Love him or hate him, writer-director-provocateur Oliver Stone
has been going strong for over four decades. With "Snowden" out in theaters, here's a chance to get reacquaint yourself with his films (save for documentaries), from worst to best.
20. "Savages" (2012)
The most joyful moment of watching movies in 2012 came in the form of one word, delivered by Blake Lively
: "war-gasm." It describes the type of orgasms soldiers have upon coming home from war. When it comes to "Savages," that's essentially all you need to know. For Stone, it's a peculiarly inept crime drama: humorless, cartoonish, and without much in the way of redeeming value.
19. "World Trade Center" (2006)
Stone has always been one for timely films. But there's something eerie about "World Trade Center," which found itself in theaters five years after 9/11. A mix of embarrassing histrionics and overwrought screenwriting, the whole movie, while well-intentioned, comes across as too on-the-nose. Then there's Nicolas Cage
and that mustache.
Cinerama Releasing Corporation
18. "Seizure" (1974)Some filmmakers' careers begin with "Citizen Kane" or "The Night of the Hunter," others start with projects less assured. Stone's entry into feature films was not exactly a bang, but it did get his foot in the door. This macabre horror flick is unlike almost anything else he would go onto do.
17. "The Hand" (1981)
And then it continued, seven years later as a youthful Stone desperately wanted to make quality horror. He never exactly succeeded, but the ambition was always there. The movie follows Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine
), a one-handed comic book artist whose missing appendage comes back to -- wait, what? -- follow him.
16. "Alexander" (2004)
Even at the time of its release, "Alexander" felt oddly dated. It charts the ascendance of Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell
), including his warfare and carnal achievements alike. Surprisingly, given all that happens in this movie, it's shockingly boring. Not even bona fide talent Rosario Dawson
could enliven this three hour strut through the early B.C.s.
15. "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" (2010)It's one of the more needless sequels in recent history, mainly because, after "Wall Street" galvanized American audiences, plenty of like-minded movies followed suit. Nevertheless, Stone's revisiting of his classic is not entirely abysmal but by the end it devolves into a sort of sad self-parody. It doesn't retroactively make you question your love for "Wall Street," but it won't bolster it, either.
Buena Vista Pictures
14. "Nixon" (1995)
Stone helmed three films about American presidents, with an apparently bountiful interest in the Oval Office. The least interesting of the bunch revolves around the disgraced leader whose political career ended in ruin. Anthony Hopkins
is mostly convincing as the rugged and duplicitous, yet clearly intelligent president. But the film suffers from being too ambitious, a silly complaint that's undeniably the project's undoing.
Le Studio Canal +
13. "Heaven & Earth" (1993)The third (and probably least interesting) film in Stone's Vietnam trilogy is a true story taken from a book by Le Ly and James Hayslip. By all accounts, the book is a tender, powerful and moving portrait of life after surviving the war. A bit of that dramatic power seems to be lost in translation in the film.
12. "Snowden" (2016)
With the recent release of Laura Poitras' vital "Citzenfour," Stone had to do a lot to justify the existence (and distribution) of "Snowden." Against the odds, he kind of pulls it off. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
stars as the eponymous figure, as divisive as he is brilliant. It's clear Stone understands the nuances of human behavior, and his Snowden is a renegade, thief, criminal, and truth-teller.
11. "W." (2006)
Despite being met with mixed responses from critics and audiences upon its release, "W." has aged remarkably well. It came out the tail-end of the George W. Bush presidency, on the heels of the economic housing collapse. Again, it's a matter of timing: No one wanted to see Stone alternately humanizing and skewering a President in peril. Now? Josh Brolin
's prismatic performance shines through.
10. "Salvador" (1986)
Every auteur has projects they cherish even when they don't reach a larger audience. "Salvador" is that film for Stone. A proclaimed favorite of his, the movie revolves around an American photojournalist James Woods
) who finds himself wrapped up in the mix of El Salvadoran political gridlock. Celebrate the film's 30th anniversary this year by giving it a spin; you'll thank us later.
9. "U Turn" (1997)
Adapting John Ridley
's ace book-turned-script, the film undulates to Murphy's Law: anything that can go wrong, does. Such is Bobby Cooper's (Sean Penn
) fate as he makes a trip to Las Vegas to settle his gambling debts. Stone seems to be at his best when he goes off script and trusts his instincts to find intrigue in the peculiarities of life. There's a reason this gem has recently been rediscovered by contemporary audiences.
8. "Any Given Sunday" (1999)
One of the most overlooked sports films of the past few decades. Stone gives us a fictitious, but still gripping behind-the-scenes look at the NFL: the shady dealings, the musty locker rooms, and the people that make the game
go week after week. It also features one of the last (to date) great Al Pacino
7. "Natural Born Killers" (1994)
Of all the movies in Stone's filmography, has any spawned more pale imitators than this one? With a screenplay penned by Quentin Tarantino
, "NBK" still has some vitality to it after all these years. Its pair of psychopathic serial murderers (Woody Harrelson
and Juliette Lewis
) remains iconic to this day. A re-visit proves Stone is making more than a provocation here; it's satire, drama and hysteria all wrapped up into one batshit movie.
6. "The Doors" (1991)
Fittingly shambolic given its central subject, "The Doors" allows Stone to continue his fearless streak of unconventional biopics with the story of Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer
). Morrison was a trailblazing musician, an eloquent poet, a hopeless drug addict, and inimitable a-hole. "The Doors," in all its splendor, captures the multifaceted artist at his best and worst.
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
5. "Wall Street" (1987)
If nothing else, Stone's mildly dated yet still incisive look into the money men of America gave us the endlessly quotable line, "Greed is good." That line, delivered by Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas
), perfectly encapsulated life in the U.S. circa 1987 -- a people fueled by monetary desires, fellow citizens be damned. "Wall Street" depicted a world of winners and losers without succumbing to cartoonish characterizations.
4. "Talk Radio" (1988)Stone is at his best when he's angry. Or, at the very least, when his characters are angry. Few in his filmography are driven by rage like Barry (Eric Bogosian), a Texas-based talk show host who lambasts those calling in to offer up their opinions. "Talk Radio" is a riveting drama, sure. but it's also a brutal examination of the American populace, especially the uneducated, bigoted, and dunderheaded.
3. "Platoon" (1986)Forget the film's four Oscar wins. Forget the superlatives, the hyperbole, the praise hurled by everyone who has experienced this movie. It's a masterpiece, that much is true. But why does it remain as indispensable as ever? The reasons vary, as will your mileage for Stone's raw shot of war. It's the cyclical nature of combat that Stone understands and presents to us. One platoon in, the other out. Together they form an unending, uninterrupted circle of battle, bloodshed, and death.
2. "JFK" (1991)
It's rare that the apex of an actor and director coincide, but it's true in "JFK." This is peak Kevin Costner
and Oliver Stone
. The three-hour thrilling affair serves as both a stunning judicial procedural and revealing snapshot of the era. Stone also manages to interrogate our own penchant for theories, myths, and conspiracies. Like the still-debated murder of JFK, this is a movie we can't help but replay in our heads.
1. "Born on the Fourth of July"
If "Platoon" is Stone's strongest film about life during wartime, then "Born" is the feature that best understands after it. Tom Cruise
turns in arguably his most achingly beautiful performance as Ron Kovic, a young man shipped off to Vietnam, only to return paralyzed from the waist down, facing a different kind of attack: anti-war sentiment and regrets over his own participation. In all its political and emotional complexity, Stone's stunning 1987 masterwork is as revolutionary and timely as anything he's ever made.