"Rain Man" (1988)
While the true star of "Rain Man"
— one of director Barry Levinson's finest films made during his halcyon days — is obviously Dustin Hoffman (he naturally won the Best Acting Oscar), and Cruise was generally overlooked as it's clearly not his best performance...still there are some charms to be gained from his character's arc. Portraying Charlie Babbitt, a self-centered asshole '80s yuppie with a loathsome feathered coif, the character turns into an even bigger degenerate when he learns his deceased father left his fortune to his heretofore unknown savant brother Raymond and a pittance to him. Throwing a mini-tantrum, he essentially kidnaps the autistic and therefore functional, but handicapped sibling and takes him on a cross-country trek to L.A. essentially ransoming him in return for his half of what he believes to be his birthright. If that isn't scumbag-ish enough, Cruise's Babbit then wantonly exploits his brothers mathematics genius to card-count in Vegas for his own financial benefit. While we want to strangle the egoistic character throughout, it's a testament to Cruise's depiction (and the script) that he imbues him with humanity, without transforming him 180 degrees into a completely redeemed gentleman.

"Born on the Fourth of July" (1989)
Oliver Stone's super melodramatic Vietnam picture earned
Cruise his first Oscar nomination (he's earned two Best Actor noms and one Best Supporting in total) and yes, it's full of histrionics both from an acting perspective and a cinematic one (naturally, it's Oliver Stone). Still, there is value in Cruise's portrayal of a deeply patriotic American soldier who returns to the U.S. as a wheelchair-bound cripple and essentially becomes a dissident when he finally awakens to the snowjob the U.S. government has sold him. In truth, it's a fairly predictable arc and Cruise might mistake passion for verisimilitude, but the writing is only so good and fairly broad at times. And hell, we rewatched it. Waste not, want not.
"The Color of Money" (1986)
While been-there overdone work like "Casino" receives more shine, one of the most undersung films in the Marty Scorsese oeuvre is his 1986 picture, "The Color Of Money." And while the true stars of the picture, a sequel to 1950's "The Hustler," is its star Paul Newman and Scorsese's relentlessly shark-like moving camera, also vastly underrated in the picture is Tom Cruise as the pompadoured, cocky upstart pool player Vincent Lauria that Newman takes under h
is wing and then is ultimately betrayed by. Arguably Newman elevates their tête-à-têtes, but Cruise answers the challenge and fairs much better than say Leonardo DiCaprio did in his first collaborations with Marty (though yes, they have continued to improve — could you imagine a world where Cruise would have become Scorsese's muse?).

"Risky Business" (1983)
Cruise puts in a convincing performance as good kid turned bad turned mostly good here, playing Joel Goodson, a meek, average high school guy who decides to take a stab at being a rebel when his parents go out of town. Along the way, he mistakenly hires a transvestite call girl named 'Jackie,' gets chased in his daddy's Porsche by a pimp, sinks the car in Lake Michigan, and turns his parents' house into a brothel for a night. Cruise pulls off Joel's transformation admirably, convincingly going from the in-over-his-head novice to cool playboy. The movie itself is a sly a shrewd satire of Reaganomics and the Silent Majority, with Joel sacked from the Future Enterprisers club at school despite the considerable success of his, uh, business. Writer-director Paul Brickman's directorial debut originally ended on a darker tone that fit the movie's arc better than the theatrical studio-imposed ending, but the screenplay is smart and funny, and the dialogue feels effortless. With the alluring Rebecca De Mornay as Joel's prostitute friend (girlfriend?) Lana and a fantastic Curtis Armstrong performance as best friend Miles, along with a pulsing synth-rock score by Tangerine Dream, 'Risky Business' still holds up as a solid and provocative teen movie.

Honorable Mention
While most will be looking at the exclusion of Stanley Kubrick's
"Eyes Wide Shut," while the unfairly maligned Kubrick film does have value (though were still not over that risible ending), Cruise's work in the film while commendable, wasn't strong enough to merit individual credit here. And there's a serious argument to be made that late era Kubrick films were all about the director and not his acting pawns like Nic and Tom. "Taps" is a great debut performance too, but none of us have seen it in years and to be honest, every brick and mortar didn't have it (and Netflix is sometimes sloooow). - Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth, Oliver Lyttelton, Jacob Combs & Danielle Johnsen.