued for Empire, it is "An opportunity frustratingly squandered, but one which still makes for fascinating viewing thanks to Castro's natural charisma. Errol Morris would have nailed it."
Oliver Stone is known for his willingness to entertain conspiracy theories, his leftist political leanings, and his fondness for lurid cinematic violence, so when word got out he was planning to direct a movie about the September 11 attacks, some people were understandably nervous. But like any other director worth his title, Stone understands his role as a storyteller, and World Trade Center -- starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Peņa as a pair of real-life police officers who were caught in the wreckage after the buildings fell -- has no room for politics or conspiracies. Its clear-eyed dedication to the people first affected by the attacks -- and the selfless bravery of the men and women who worked to rescue the living -- was appreciated by critics like David Denby of the New Yorker, who wrote, "The world may not make sense anymore, but Oliver Stone, a warrior still, celebrating courage and endurance, has, in his own way, come home."
In the years immediately following JFK, Stone took detours into war epic territory (Heaven & Earth) and social commentary (Natural Born Killers), but he wasn't finished with the White House yet. With 1995's ambitious Nixon, Stone gave us Anthony Hopkins as the disgraced former president and Joan Allen as his wife Pat -- and while the 192-minute political epic failed to generate much heat at the box office, both Hopkins and Allen received Oscar nominations for their work in the film, which follows a non-linear path through Nixon's life and career, taking viewers from his California youth through his resignation. "What it finally adds up to," argued Janet Maslin of the New York Times, "is a huge mixed bag of waxworks and daring, a film that is furiously ambitious even when it goes flat, and startling even when it settles for eerie, movie-of-the-week mimicry."
6. Wall Street
Smart, sleek, and eminently quotable, Stone's yuppie jeremiad Wall Street gifted Michael Douglas with what arguably became the most iconic role of his career: He was simply perfect as the oily, morally adrift Gordon Gekko, and although Gekko's signature proclamation that "greed is good" would go on to haunt Douglas, he was an emblematic character for an era in American history when it became acceptable to not only dedicate your life to the naked pursuit of wealth, but to attain it by any means necessary. Stone, who co-wrote the screenplay, based the character on a number of stockbrokers -- including his own father -- and Douglas embodied Gekko so well that he ended up winning an Oscar for his work. "Like the rest of Stone's oeuvre, it's about as subtle as a sledgehammer," wrote Christopher Lloyd of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "But his filmmaking style is like heavy metal: When he hits the right chords, nobody plays with as much power or brash energy."