And while we've had our fun with him, it's frustrating, because behind all the craziness and rumors, Cruise is a solid gold movie star, and a good (to sometimes great) actor who all too often lets the bullshit overshadow his talents. To mark Cruise turning half-a-century old, we've picked out our five favorite performances from across his thirty-year career. Let's keep our fingers crossed that there's more of these to come, and fewer questionable public outbursts and scurillous personal rumors. And you can fight for your favorite personal Cruise turn in the comments section below.
"The Color of Money" (1986)
While works like "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas" receive more shine, one of the most undersung films in the Martin Scorsese oeuvre is his 1986 picture, "The Color of Money." And while the true star of the picture is Paul Newman, reprising the role of Fast Eddie Felson in the sequel to "The Hustler," also vastly underrated in the movie is Tom Cruise as the pompadoured, cocky upstart pool player Vincent Lauria who Felson takes under his wing, only to ultimately be betrayed by him. Arguably Newman elevates their tête-à-têtes, but Cruise answers the challenge in a big way. In his first serious dramatic role since becoming a star (released less than six months after "Top Gun" became a smash), he fares much better than Leonardo DiCaprio did in his first collaborations with Marty. As became his wont, he performed much of the pool sequences himself, giving it an a easy authenticity, and is every part the strutting, glorious embodiment of youth that Felson left behind long ago; the scene of Vincent doing his thing to the tune of Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" is still one of Cruise's most iconic movie star moments. It's intriguing to think of an alternate world where Cruise became a regular Scorsese collaborator in the way that DiCaprio has become; it's clear from "The Color of Money" that he would have been right at home.
"Jerry Maguire" (1996)
Cruise may have given better acting performances, but he's never shone as much as a movie star as he did in his first collaboration with Cameron Crowe, "Jerry Maguire." It doesn't get the best rep now, thanks to the cultural penetration of its catchphrases ("Show me the money," "You complete me," etc.) and its omnipresence on TV, but rewatching it, it's still a great film, and Cruise is as terrific as he's ever been (and deservedly picked up an Oscar nomination for his trouble). The part was allegedly written for Tom Hanks, but it's impossible to imagine anyone except Cruise; his yuppie charisma is perfect for the role from the start, keeping Maguire from feeling like too much of a dick, and you buy every second of his moral awakening. But there's also a big hint of crazy in the character (something we've seen far too much of from the star in recent years); when Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Rod Tidwell tells him "You are hanging on by a very thin thread," you wouldn't disagree. Aside from Cruise, the movie still vies with "Almost Famous" for Crowe's best, Gooding Jr. and Renee Zellwegger have never been better, and the soundtrack's pretty great too (forget the CD release, the choice cuts, from the likes of The Replacements and Gram Parsons, weren't on it).