Oliver Stone’s 5 favorite strong women in movies

LOS ANGELES — Some of Oliver Stone’s best-known and most-celebrated films — including “Platoon,” “Wall Street,” and “Born on the Fourth of July” — focus on complicated men. But his latest, the violent drug thriller “Savages,” has a couple of formidable females at its center: Salma Hayek as the stylish, ruthless leader of a Mexican drug cartel and Blake Lively as an Orange County princess who must find a resourcefulness she never knew she had.

In that spirit, Stone was kind enough to pick five of his favorite examples of strong women throughout film history. Here he is, in his own words:

To begin with, that is quite a reduction from the dozens of screen roles that are still living in my memory, including the evil queen/witch in the original “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) that truly affected me. I thought Charlize Theron was terrific in the latest version and chilled me to the bone. Nor can I forget, for that matter, Cruella De Vil.

In these selections, I’m going to exclude every movie that Meryl Streep has ever done, because whatever she does rivets my attention.

1. In an equally larger-than-life fashion, I would like to cite Marlene Dietrich in several roles, but particularly for one of her first roles with Josef von Sternberg in “Dishonored” (1931). She plays a withering Mata Hari opposite several men, among them her nemesis — Victor McLaglen (of all people!) in an early role as the Russian spymaster who figures out her act. It is essentially Dietrich’s long looks, even more than her dialogue, that make the point. She talks with her eyes, undresses men and makes them give her what she wants. A portrait for all time.

2. In the same vein, Dietrich again for her role as a young Catherine the Great in von Sternberg’s “The Scarlet Empress” (1934). This is a masterpiece of Sternberg’s excess and also Dietrich’s power. In the origins of the movie, unlike Mata Hari, she is a rather pristine, almost elegant young maiden sent off on an arranged marriage to a madman. As the movie goes into its extremes (with a surprising Sam Jaffe as the mad emperor), she grows into a true empress and ultimately destroys him.

3. Faye Dunaway in “Network” (1976) is certainly one of the coldest bitches of all time but is hilarious to watch in her mannerisms, Paddy Chayefsky’s dialogue and her cool toying with William Holden’s love and marriage. I thought Dunaway was equally effective in “Mommie Dearest” (1981). She was a better Joan Crawford than even Joan Crawford. That film rips me up. Dunaway was priceless because she was not looking to gain the audience’s love or sympathy in any way. Actually, it works that way better. I don’t think that a lot of the actresses today have the guts to approach what she did, except for Theron in some of her recent efforts.

4. I know I’m leaning toward excess, but if you want a little bit of heart in this thing, I would point to Crawford herself in the great melodrama Michael Curtiz directed, “Mildred Pierce” (1945), which I equate with that dark, postwar period. Crawford is unbelievably good and won the Oscar opposite Zachary Scott and Jack Carson as a woman determined to provide a better life for her daughter. Unfortunately, the daughter turns out to be a rotten apple. In the same vein, let’s not forget Barbara Stanwyck in “Stella Dallas” (1937) or in “Double Indemnity” (1944) and a dozen other roles.

5. To go in a completely different direction, Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit” (2010). She plays a 14-year-old girl with a great moral center and moves mountains in her quest. She grows into the heart and soul of a wonderful movie by the Coen brothers, who have also compiled a long list of wonderful female heroines.

“True Grit” star Hailee Steinfeld “grows into the heart and soul of a wonderful movie by the Coen brothers, who have also compiled a long list of wonderful female heroines,” Oliver Stone says. File photo
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