01 October 2006

A few weeks ago, I snuck out to see World Trade Center, which was moving and impressive, but vaguely dissatisfying. It struck me as too careful, too impersonal a movie for Oliver Stone, the rare director whose craft improves in proportion to his looniness, and who can make complex ideas vivid and exciting. Since then, I've begun to appreciate the minefield that this movie had to navigate in order to be made at all, and I've come to regard it as graceful and modulated, rather than timid. Still, I hope that Stone revisits this story again, as he did with Vietnam, and that he grows more confident and outrageous with time. After all, he seems to have strong opinions on the subject.

In any case, in a fit of nostalgia for the old, devilish Oliver Stone, I rented a bunch of his movies from Netflix, and have been watching them more or less continuously over the past couple of weeks. I made some interesting discoveries. Alexander is a real mess, a muddled, sluggishly paced movie redeemed only by a couple of magnificent battles and (I may as well be honest here) the best nude scene of the decade. (It's Rosario Dawson's, wise guy.) The style of Natural Born Killers seems almost quaint today, but its satire of television feels sharper and more coherent than ever, maybe because its video effects and schizophrenic cuts have entered the pop cultural mainstream. (It's like watching an ultraviolent episode of Behind the Music.) JFK now feels ludicrous as history, but incredible as a movie, a cinematic colossus in a world of pygmies. It's one of only two films made during my lifetime that honestly build upon the legacy of Citizen Kane.

The other legatee of Kane is, of course, Nixon, which is the Oliver Stone movie that fills me with the most awe today. I saw Nixon when it came out in 1995, and have retained strong memories of it ever since, but on watching it again, I realized what should have been obvious: this is one of the greatest of all American movies, with a performance by Anthony Hopkins that grows even more extraordinary with the passage of time. He doesn't look or sound much like Nixon, but whoever this guy is, he dominates the screen for over three hours, creating a character who is heartbeakingly tragic and pathetic, part angel, part vampire. It's one of the most moving performances I've ever seen, and it gets you closer to the events of Nixon's life than you probably feel towards some of your own memories. If there's a lost masterpiece of American cinema, Nixon is it, and the DVD currently costs less than a matinee ticket for All the King's Men. If that isn't a bargain, what is?

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