1. 'Magnolia' (1999)
"Respect…the cock!" Cruise is not the lead in Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious 1999 multi-character drama (is anybody?), but he lurks, coiled like a venomous snake, at the film's heart. As self-help guru Frank T.J. Mackey, Cruise preaches a loathsome brand of male empowerment, objectifying women and the very idea of femininity with proud abandon. The film interrogates Frank brilliantly, both through a literal interview he has to sit through, and through a non-reconciliation with his dying father later on. It could easily have been a one-note performance – watch the movie star play a vile, loud celebrity, hint hint – but Cruise turns it into a whirling dervish act of competing responses. You start off laughing at Frank, then you're terrified of him, and finally you realize just how irreparably broken he is. Along the way, you realize the depths of this amazing actor's talent. It's a performance that should never ever be forgotten.