Oscar Profile #326: Oliver Stone

Born September 15, 1946 in New York, New York, Oliver Stone’s father was a non-practicing Jewish stockbroker and his mother a German-east European non-practicing Catholic war bride. Stone was raised Episcopalian in Manhattan and Stamford, Connecticut. He is now a Buddhist.

Stone graduated New York University with a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree in 1971. He made his film debut as an actor in a minor role in 1971’s The Battle of Love’s Return and his debut as a writer and director with the same year’s Last Year in Viet Nam. He became a household name with his controversial screenplay for Alan Parker’s 1978 film, Midnight Express, for which he won his first of three Oscars on the first of his eleven nominations to date.

Stone’s first success as a director came with the 1981 horror film, The Hand, but he was soon back writing screenplays for other directors including 1983’s Scarface for Brian De Palma and 1985’s Year of the Dragon for Michael Cimino. He came into his own as a writer-director with two 1986 films, Salvador and Platoon, earning Oscar nominations for writing both films and a directing nomination for the latter, which he won.

All of Stone’s output over the next few years was highly successful. 1987’s Wall Street earned Michael Douglas a Best Actor Oscar. 1988’s Talk Radio earned Stone an Independent Spirit nomination for Best Director. 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July earned him triple Oscar nominations. He was nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director, which earned him his third Oscar.

Stone began the 1990s with the 1991 hit bio, The Doors, followed by the same year’s JFK which earned him another three Oscar nods for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay. His output for the remainder of the decade included 1993’s Heaven & Earth, 1994’s Natural Born Killers 1994’s Nixon, 1997’s U Turn and 1999’s Any Given Sunday. Nixon earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, his last to date.

Stone spent the first decade of the new millennium alternating between TV and theatrical documentaries and the occasional narrative film. They included 2004’s Alexander, 2006’s World Trade Center and 2008’s W. . The 2010s have seen just three narrative films from Stone to date. They were 2010’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, his only sequel, 2012’s Savages and 2016’s Snowden.

Oliver Stone has been married to third wife Sun-jong Jong. with whom he had one child, since 1996. He had previously been married to Elizabeth Stone from 1981 to 1993, with whom he had two children. Before that he has been married to Najwa Sarkis from 1971 to 1977.

Oliver Stone is still going strong at 70.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

PLATOON (1986)

This was not the first important film about the Vietnam War, but it was the one that audiences most related to. Told from a grunt’s perspective, Charlie Sheen is essentially playing Stone as a young recruit dismayed at the horrors of war. For much of the film he is a pawn between the good sergeant (Willem Dafoe) and the evil one (Tom Berenger). Eight years after The Deer Hunter and Go Tell the Spartans, it replaced both as the most realistic film about the war and its effects on its participants. Stone, a previous screenplay winner for Midnight Express, richly deserved his second Oscar, his first for Best Director.

BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (1989)

Stone won his third Oscar, his second as director, for this, his second film about the Vietnam war, one that goes even deeper than Platoon into a soldier’s soul, providing Tom Cruise with the role of his career as paraplegic veteran Ron Kovic who becomes a leading anti-war activist. Cruise lost to Daniel Day-Lewis as the writer Christy Brown, who was afflicted with cerebral palsy, in My Left Foot. Stone was one of the few best director winners whose film didn’t also earn the award for Best Picture. That went to Driving Miss Daisy, directed by non-nominated Bruce Beresford.

JFK (1991)

This was the first of Stone’s look at what has been, so far, three U.S. Presidents. This one is, of course, about the death of John F. Kennedy, not only his death, but the alleged conspiracy behind his assassination and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into it. Kevin Costner stars as Garrison, with Sissy Spacek as his wife, Gary Oldman as Oswald and Oscar nominee Tommy Lee Jones as one of the conspirators, backed by an all-star supporting cast. The espoused theories may be hogwash, but the presentation is spellbinding, earning Stone Oscar nods for Best Picture, Direction and Screenplay.

NIXON (1995)

The second of Stone’s films about the U.S. Presidency, this one gives us a look at Richard M. Nixon from his childhood to his resignation following the Watergate scandal. The film was nominated for four Oscars including Stone’s last for Best Screenplay as well as for its score and the performances of Anthony Hopkins as Nixon and Joan Allen as his wife, Pat. It features many well-known actors playing well-known figures of the Nixon era including Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover and Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger. For my money, only Allen among the principal players, provides a realistic, three-dimensional characterization.

SNOWDEN (2016)

This was Stone’s first unqualified critical success in more than twenty years. Since Nixon, he had given us just six narrative films including the loud football movie, Any Given Sunday, the good but unbearably sad World Trade Center and the much too jokey W., his third look at U.S. Presidents, this time George W. Bush. Snowden is a thoughtful exploration of the life of the titled whistle-blower, excellently played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, focusing on his career with the U.S. Intelligence Agency, NASA and his expose of the agency’s illegal surveillance activities.

OLIVER STONE AND OSCAR

  • Midnight Express (1978) – Oscar – Best Screenplay
  • Platoon (1986) – Oscar – Best Director
  • Platoon (1986) – nominated – Best Screenplay
  • Salvador (1986) – nominated – Best Screenplay
  • Born on the Fourth of July (1989) – nominated – Best Picture
  • Born on the Fourth of July (1989) – Oscar – Best Director
  • Born on the Fourth of July (1989) – nominated – Best Screenplay
  • JFK (1991) – nominated – Best Picture
  • JFK (1991) – nominated – Best Director
  • JFK (1991) – nominated – Best Screenplay
  • Nixon (1994) – nominated – Best Screenplay

2 Comments

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  1. Just FYI: “Nixon” was released December 22, 1995.

    1. You’re right! Thanks for the catch.

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