Every once in awhile, I will be putting together a list of the top films, or performances, from today’s biggest movie stars. In the coming weeks, expect to see lists for Nicolas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, and more. To get things started, with the release of his latest film, ‘Knight and Day’, let’s take a look back at the illustrious career of Tom Cruise. Not many actors still around today have the resume that Tom has. He has starred in several great films, and here is a recap of what I feel are his 10 best films. (Note: Even though I really like ‘The Outsiders’, it’s not a Tom Cruise film, because he had such a small role. So, I didn’t include it)
1. My favorite Tom Cruise film and performance is Jerry Maguire. I remember seeing this film when it theaters not really knowing what to expect. Obviously, I was pleasantly surprised. This was a role Cruise was born to play. He is great as the money hungry sports agent who follows his ambition to become something more. By the end of the film, he not only grows up a lot, but realizes what happiness in life is really all about. Surrounded by great supporting characters portrayed by a then unknown Renee Zellweger, Kelly Preston, Jay Mohr, Jonathan Lipnicki, and Cuba Gooding, Jr (who won the Oscar for his performace). The relationships between Jerry and the other characters is what makes this film such a success. It is one of my top 5 films of all time.
2. Dustin Hoffman got all of the glory for Rain Man, but Cruise had to be equally as good to hold his own against him. One of the most astonishing character driven films I’ve ever seen, Rain Man is not just a story about the reuniting of brothers. It’s about the relationship they form throughout the film, and the change that the older, mentally challenged brother, Raymond, eventually has on his younger brother, Charlie. By the end of the film, it’s very touching to see how spending time with his brother has really affected Charlie and made him a better person.
3. A film that was originally a project for Brad Pitt, Cruise took over the role in Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai and made it his own. The emotions that his character, Nathan Alfren, goes through in this film covers pretty much everything in the spectrum. From hate and depression to love and respect, the film soars on the shoulders of Cruise. He is believable in the role, which was a big question mark when the film came out. The film also introduces us to Ken Watanabe, who goes toe to toe with Tom throughout the picture, and does an equally good job. Breathtaking action sequences filmed with a lot of heart, and a finale that will make your jaw drop, The Last Samurai is one of the best movies of its kind.
4. Who doesn’t like this film, really? Yes, Jack Nicholson gives the most memorable performance in A Few Good Men, but Tom plays the cocky young Lt. Daniel Caffee perfectly. He really turns on the acting skills when he is put opposite Nicholson in several scenes, and creates a nice balancing act between the two characters. Let’s not forget about Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollack, Kiefer Sutherland, and the many others, who together managed to make the film even more popular. The story about the murder of a marine under the watch of Col. Nathan Jessup (Nicholson) is intriguing, and director Rob Reiner paces the film along marvelously so by the end when Cruise faces off with Nicholson…it’s cinematic bliss.
5. Paul Newman won the Oscar for his performance in The Color of Money and it was well deserved. Just like Rain Man (where Dustin Hoffman won the Oscar), the performance of the sidekick in this case was important to help bring out the best in the lead actor. Cruise, once again, knocks it out of the park. It’s a very well acted film, and the build up to the finale is well done. A lot of people forget that Martin Scorsese directed this picture. The Color of Money is a movie that still holds up well today.
6. A lot of people forget that Cruise has worked with some big time directors. When he joined Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July back in 1989, a lot of people wondered if he could pull off portraying disabled war veteran Ron Kovic. Well, one Oscar nomination later, the critics were silenced. Not only did the film get solid reviews, and earn Stone a best director Oscar, it managed to solidify Cruise as an actor who had a wide range. This garnered respect from those in the industry, and showed that Tom was willing to take risks with his career.
7. Another example of great casting, Collateral starred Tom and Jamie Foxx, and they managed to make a lot more out of this film than there was on script. I do like this film, a lot, and I’m a big fan of Michael Mann’s work, but without Cruise and Foxx, the film would have just been mediocre. Another movie where, initially, the idea of Cruise playing an aging hitman was a bit difficult to grasp. However, once his character Vincent (also his character name in The Color of Money) shows up on screen, all of the doubt just fades away. He is remarkable here, and even manages to give Vincent a bit of heart by the end.
8. An ensemble cast put together by Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia gave us many memorable characters, but none more than Frank ‘T.J’ Mackey, portrayed by Cruise. He was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the motivational speaker from the film, and even won the Golden Globe. The film is a real character driven film, and due to the fine writing by Anderson, you become interested from the beginning and it stays with you until the very end. Even though the film was not a huge finanical success, it found new life on dvd and has kind of become a cult fave.
9. You might be wondering why Mission: Impossible III and Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol make the list, and not part one and two? Well, I wanted to honor Tom’s covert secret agent Ethan Hunt because I think the series as a whole is very good and the third and fourth entries are not only the best, but probably the most underrated. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the first one due to the clever writing and inventive action sequences, and John Woo’s take on the second one was slick and stylish. But J.J. Abrams concept for the third film gets back to the incredible action and a great, easy to follow plotline. Cruise is equally good in all 3 films, but M:I III is the a great combination of both. Ghost Protocol gave us a great villain, magnificent action sequences, and fun, exciting sidekicks portrayed by Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg. The film features an amazing opening jail break sequence and top notch, well directed action scenes directed by Brad Bird. Cruise is once again in top form and kicks major ass yet again as Ethan Hunt.
10. You can’t really have a top 10 Tom Cruise list without Top Gun. Yes, the film has cheesy moments and a little over the top drama, but you have to admit that it’s fun to watch. This is the one that made him a box office superstar. The story is simple, but the direction of Tony Scott mixed with a production by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, gives us some high octane aviation sequences. Those scenes combined with the love story between Maverick (Cruise) and Kelly McGillis (Charlie) made the film a must see back in 1986…yes, it’s that old. Top Gun made stars out of not only Cruise, but also Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards. There is rumor circulating that a sequel may be in the works, and I actually think it may be good if properly done.
Tom has made many other good films that didn’t quite make the top 10 list, but he has also had a few duds. Interview With the Vampire, Minority Report, Tropic Thunder, and Risky Business nearly made the top 10, and to date, his biggest misstep has been Eyes Wide Shut. The film was just odd and felt unneccessary. It was a difficult film to watch and goes under the category ‘trainwreck’.
I look forward to seeing future Tom Cruise projects, including the Les Grossman film, The Hardy Men (with Ben Stiller), Rock of Ages (currently playing) and Jack Reacher (coming Christmas 2012). Cruise, despite his so-called personal flaws, is one of the best actors of our generation. His work has been consistent, and many of his films have been memorable in a good way. One other thing…Happy Birthday Tom! He turns 50 today.