best film:  Magnolia is the answer.  As much as I love the entirety of Cruise’s filmography (only 43 IMDB credits to date) this is a two-horse race here between Cruise’s gigantic achievements in 1999 (Magnolia & Eyes Wide Shut). The oddity of it is, I think 1999 killed the artistic ambition in Cruise to some extent. Magnolia, his best film, was a box office bomb and the tyrannical shooting method and schedule (and length) from Kubrick probably killed some spark in Cruise (and his marriage to Kidman—but I digress). Still, it may have been worth it because those are the best two films in year that many critics are calling one of cinema’s finest. What if Clark Gable was in Gone with the Wind AND Stagecoach or what if Daniel Day-Lewis was in There Will Be Blood and ______ (throw in Jesse James, No Country For Old Men, Zodiac). Cruise in Magnolia is a thundering achievement— loud, meticulous, and remarkable.

best performance: I think there’s Magnolia and then a big gap… and then there’s about seven performances that are clumped together behind it virtually tied for second (from the four below on the top five too Risky Business, Born on the Fourth of July, Minority Report). I wish Rain Man and Jerry MacGuire were strong enough to land in their years’ top 10 (their right there on the outside looking in) and I’ve come around on his performance in Eyes Wide Shut and now believe it to be one of his best. Still, these are all nice but not close to his work as Frank “TJ” Mackey. Cruise gets the 2001 theme music introduction, the bombastic speech-making, the intense interview (reminds me of the processing scene in The Master with Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour) and the breakdown scene with his father. It has it all and Cruise is razor sharp- he’s never been better.

stylistic innovations/traits:  Cruise is one of my favorite actors to write about. He’s a box office monster and his career is filled with moments stained in the memory of everyone my age and about 10 years older in Generation X. Some of the iconic moments are pop art (Magnolia speech, Risky Business ray-bans) and some are closer to pop-culture or pop-corn (Top Gun). There’s the iconic smile, the running (lifted from Dustin Hoffman) and the undeniable screen presence. He’s not an actor with great range, but few can play cocky and confident better than Cruise. Cruise can tackle characters with OCD (Magnolia, Collateral) so well because he’s an actor with a penchant for an attention to detail. How about the work with the pool sticks in Color of Money and even the bottles in the failed Cocktail? He’s been quiet for the last decade but even if he’s done with 15 movies in the archives he’s made his mark. He’s done solid work with Kubrick, PT Anderson, Spielberg and Scorsese—nobody else can say that.

directors worked with:   Cameron Crowe is the only auteur more than once—then Oliver Stone, De Palma, Scorsese, Kubrick. Spielberg, Michael Mann  and PTA.

Top 5 Performances:

  1. Magnolia
  2. Jerry McGuire
  3. Rain Man
  4. Eyes Wide Shut
  5. Collateral

Archiveable films

1981- Taps
1983- Risky Business
1986- The Color of Money
1986- Top Gun
1988- Rain Man
1989- Born on the Fourth of July
1992- A Few Good Men
1994- Interview With a Vampire
1996- Jerry McGuire
1996- Mission Impossible
1999- Eyes Wide Shut
1999- Magnolia
2001- Vanilla Sky
2002- Minority Report
2004- Collateral
2008- Tropic Thunder