A friend called me up out of the blue yesterday and asked me “Isn’t Oliver Stone the worst director in Hollywood?” – and I had to think for a second. My friend is not a reader of this site, because I believe him to be some variation of a blog snob. So he wasn’t disputing Stone’s exclusion from my Hollywood Legion of Doom. The actual reason I didn’t include him is because of his history – the man has made some incredible movies. Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July – the Eighties were very good for Olly. But my friend raised a valid question, and the short answer is yes. Oliver Stone is currently the worst director working in Hollywood, based on his talent, cast, budget, and results. I will try to pinpoint the exact time he lost his gawddamned mind.
I saw Natural Born Killers in the theater, and I’d have to say I was impressed. It was violent, pulled no punches, with a great cast and some kind of vague message about the media. It is undoubtedly creative, as Stone apparently was on drugs the entire time. OK, this is the movie’s Wikipedia page talking, but if you’ve seen NBK it would explain a lot. Drastic color palette changes, random film stocks, animation sequences – all it was missing was Rodney Dangerfield as a white-trash child-molesting father. Oh, right. So as soon as it came out on video, I picked up the Director’s Cut edition. Two VHS tapes! Unrated! Mucho extras! Then I sat down and watched it again, and had a different view of it. I’ve heard some movie pundits say that they don’t think that director’s cuts should exist, because you the viewer are not seeing it in its “original form”. However, I believe that Director’s Cut should be the complete vision of the director, sans all the forces that can change a movie during the process – the MPAA, the studio bigwigs, etc. If that’s true, then holy shit Oliver Stone was a walking ‘shroom PSA. You talk about merciless violence, and this is coming from someone who enjoys a regular diet of Miike. But it wasn’t the heads on pikes or prolonged hooker-strangling that got to me. Matter-of-fact, I’m pretty sure that latter scene contained autobiographical content (Sizemore, Stone and/or Tarantino). It was the overall tone of the movie – one of screaming “YOU AND YOUR WORLD SUCKS ASS!” right in your face over and over for two hours. Stone has never been known for subtlety, but NBK’s laundry list of metaphors reads like it was dreamed up by a junior college creative writer “who drinks too much booze, eats too few fresh vegetables.” What truly pushed me over the edge were the deleted scenes – words do not do them justice. Woody viciously stabs Ashley Judd with a pencil while “cross-examining” her at his trial. This is after she describes how he brutally murdered her brother. Let’s not forget Denis Leary’s schtick or the Barbarian Brothers getting their legs chainsawed off – yet still respecting the killers. Sadistic and pointless, I’m convinced Oliver Stone has no soul, and/or cares not a whit about his audience. Although, I give him credit for a nice soundtrack – from L7’s “Shitlist” to Cowboy Junkies’ better-than-the-original “Sweet Jane”, it’s nice.
After Natural Born Killers, Stone’s disdain for you and I continued unheeded. Nixon was three hours on yet another subject that could be described as interesting yet not really entertaining. U-Turn was supposed to be Stone’s non-serious movie by a dead-serious director – his After Hours. Instead it was over-stylized, with a pointless incest plot twist that was right up his alley of sadism. Any Given Sunday is the first movie that comes to mind when asked to name a bad sports movie. Why hard sell a sport that’s already exciting? Friday Night Lights was the football movie sweet spot – shaky camera, turn up the impact noises, and keep the dick dangling to a minimal. Next up was Alexander, which was yet another 3 hours of what the hell? Or at least that was the theatrical version – Stone has released several versions on DVD, the recent and longest being the 214 minute yawn-inducing “Why Bother?” cut. $155million pissed, $34million in domestic business. You’d think that was the nail in the coffin, but nay. I have yet to see World Trade Center, so I cannot comment. It’s my understanding that Stone went out of his way to make a “non-Stone” movie, and it got a 70% on the Tomatometer. That should probably tell him something.
Perhaps you’ve seen the trailer for his latest, one of his classic pseudo-documentaries – this one on our current president Dubya. Stone practically invented the genre, because he can extrapolate or just make shit up and pass it off as “fiction”. He knows that many of the people that watch it will accept it as fact, and he loves pulling the strings. I’m not saying Mr. President doesn’t deserve the Stone treatment – he certainly does. Also, Look at that cast – Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney is an especially nice touch. However, let’s say you worked for Enron, and you were one of the many that got laid off and lost all their life savings. Would you spend 2+ hours of your time watching a documentary of Kenneth Lay’s life, no matter how entertaining or unsympathetic? No, you’d probably want to take a shotgun to his tires as he drove down the freeway. After that, unless he shows up at your door with a big check, you don’t give a shit. My point is, the entire country is Enron – and when Dubya is finally gone, there’s not a lot of people that will pay to spend 2+ hours with him again. Morbid curiosity can only take a movie so far when you’ve lost your house or your son was killed in Iraq. Does the top 1% even go to the movies?