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Why Top Gun 2 Could Earn Tom Cruise An Oscar


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After years of nominations, could 2021's Top Gun: Maverick be the film to finally earn blockbuster star Tom Cruise a long-overdue Best Actor Oscar? Unlikely as it may seem, the long-awaited sequel Top Gun: Maverick may be the film that finally nets aging action star Tom Cruise his long-desired Oscar win. Set to be released in 2021 after numerous release date delays, Top Gun: Maverick endured a tortured 34-year production process to bring Cruise back in the title role, and the movie could be what he needs to net a Best Actor win after years of near misses.

Across the decades of his impressive onscreen career, Cruise has been through numerous close calls when it comes to recognition from the Academy. The actor received Best Actor nominations for Oliver Stone's incendiary anti-war biopic Born On the Fourth of July and Cameron Crowe's classic rom-com Jerry Maguire and later earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work in Paul Thomas Anderson's critically acclaimed anthology film Magnolia. But the statuette still eludes the actor, now nearing his sixties.

With so many near misses could a brash, big-budget blockbuster sequel be the film to earn Cruise his Oscar? It's not as unlikely as it may seem, as Top Gun: Maverick offers Cruise a mature mentorship role while still having serious nostalgic appeal for longtime fans. The sequel brings back much of the first film's cast and will follow on from the 1986 hit, but the massive multi-decade gap between installments means the film will inevitably have to tackle issues like aging, mortality, and the changing face of America. And these are exactly the sort of heavy themes that the Academy loves to reward actors for delving into, even if it is in the form of high-octane, high-flying action films.

Top Gun Was Overlooked As A Great Tom Cruise Performance
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As is often the case with films from the late, great, and still-underrated auteur Tony Scott, the sheer cinematic spectacle of the first Top Gun means many critics never gave the film's actors the credit they deserve. Much like Damon Wayans's largely forgotten career-best turn in Scott's later thriller The Last Boy Scout, Cruise's performance in the original cult classic Top Gun balances charm and vulnerability to create a brash, over-confident, but believable and human protagonist. The story of a maverick pilot could easily have been intolerably macho, but Cruise colors the character's cocksure swagger with enough brittle nerviness for viewers to root for him and genuinely hope he succeeds. It's the sort of un-showy performance which is rarely singled out for critical commendation, not unlike Sylvester Stallone's turn as brooding bruiser Rocky Balboa, a role which he never won an Oscar for despite the original film netting both Best Picture and Best Director.

Why Creed Can Offer Top Gun 2 Oscar Hope
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Sylvester Stallone's turn in Ryan Coogler's Creed saw the aging actor earn his first Oscar nomination since the original Rocky, and for good reason. In the decade and a half since Rocky Balboa's 2006 release, the likes of the disastrous Rambo: Last Blood and the critically maligned Escape Plan films have proven that every action star reaches a point of diminishing returns after a certain age, and Stallone's best years as an action hero may be behind him. But in Creed, the quiet dignity that the actor brought to his performance as the iconic boxer proved that not only can he do more than brutal action films, he's able to channel the poignant experience of aging into his onscreen roles. The same goes for Mickey Rourke, who gave the best performance of his extraordinary career as the tired, worn-down title character of Aronofsky's unflinching character study The Wrestler. And while Top Gun: Maverick may be far from The Wrestler, the film shares as much crowd-pleasing blockbuster DNA with Creed as it does with Cruise's other blockbuster franchise, Mission Impossible.

Tom Cruise's Performance Isn't Just Another Stunt-Heavy Showcase
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Cruise's incredible stunt work may well come in handy for the requisite action sequences of Top Gun: Maverick. But unlike his repeated returns to the role of Ethan Hunt, Cruise's part in the Top Gun sequel offers the actor an opportunity to do more than showcase his admittedly impressive physical prowess. There are complexity and depth to the role of Maverick, particularly now that the character is older, maybe a little less hot-headed, and likely to be reflecting on a life of hard living and high risks. This sort of story comes with a level of reflection that demands emotional investment from the audience, something which has been missing from many of Cruise's more recent onscreen outings.

Hell, 2017's American Made managed to make light of Iran-Contra-adjacent history, so the actor is overdue some depth at this stage. While Cruise's focus on spectacular stunts might be what makes the Mission Impossible franchise as fun as the Fast and Furious films, it's also what detracts from their potential for serious emotional stakes. They're popcorn movies β€” extremely fun, well-crafted ones β€” whereas Top Gun: Maverick has the potential to remind viewers of Cruise's dramatic range for the first time since Eyes Wide Shut and Collateral β€” not to mention the well-meaning mid-2000s titles Lions For Lambs and Valkyrie. Unlike these, Top Gun: Maverick is unlikely to be deathly dull.

Will Top Gun 2 Win An Oscar?

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Ultimately, it's impossible to tell whether Top Gun: Maverick will be the film to win Cruise his Oscar. At this early stage, no one can even be sure if Top Gun's sequel will be as successful as Mission Impossible 7, and the movie may end being another misjudged late sequel. But putting Cruise into a mentor role rather than relying on his physical skill will hopefully be the push the actor needs to leave his comfort zone and focus on emotional impact where his outings as Ethan Hunt have instead prioritized jaw-dropping stunt work. It's sometimes hard to recall that the superb supporting star of Rain Man is the same man who somehow signed on for 2017's loud, incomprehensible The Mummy reboot and made cinemagoers miss Brendan Fraser's leading-man charm. So whether or not the Academy recognizes his efforts, hopefully Top Gun's sequel heralds a return of the more understated, and long underrated, Tom Cruise. And if it flops? Well, there's always Edge of Tomorrow 2 to go back to.

Top Gun: Maverick/Top Gun 2 (2021)
Release Date: Jul 02, 2021

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