Going into the holiday season, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol raised a lot of questions. Did the franchise (the last one came out five years ago) and Cruise (at 49) still have juice? After two consecutive weekends at No. 1, the answer is yes and yes. It doesn’t hurt that the film is fantastic. But it also means that Cruise, despite some PR missteps a few years ago, remains a strong cinematic force when he’s got the right material. I like seeing him back on top because I like Tom Cruise — both as a man and as a filmmaker. He remains one of the most dedicated and talented storytellers in the business. I love that he took a chance on Brad Bird, the genius behind The Incredibles, and gave him his first live-action assignment. Cruise does a great job, as always, as Mission‘s Ethan Hunt, but I still like seeing him in character roles best, like the raging self-help guru in Magnolia, or the hitman in Collateral, or the profane producer in Tropic Thunder, or the aging rocker Stacee Jaxx in the upcoming Rock of Ages. No one can run across Dubai in a suit or hang off a skyscraper better than Cruise, but those rich, perfectly executed character parts are the best examples of his often overlooked acting chops and surprising sense of humor.
Speaking of overlooked: Too bad Academy members don’t take action films like Mission: Impossible and comedies like Crazy, Stupid, Love more seriously. They should, because no one knows better than filmmakers that action and comedy are almost impossible to pull off. In this issue, EW’s Oscar expert Dave Karger gives you the state of the race as we close in on the Jan. 24 nominations. And his interview with lead-acting front-runners George Clooney and Viola Davis is a warm, funny, and intimate thing of beauty. Dave has been with EW since he interned here in 1994. He came here a preppy, unassuming Duke-educated kid. That is, until you scratched the surface and found a walking Oscar encyclopedia with an unbridled passion for showbiz awards races and great movies in general. He has a remarkable track record for predicting the Oscars, and from now until the hardware is handed out on Feb. 26, look for him on EW.com, where he’ll keep you up to speed on who’s up and who’s down. And even though Warrior is a long shot for a Best Picture nomination, you can bet he’ll do his damnedest to give it a fighting chance.