#262. Tom Cruise

Say what you will about his personal life, be it the tabloid headline-inducing relationships or his involvement with Scientology, but Tom Cruise has been in a lot of movies. But what seems to be the unique element to his prolific career is the fact that most of his movies were recognized as “Tom Cruise films”; that is, films that star Tom Cruise. While his early career has had a few minor roles, and his later career also includes the occasional bit part (via a cameo), most of Tom Cruise’s roles have been in the leading capacity for the majority of his career. Perhaps the genius of his unique personal life frequently making the headlines of grocery store checkout lines is that we are often reminded that he is starring in a new film sometime soon. This week’s two films highlight some of the varied work that Tom Cruise has done on the big screen.

                                         Mission Impossible: Ghost ProtocolMission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

Perhaps what has given Tom Cruise his success is two-fold: being cast by a lot of legendary directors and a knack for action films. Quite early in his career, he worked with Francis Ford Coppola on The Outsiders (1983), which no doubt opened the door for him working with Martin Scorsese (The Color of Money (1986)), Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men (1992)), Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut (1999)), Steven Spielberg (Minority Report (2002) & War of the Worlds (2005)), and J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III (2006)). While there are plenty of other directors who have tied Cruise into their movies, the theme that is often seen in a fair number of his roles is that he excels at action. One of his franchises that epitomizes this is that of the Mission: Impossible series. With five films under his belt as Ethan Hunt, this 20+ year franchise helped to get him where he is today.

Because of a semi-botched mission to extract some information from the Kremlin that resulted in the famous Russian building being destroyed, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team have been disavowed from the United States via the “Ghost Protocol”. Now it is up to them to find the perpetrator of the Kremlin bombing, a mysterious man who goes by the name of “Cobalt.” In their pursuit, the team finds that Cobalt is attempting to strike up an international war between the United States and Russia since his new target is to obtain Russian launch codes for their nuclear missiles. Intercepting the codes in Dubai, all of the members of the IMF team are prepared to do what it takes to stop Cobalt. Unfortunately, as their plans begin to fail, it’s down to the wire to stop an incoming nuclear missile from detonating on San Francisco.

Rain ManRain Man
Year: 1988
Rating: R
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

While Cruise has proven that he can go the distance for action films, he has also shown that he can excel in dramas as well. In fact, his three nominations for an acting Oscar have been from dramas. Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire (1996), and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) gave him the nominations from the Academy, but none of them earned him the coveted gold statue. That’s not to say that these (and other) films haven’t won big at the Oscars. For instance, Rain Man (1988) ended up being the Best Picture for that year. Of course, once again the mark of famous directors is at play here, as many of Tom Cruise’s more dramatic roles have been in the films guided by the experienced hands of a skilled director. It’s no wonder that Rain Man also won an Oscar for Director, Barry Levinson.

Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is one of those fast-talking, deeply-in-debt scumbags who is always trying to break it big by dealing in less-than-exemplary deals. His recent deal quickly falling through places him many tens of thousands of dollars in debt, which is why he is pleased to hear that his rich and estranged father has died. Unfortunately, none of the money of the estate is bequeathed to him. Instead, this money is willed to a mental institution where Charlie finds he has a heretofore unknown older brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). Raymond is severely autistic, but also has the qualities of a savant that Charlie tries to exploit to make money in Las Vegas counting cards. While Raymond’s strict routines stresses the brothers’ relationship, they eventually grow close enough that Charlie no longer cares about the money and would rather have a brother than be rich.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 classic Cruise roles

Bacon #: 1 (A Few Good Men / Kevin Bacon)

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#261. Brad Bird

Have you ever had a dream job as a child? Many kids will look around and determine that they want to be firemen, police officers, astronauts, and doctors as their dream profession. Of course, once many of them realize the kind of work required to obtain these dream jobs, most children give up on these dreams to obtain employment in something more practical. That being said, there are those special few kids who work hard at obtaining their dream job. Brad Bird is one of the examples of someone who made it into his dream profession. As a child, he set out to become an animator, which brought him attention and scholarships from Disney (he was even mentored by one of Disney’s best animators). The proof of his success in animation is in the films he has directed. This week’s two films highlight some of the animated and non-animated films Brad Bird has directed.

The IncrediblesThe Incredibles
Year: 2004
Rating: PG
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

After Bird had completed his education at Cal Arts (along with classmates John Lasseter and Tim Burton), he dove into the animation world. Working The Simpsons for its early seasons, Bird eventually directed his first full-length animated film: The Iron Giant (1999). Despite the film not performing well in the box office, many consider it to be an animated classic. Due to his connection with John Lasseter, Bird approached Pixar and was able to create The Incredibles (2004). This film earned him his first Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Three years later, Bird would be tapped to direct Ratatouille (2007), thus earning him another Best Animated Feature Oscar. While this was the last animated feature that Brad Bird directed, he is slated to direct the sequel to The Incredibles in 2019, perhaps earning him another Oscar in the process.

Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) is tired of his suburban life. Trapped in a thankless job where he can’t help anyone, Bob longs for the past where he could live up to his potential as a superhero. At home, he and his wife, Helen (Holly Hunter) try to keep their identities hidden, since superheroes are now outlawed. After getting fired from his job, Bob receives an invitation to don the suit of Mr. Incredible again to assist in defeating a rampaging robot on Nomanisan Island. This change in lifestyle reinvigorates Bob, which causes Helen to suspect he is having an affair. Investigating further, she accidentally puts herself and her children in danger as they fly to the mysterious island. Once there, they must fight their way back to civilization to save the citizens of Metroville from another rampaging robot.

Mission Impossible: Ghost ProtocolMission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

While Brad Bird has focused on animation for a lot of his career, he has breached the realm of live-action films. Despite the somewhat limited abilities of live-action when compared to animation, Bird has had mixed success in the medium. His most recent foray into live-action, Tomorrowland (2015), was not very well received by critics or audiences. However, his addition to the Mission: Impossible franchise, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), not only revitalized the franchise, but also set a record as the most successful film in the franchise to date. With only a few films in total under Brad Bird’s belt, I would be interested to see if another live-action film were to follow in the Tomorrowland footsteps or in the more successful footsteps of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

After breaking Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Moscow prison, the IMF team then proceeds to infiltrate the Kremlin in order to find information on someone named “Cobalt”. Unfortunately, the Kremlin is destroyed in such a way that Ethan and his team are suspected to be the perpetrators. After this incident, the “Ghost Protocol” is enacted, which means that the United States will disavow any secret agents while also providing them with latitude to go after the mastermind behind the attack. Now the IMF team has tracked Cobalt to Dubai, where he plans to attack the U.S. with Russian nuclear missiles in order to instigate both sides into an all-out war. While Cobalt succeeds in launching a missile from a submarine, Ethan and his team are quickly working to disable the warhead before it destroys San Francisco.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best by Brad Bird

Bacon #: 2 (The Incredibles / Holly Hunter -> End of the Line / Kevin Bacon)

#198. Jeremy Renner

Have you ever noticed that some actors just appear out of nowhere? One year they’re doing minor roles, then the next they’re on the red carpet, nominated for an acting Oscar. Depending on how long they’ve been acting before they break onto the A-list scene, their career will often flourish and grow from this point forward. The visual recognition of someone really helps to bolster their involvement in bigger-budget films, thus propelling them further into stardom. The trick then remains of maintaining that visibility in films. Some are able to do it well and eventually win the awards they were nominated for when they arrived on the scene. Others burn out and aren’t seen much after a few years. Jeremy Renner is definitely the former of these two scenarios, and this week we will highlight two of his leading roles.

The Bourne LegacyThe Bourne Legacy
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours

One way to maintain your popularity with audiences is to become involved with a franchise. This way, you will always have a role to fall back on if your other projects don’t pan out. After Jeremy Renner hit the scene in the late 2000’s, he was picked up on two long-running and popular franchises. These two franchises put him alongside some famous actors, which means he’s still in a supporting role for now. In the Mission Impossible franchise, Renner portrays William Brandt, the chief analyst to the IMF Secretary, whereas in The Avengers, he portrays Clint Barton (codename: Hawkeye), an archer agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. These two roles fit in nicely with his involvement in another action franchise: the Bourne series. Instead of a support role, he takes on the main spotlight in the fourth film for this franchise that relied on Matt Damon for three movies.

In the world of covert government operations, the Department of Defense has its own “super soldier” program in “Operation Outcome”. This is a different program from the Treadstone and Blackbriar initiatives run by the CIA, the very same of which created the titular Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). One of Operation Outcome’s best agents is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who is in Alaska for a training exercise. Even though the DoD program uses chemical enhancements of its soldiers, the fact that the CIA programs are now under increased scrutiny causes them to shut down Outcome. After surviving a drone attack on the Alaskan cabin where he was staying, Cross soon finds out that the “chems” he uses for his job are the only thing keeping him alive. He’s addicted and must now carefully find his way back to society to get more of his pills, all the while evading government detection.

The Hurt LockerThe Hurt Locker
Year: 2008
Rating: R
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

Before The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner was in a lot of films that didn’t do very well, critically speaking. Most see his involvement with this Best Picture as his arrival as a movie star. The nomination he received for Best Actor in this film was also evidence to this as well. It wasn’t long before he was nominated again, this time for Best Supporting Actor in The Town (2010). Even though he wasn’t nominated for anything in American Hustle (2013), the fact that he is regularly cast in films that are seen as award-worthy shows that he has figured out how to prolong his career. The strategy is twofold: act in “fun” films to get audiences to like you, while also making sure to act in “serious” films to get the critics to like you. I look forward to seeing if this strategy will pay off for him as he continues his career.

A fitting match to the aforementioned The Bourne Legacy, the opening quote of The Hurt Locker is quite apt, “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” William James (Jeremy Renner) is a Sergeant First Class who is assigned to Iraq to lead an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit for the U.S. Army. After a series of close calls and diffused bombs, it becomes clear that James does what he wants, regardless of the consequences to him or his team. Unfortunately for his team, he gets results. The thrill of adventure soon disappears as he is sent home to his wife, Connie James (Evangeline Lilly). Raising their infant son together doesn’t provide nearly enough excitement, so it’s William’s decision to go back to Iraq to do what he loves: diffusing the bombs that threaten the safety of everyone.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 remarkable Renner roles

Bacon #: 2 (American Hustle / Robert DeNiro -> Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)