Nixon: As Worthy of An Oscar In 2016 As It Was In 1996
Although they are now mired in controversy the 88th Academy Awards will be taking place on February 28th. Due to this fact, I’ve decided to spend the next few weeks mostly reviewing Oscar nominated films of years past. For me doing this is always an interesting action to take. So much hype surrounds Oscar nominated films, screenplays and performances during the fevered hectic time of awards season that the mere fact that a film, actor or director has received a nomination means that it must be of the best quality. There seems to be no doubt that its merit should be questioned in any way. However, now knowing a little bit about why and how films and actors are nominated for Oscars and seeing how so many brilliant films, actors, and directors have been snubbed over the years, I view the whole process with a jaundiced eye. In my opinion, when it comes to the Oscars sometimes nominees are chosen because they are truly terrific and other times they are chosen because the studio and/or publicity team behind them lobby the academy in such an aggressive way that they are able to finagle a nomination. Therefore, just because a movie, director or actor has been fortunate enough to be nominated it does not necessarily mean that the honor was well deserved. Recently, since it has been so long since Oliver Stone’s Nixon came out I thought that I would see if it had staying power and if it that warranted the many Oscars that it was nominated for, including Best Picture.
What I Remembered: Being a self confessed history buff, I was interested about this film when I heard it was being made. Being someone who was nearly obsessed with his film, JFK I was doubly curious. When I saw it in the theater shortly after it came out, what I found was an excellently written, acted, and directed. At the time it was more than worthy of the many Oscar nominations it was given. Taking time to watch it again lately, my view has not changed.
The Story: Nixon is co-writer, producer and director Oliver Stone’s interpretation of the life of the 38th President of the United States, Richard Nixon. It follows Nixon from his boyhood in Whittier, California to his resignation from the presidency in 1974, due to his illegal actions regarding the burglary of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C. It features significant events in Nixon’s life as well as significant moments in American history. These range from his work on the Alger Hiss case as a young Congressman to his time as vice president to President Dwight Eisenhower to his three presidential campaigns, to his presidency and up to Watergate and its aftermath. On the personal side, it examines Nixon’s relationship with his wife Pat and his mother, father and brothers. It seeks to paint a complete portrait of the man and his times.
Technical Details: Nixon hit all the right buttons when it comes to technical execution. Oliver Stone, Steven J. Rivele, and Christopher Wilkinson wrote an exemplary script. Though some of it may have been fictionalized particularly Nixon’s interactions with a wealthy Texas oil man named Jack Jones( Larry Hagman). It was heavily researched via scores of books and technical consultants like former Nixon aides Alexander Butterfield and John Dean, and it made viscerally real Nixon and those around him. Furthermore, the film is not advertised as a documentary, but instead was a work of fiction with its roots in history, and therefore it was permissible that dramatic license was taken. Stone’s direction was him at his best as he was able to capture the times that Nixon influenced and the complexity of the man, his allies, and adversaries all while offering an incredibly well- paced and edited film that made subjects some might find boring in other mediums or contexts very interesting and engaging. Finally, the acting was the best it could be. Filled with an all- star cast that consisted of Anthony Hopkins as Nixon portrayed as a tragic figure, Joan Allen as his wife, Pat and James Woods, E.G. Marshall, Bob Hoskins and Mary Steenburgen in various roles. The best actor and actress nominations that Hopkins and Allen got were more than deserved, but two surprising, outstanding performances were those of Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger and David Barry Gray as a young Richard Nixon.
All of this having been said, those who have never seen Nixon should not believe that everything they are shown on the screen is fact. The film was merely Oliver Stone’s interpretation of Nixon and his role in American history. It is not the definitive account of Nixon or his role in American history and should not be accepted as such.
End Credits: I started this piece by asking whether Oscar nominated films of years past deserved the honors they were given. When it comes to Nixon the praise that it received from the Academy was more than justified. It contained everything that an Oscar worthy film should have. Great writing, acting, and technical expertise are these qualities and it has those in abundance. It was one of the best movies of 1996 and thus merited all of its commendations. Furthermore, it can stand up against anything that is up for an Oscar today. So, if you would like to, you should spend a few hours with Nixon. It’s some of the best that cinema can offer.