Marcus Berkmann: Is Tom Cruise really better - or am I getting old?

I remembered I had vowed never to see a Tom Cruise film again
Click to follow

Trying to forget all the appalling things I have said to people over the past fortnight while drunk, I read that Tom Cruise has been voted the most irritating of current actors, ahead even of Jennifer Lopez.

What's more, readers of the same magazine - and I think we can safely assume that they were different readers - also voted him the greatest film actor of all time. What a pleasing double. Arsenal's in 1970-71 hardly compares. As he struts around one of his many houses on his annoying, bandy, little legs, Cruise must be marvelling at his wonderfulness, just as he has done in so many of his film roles. And thousands of filmgoers are rejoicing with him, and wondering how he gets away with it.

I have to admit something here. I don't find him quite as irritating as I used to. Time was when, like many otherwise temperate and law-abiding people who open windows for small insects, I could not sit through a Tom Cruise film, could not even contemplate it. That broad grin, that strut, that overwhelming self-satisfaction: the combination nullified all other merits the film might have had, just as his delight in being Tom Cruise overwhelmed any pretence on his part that he was playing someone else. Apparently they call it star quality, this ability to transcend the role you are playing without being murdered in cold blood. When he finally got round to acting, in Born on the Fourth of July, he did so much of it they nominated him for an Oscar. I remember staying up to watch just to make sure he didn't win.

People mellow. We get married, have children, start buying sheds. I think I was about halfway through Minority Report before I remembered that I had once vowed never to see a Tom Cruise film again. I felt encouraged. Something within me had changed, I had moved on.

Then I happened to catch a few moments of A Few Good Men on the telly and realised that, no, I had not moved on at all. Tom Cruise had simply improved. It was really the only option he had, but at least he'd had the nous to take it.

At yet another party this week, before the red wine took hold, I chatted with bloke friends about Cruise and other improbably infuriating film stars. The magazine poll also mentioned Jennifer Lopez, who famously goes nowhere without two people whose sole job is to tend her eyebrows; Julia Roberts, who annoys all women in the world; Adam Sandler, loathed by everyone over 25; and Jim Carrey, who has yet to make the possibly life-changing discovery that he isn't funny.

We wondered about Tom Hanks, who always gets that look on his face about 30 minutes into a film that says "this should be worth a nomination"; and of course Robert De Niro, especially when (a) he is playing comedy, as in Meet the Fockers, and (b) when he isn't. As the wine flowed and voices became raised, we discovered that almost every film star who had ever lived drove someone round the bend. Everyone, that is, except Sean Connery, who continues to retain total respect. And Marilyn Monroe. And, for possibly slightly different reasons, Sid James in the Carry On films. We then had a fascinating conversation about sheds.

Magazine polls exist only to get people talking about them, and ideally mentioning the magazine, as I seem to have forgotten to do. But Tom Cruise's double whammy illustrates the strange randomness of film stardom. It's not just possible for irritating short arses with no discernible talent to become global megastars; it's close to a raging certainty. No wonder the rest of us drink like fish at Christmas parties, and talk nonsense about garden implements.