Can Tom Cruise ever win an Oscar?

Winning an Oscar now looks like a mission impossible for Tom Cruise, who was once a gypped snubbee we all rooted for every year, crying out, "Come on! When are they finally going to give this poor guy his Oscar?"

Since 1990 Cruise has received two nominations he deserved ("Born on the Fourth of the July," "Jerry Maguire") and one he didn't ("Magnolia") and was overlooked altogether for fine performances in Oscar's best picture champ of 1988, "Rain Man," plus "A Few Good Men," "Collateral," even "Ricky Business."

Throughout most of his career Cruise was probably denied a chunk of academy gold because he was too cute and too popular — two blessings that, as every Oscarologist knows, usually curse the kudos hopes of a heartthrob actor. Take, for example, Paul Newman, who didn't win until he was in his sixties and had lost seven times. By then he was so sick of the whole Oscars ordeal that he refused to show up to accept the trophy he finally won for "The Color of Money," which costarred Cruise.


Newman's performance in "Money" wasn't Oscar caliber, but, of course, you don't win awards for great film work. Voters didn't give Reese Witherspoon the lead actress trophy this year for her chirpy supporting role in "Walk the Line." No, no, no. Hollywooders just wanted to give the darlin' transplant from Louisiana an official welcome hug and express how much they wish she'd invite them over for cornpone and grits with Ryan and the kids. No voter gave Nicole Kidman an Oscar for one hambone scene in a plastic nose in a film called the worst of the year by Time magazine, the New York Daily News, Newsday and the Fox News Channel. They wanted to give a gold crown to the discarded queen of Hollywood's box office king. And, sure, to give Cruise a disapproving slap for jilting her.

Nowadays it's starting to look as if everybody would like to give Cruise much more guff, which is a colossal kudos problem. To win an Academy Award, as Sally Field noted, voters must really, really like you and Cruise is losing more and more fans every time he opens his big pompous mouth or jumps on somebody's couch. Worse, he's become a national joke, literally. This weekend millions of moviegoers are laughing at savage parodies of Cruise in the number one box-office hit, "Scary Movie 4," which earned more than $41 million in three days.

Right now it seems impossible to imagine Cruise ever being taken seriously by Oscars' voters, who are notorious snobs obsessed with Cool Factors and how things will look in the history books. When they mark their ballots, voters tell us who they think is "in" and "out" — and right now nobody seems more far out than that prophet of Scientology determined to scare mentally troubled people away from the care of medically trained psychiatrists and into the congregations of his fringe cult.

But what about filmgoers? Will they take Cruise's next big release, "Mission: Impossible III," seriously? He needs their support when it opens on May 5. Its $150 million budget is twice as big as the original and he stands to earn much less money from the film than originally projected. Initially, Cruise was supposed to get 30 percent of the gross even before Paramount earned back its costs, but that was before Cruise's career started fizzling early last summer. Once Cruise's PR meltdown began, Paramount refused to greenlight "M:I 3" until he gave up significant gross points and agreed to give the studio more early box-office cash. If Part 3 does turn out to be a hit, it may be because of the creative chops of director/co-writer J.J. Abrams ("Lost," "Alias") and the sledgehammer perf of Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose deliciously villainous role is being cheered by screening audiences. Oh, yeah, Roger Friedman of reports that test audiences are cheering something else, too: a scene where Tom Cruise gets beaten up.

Hollywood Elsewhere columnist Jeff Wells reports that interest in seeing this "Mission" installment is declining while resistance climbs. Citing data from the National Research Group, he says, "Two figures got my attention: the 37% who said they're definitely interested and the 9% who said they're definitely not interested. My source says that at this same point before the opening of John Woo's 'Mission: Impossible: 2' — almost exactly six years ago — the definite interest number was in the mid 40s and that the definite non-interests were more like 2%." Read more — click here

Photo: While promoting "M:I 3," can Cruise avoid further PR flare-ups?
(Paramount Pictures)

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