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6. Wall Street (1987)
Here's a classic example of a movie made famous by great timing; it's far from perfect, but boy did it have its finger on the pulse. For the record, Michael Douglas' corrupt inside trader is the bad guy, but Stone has expressed surprise that so many young men saw the character as a role model to be emulated. This suggests that Stone himself doesn't really get how his movies work, even when they work. Not surprisingly, the movie doesn't go very far toward making sense of its subject, but with Douglas peacocking around and Stone keeping the camera in constant motion, it doesn't seem to matter.
5. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Stone's second trip to Vietnam, starring Tom Cruise as U.S. Marine-turned-paraplegic-war-protester Ron Kovic, was a massive critical hit when it opened. It does have its good points, especially the scenes set in a hellish Veterans Administration hospital. But much of the acclaim was probably due to Tom Cruise's move from movie star to Award-Winning Serious Actor, even though his most impressive accomplishment here was showing how loud he could scream without his fake mustache coming loose. In the end, the Oscar (and enduring reputation as a serious actor) that year went to Daniel Day-Lewis, while Cruise has recently distinguished himself onscreen by scaling the world's tallest building in IMAX and singing Poison songs in tight leather pants. Which is what God always intended for him.
4. Nixon (1995)
Casting Anthony Hopkins as Nixon is hard to defend when you consider that both Dan Aykroyd and Rip Torn were available, and it's disappointing that Stone, that self-styled counterculture wild man, finally seems so sympathetically inclined toward the disgraced president. As you might expect, any high-school student who uses this movie as a principal source for his history paper is getting a D, if he's lucky. But it's hard to completely suck all the interest out of this story, at least for political junkies, who may enjoy Stone's all-star-disaster-movie approach to the historical epic. ("Hey, Paul Sorvino is talking like Dr. Strangelove — he must be Henry Kissinger!")
3. World Trade Center (2005)
News that Stone was making a movie about the 9/11 attacks set off red alerts all over the blogosphere; many assumed that the director of JFK would plaster the screen with whatever intriguing theories on the subject had latched onto his tinfoil hat. Happily, he does know when to be a good boy. Except for the portrayal of U.S. Marine and prayerful rescuer Dave Karnes (who declined the opportunity to participate in the filming and, as his reward, got to see himself played by Michael "Bug Eyes" Shannon), WTC is a respectful, apolitical film about how much it sucks to be trapped under fallen debris, a situation it treats almost as well as Amazing Spider-man #33 did.
2. Platoon (1986)
Having forged his style with Salvador, Stone dove right into production on his dream project, a war movie based on his own combat experience in Vietnam. The film's box-office success shocked Hollywood and showed the industry that audiences might be receptive to movies whose take on the war differed from Sylvester Stallone's. Platoon remains a flawed but blistering piece of work that rewrote the rule book on combat films. As a bonus, stories of Stone's on-set behavior and carousing provide a clue to the mystery of just who it is that Charlie Sheen thinks he's imitating.
1. Salvador (1986)
Salvador is the first real "Oliver Stone movie" as we've come to think of them — an impassioned, white-hot screed about violent chaos in Latin America, with a great performance by James Woods as a bottom-feeding reporter who, despite his scurrilous appearance and hustler's ethics, cares more deeply about what's going on than the politicians and TV "journalists" who shape official policy. In a little over two hours, it defines everything that Stone is good for.