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Flashback Five – The Best Movies of Oliver Stone

When Oliver Stone’s work started to dot the cinematic landscape in the eighties, it quickly became clear that he was a man with ambitions beyond creating standard popcorn fare. Stone finds passionate, dynamic, honest ways to translate personal experiences — like serving in the Vietnam War — into big-screen, often epic, narratives. While most of his movies are often feasts for the eyes, many are truly food for thought, offering chance after chance to contemplate history and rethink assumptions, all without clobbering you over the head with stale propaganda. Which of Stone’s iconic flicks are the best? What follows is one take, but, if you’ve learned anything from his movies, you’ll know there’s no one right answer.

1. Wall Street (1987)
As long as there’s a Wall Street and men banking huge sums of money on it, the Michael Douglas-led morality tale will be relevant. The culture of the Street — greed is good, get the money because it’s get-able, wreck the company because it’s wreck-able — is just as relevant today (relevant enough for an upcoming sequel), and Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko remains an iconic figure, reviled and admired for his admonition that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

2. Platoon (1986)
Stone served in Vietnam and was wounded twice, earning himself a Purple Heart and lending the famed realism of this war portrayal serious cred. He once said Vietnam was his generation’s unnecessary toll to pay, and this movie’s scenes bear that out, by way of wanton brutality and existential crises galore. Platoon is the kind of flick with realism that makes us cringe, but it’s nearly impossible to look away.

3. JFK (1991)
If there’s one thing this conspiracy flick is not, it’s boring. Receiving both criticism and accolades from all parts of the political spectrum, the controversial political thriller is best at drawing on the shortcomings of investigations into the assassination of President Kennedy. Bonus points for offering a platform for Kevin Costner’s finest hour, as well as memorable performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and Gary Oldman (as Lee Harvey Oswald).

4. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Stone’s passionate ode to the lost generation of damaged Vietnam vets gave Tom Cruise the opportunity to vividly portray the grievous breakdown of a young man’s patriotic ideals. At a time when many young people rejected Vietnam because it was fashionable, Ron Kovic ships off to the war to lose his mobility and learn his antiwar beliefs the hard (and more believable) way. As always, Stone leaves audiences questioning their assumptions about war, patriotism, and civic duty.

5. Nixon (1995)
Just as this scandal-mired president couldn’t escape the truth, he also couldn’t possibly avoid the hawkeyed scrutiny of Stone. The director deserves major kudos for this humanizing portrayal: a target like Nixon is easy to condemn, but Stone opts for a more challenging and empathetic take.

Honorable Mentions

1. Talk Radio (1988): Stone’s talent as a filmmaker is on display, as he creates a dark and dynamic narrative using, for the most part, shots of one man and a microphone.

2. Any Given Sunday (1999): The football flick has many merits, chief among them that Stone finds a way to create a football drama that’s more fresh and fascinating than a mundane underdog story.

3. Natural Born Killers (1994): How many visions can one man have? Thanks to Natural Born Killers‘ dizzying combo of black-and-white, surveillance-video, and animated styles, we know Stone has an infinite stockpile.

4. Salvador (1986): The story of a photojournalist looking for a last-chance opportunity is partly based on a friend of Stone’s, and the personal connection shines through.

5. W. (2008): W. isn’t universally loved, but it’s owed a spot here for its human portrayal of George W. Bush, a man who was (practically) universally hated the year it was released.

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Watch JFK tonight, Fri., Jul. 30, at 8PM | 7C.

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