Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
How Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez Made Josh Brolin's 'No Country For Old Men' Audition Tape How Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez Made Josh Brolin's 'No Country For Old Men' Audition Tape 'MacGyver' Movie Reboot And New TV Series Pilot On The Way 'MacGyver' Movie Reboot And New TV Series Pilot On The Way Josh Brolin Says He's Starring With Jessica Chastain In A Movie About George Jones & Tammy Wynette Josh Brolin Says He's Starring With Jessica Chastain In A Movie About George Jones & Tammy Wynette Watch: Robert Richardson Explains Why He Took His Name Off 'World War Z' And More In 58-Minute Cinematographer Talk Watch: Robert Richardson Explains Why He Took His Name Off 'World War Z' And More In 58-Minute Cinematographer Talk George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More

The Essentials: The 5 Best Tom Cruise Performances

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 3, 2012 at 11:00AM

Tom Cruise turns 50 today, and he's probably had better birthdays. His latest film, "Rock Of Ages," was a box office disappointment, and on Friday, it emerged that Katie Holmes, his third wife, and mother of his daughter Suri, was filing for divorce. Just as things were seemingly starting to get back on track after a difficult half decade -- last year's "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" was his biggest hit ever -- it looks like the actor is hitting another rough patch.
20
Magnolia

"Magnolia" (1999)
The end of the last century saw Cruise really chase after acting glory with two potentially controversial, sexually-charged roles. One was with one of cinema's most-acclaimed auteurs, Stanley Kubrick, in what sadly turned out to be the director's final film. The other was with a new kid on the block: Paul Thomas Anderson, who'd broken out two years earlier with the outstanding "Boogie Nights." Among Anderson's Altman-esque tapestry of LA lives drawn together by happenstance, Cruise was the biggest star by far, but it's a testament to his skills (and the director's canny use of his star power in the casting) that Cruise more than holds his own in an ensemble that includes Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly and many more. The star plays Frank T.J. Mackey, a Neil Strauss-like self-help speaker coaching men on how to (in his words) "tame the cunt," who's also the estranged son of dying T.V. producer Earl Partridge (Jason Robards). His monologue to an adoring crowd is a show-stopper (it's hard not to see the DNA of the performance in the recent "Rock of Ages"), but we also see the wounded boy ditched by an unloving father years ago, in an emotional final scene that still marks Cruise's finest piece of screen acting. It's a testament to the collaboration that, despite Anderson's latest film riffing on Scientology, the director and star seemingly remain friends.

Minority Report

"Minority Report" (2002)
Now a decade old (and increasingly prescient, it would seem), this heady, ambitious sci-fi is notable not only for being the last truly entertaining, satisfying and even thought-provoking whizz-bang piece of filmmaking from Steven Spielberg (sorry, "War of the Worlds" was marred by gaudy sentimentalism) but also for being the final role of Phase 1/pre-Matt Lauer meltdown/pre-couch jumping Tom Cruise. And not surprisingly, the film is Cruise at his Cruiseiest. Set in an Orwellian future where "precogs" can see crimes before they happen, allowing police to arrest perpetrators before they commit the crime, Cruise plays a lawman who fully believes in the system until he's accused of murdering a man he's never met and doesn't seemingly have any ties to. The set up is pretty much the ultimate everyman-in-crisis role that Cruise circled in lesser or more workmanlike films like "The Firm" or "A Few Good Men." But here, aided by a great, smart and ambitious script, and, of course, guided by the sure lens of Spielberg at the top of his game, the performance is one of an A-list actor at the height of his powers. Cruise is magnetic here, and as a man still wounded by the death of his son, and winded by the revelation that the institution he loves has turned out to be a corrupt sham, the actor finds the perfect center of vulnerability and gritty determination to see justice done. Watching the film, there is simply no denying what makes Cruise both a bonafide star and an actor with chops -- he gets us on his side and takes us on one helluva ride.

Collateral

"Collateral" (2004)
While Cruise's career has always been marked mostly by smart and subtle shifts in his persona — playing a misogynistic womanizer in "Magnolia" or throwing his hand in the comedy game with his Les Grossman character — none have been as satisfying as his turn as the assassin for hire in Michael Mann's minimal, sleek thriller "Collateral." Co-starring a subdued Jamie Foxx (one of his best turns so far), the film's story is very simple: Cruise plays Vincent, a killer who hires a cab to drive him around Los Angeles for the night, dragging Foxx's driver into his murderous schemes. Unlike other A-list actors who often overact and flail about in "bad guy" roles (ie. Denzel Washington in "Training Day"), Cruise goes in the opposite direction. Vincent is both compelling and creepy, a minimalist, almost animal-like turn; it's hard not to see the coyote that he's so mesmerized by as a twin of a kind. Cruise is particularly good when Vincent tries to rationalize his behavior, practically bringing the audience over to his point of view. Even if the film doesn't stick the landing, turning into a disappointingly conventional shoot-em-up by the end, this is a side we don't see often enough from Cruise; a role that finds hims out on the ledge without relying on the fallback of his Cruise persona to catch him, and it's one we always hope to see more of.

Honorable Mentions: While the film is far from Cruise's finest, one can absolutely see why his winning turn in "Risky Business" made the actor a star. He's pretty solid in "Rain Man" too, playing nicely off co-star Dustin Hoffman, and picked up his first Oscar nomination for "Born on the Fourth of July," although it felt a little too Oscar-grabby in retrospect to include in this list.

He also hit his movie-star stride in the early '90s, and performances in "A Few Good Men," "The Firm" and the first "Mission: Impossible" look effortless, and it's hard to imagine many other stars taking them on. He's also pretty good in "Eyes Wide Shut," if overshadowed a little by then-wife Nicole Kidman, and contributed a memorable and unrecognizable cameo to Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder," which in part helped to rehabilitate him in the public's eyes.

-- Oliver Lyttelton, RP, Kevin Jagernauth

This article is related to: Features, The Essentials, Tom Cruise, Best Of


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates