But when I think carefully about the movies I've seen featuring Tom Cruise, I have to conclude that there is a certain type of big-budget "B" movie (maybe B-plus) that he's really pretty good at. And in his occasional turns in self-parody, he's also very good. Among the Tom Cruise movies I've thoroughly enjoyed: Risky Business, Color of Money, Rain Man, Mission Impossible 1, Magnolia, The Last Samauri, Collateral, Mission Impossible III, Tropic Thunder, Rock of Ages. In fact, when you look at the entire list of 40 or so films, there are really fewer dogs than you might imagine, given the actor is somebody you'd really like to dislike. I realized that I very often wince when going into a theater showing a Tom Cruise movie, only to emerge a couple hours later to say to myself "not bad," or even "pretty darned good."
To this list I'll now add Oblivion, a very stylish and surprisingly thoughtful dystopian sci-fi film that features great special effects, but used in a manner that remains subordinate to an even more interesting story line. This isn't "Star Wars," for example (films that always frankly bored me little with their ridiculous cartoon quality), but much more like "Inception" or "2001" in its visual stylishness and conceptual nature.
It's also a very nice homage to some of the very best classic sci-fi of modern times. It has bit of the best aspects of Star Wars effects, as well as traces of the Matrix, Terminator, Star Trek, Close Encounters, and most significantly, 2001, A Space Odyssey. If you are a fan of modern sci fi classics, you will recognize nods to those films in the imagery and directing.
Now, Tom Cruise's ego is such that he will always be "Movie Star ", and is unlikely to find a more socially conscious position in the Hollywood world, like former pretty-boy actors Brad Pitt and George Clooney pulled off. He could never imagine Cruise working with Terrence Malick in a pure art film, for example. Nor can you really imagine Cruise becoming a politically aware humanitarian spokesman like George Clooney or Ben Affleck. He's too self-absorbed for that. But really, Tom Cruise needs credit where it's due. Oblivion is really quite a good movie, and may be as good a sci-fi thriller as you'll see this year.