The Set of 400: #214 – My Favorite Big Screen Tuberculosis

Today! Because there’s a cancer in the presidency and it’s growing –

Nixon (1995)

Directed by Oliver Stone (x2)

Starring Anthony Hopkins (x5), Joan Allen (x2), James Woods (x2), Paul Sorvino, Ed Harris, Powers Boothe (x3), Bob Hoskins, E.G. Marshall, David Hyde Pierce, David Paymer (x3), J.T. Walsh (x3), Mary Steenburgen (x2), Kevin Dunn (x3), Brian Bedford, Fyvush Finkel (x2), Annabeth Gish, Tony Goldwyn (x2), Larry Hagman (x2), Edward Herrman, Madeline Kahn (x2), Dan Hedaya (x3), Tom Bower, Tony Lo Bianco, Saul Rubinek, John C. McGinley, Michael Chiklis, George Plimpton, Marley Shelton (x2), James Karen (x2), Donna Dixon (x2), Sam Waterston, John Diehl, Robert Beltran

The last good-to-great movie Oliver Stone has made, Nixon is a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the beleaguered 37th president, even while taking him to task for his many shortcomings as a politician and as a person in general. Throw in a bit of wild Oliver Stone-esque conspiracy speculation and a run time so bloated it manages to encompass decades of Tricky Dick’s life rather effortlessly, and you get a bombastic, overblown, sorta wonderful, sorta insane biopic unlike any other.

The performances carry through some of the more gymnastic directing – it’s a movie drowning in technique and style – with Hopkins’ amazing transformation into Nixon at its center. Many others have taken on this idiosyncratic role – Langella is fine in Frost/Nixon, Spacey a little less so in Elvis & Nixon, Dan Aykroyd’s terrific SNL take – but none were able to capture the manic nuance of the man, while also attempting to physically resemble him, the way Hopkins did. It’s magnificent.

And high school era Joe was all-in on this movie. Hell, after #357 JFK I was a hardcore Oliver Stone fan. Up until 1995, he had made semi-classic after classic, from Platoon to Born on the Fourth of July to Salvador to Wall Street. I still kinda like Natural Born Killers, even though it appears most people violently turned on this movie in recent years. It’s a bit much – everything Stone did after Born on the Fourth is – but I think it kinda works. But after Nixon, the wheels came off. Substance went out the window in favorite of director-y flash, and while some of his movies are sort of entertaining from this later period – Any Given Sunday? Er, W.? – most of them are downright awful – Alexander, World Trade Center, Savages. It makes me sad, as again, for a few years there, I loved Oliver Stone.

I mean, does this look even basically appealing to you?

And I’m fully aware Nixon is not holding up well. Besides the wild heavy-handed symbolism and volcanic acting threatening to swallow the entire narrative, we also now live in a world where Richard Nixon seems justifiably presidential. After George W. Bush and Trump, does anything Nixon did really seem all that bad? He gets a lot more blame for Vietnam than he deserves – largely inheriting LBJ’s mess – and while there is that strong streak of “rat-fucking” – so eloquently covered in All the President’s Men – there isn’t quite the war-mongering and dashes of virtual treason as we’ve come to live with here in the 21st century. Now, yes, Nixon did tarnish the presidency, and you could argue irrevocably so, creating an environment where movie stars, reality show hosts, and womanizing sax players could win the highest office in the land. That’s sure not great. But he did leave a hell of a character for the American people to grapple with in the aftermath. While it isn’t exactly a fair comparison, what Hitler is the first half of the 20th century – so transformative a figure to world events and society forever after – Nixon is to the second half, shattering countless myths about the people who elected him and about America in general.

But let’s not forget who the label “American Hitler” fits best

Hopkins and Allen got the majority of awards attention for Nixon – both Oscar nominated along with John Williams’ Score and Stone’s co-written screenplay (his last nomination to date) – but nowhere has the movie’s heavily symbolic Best Bloody Steak been honored! Harumph!

This is Stone’s second and final film on the list (Sorry, Talk Radio fans!), making him the 33rd Two-Time Director. Nixon also inducts ten new actors to the Two-Time wing, (which is way too many to recount, so see above), along with five advancing Three-Timers – Boothe (#224 The Avengers, #306 Tombstone), Dunn (#276 Hot Shots!, #242 Chaplin), Paymer (#346 Howard the Duck, #399 Payback), Walsh (#317 Blue Chips, #341 Good Morning Vietnam), and Hedaya (#281 Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, #260 The Usual Suspects). But winning the electoral college today is Nixon himself Anthony Hopkins, the ninth Five-Timer so far! Chaplin, #255 Red Dragon, #323 The Elephant Man, #350 Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and now Nixon! Spotlight!

Love that Odin!

Coming Monday! The fans are standing up to them! The security guards are standing up to them! The peanut vendors are standing up to them!

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