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The A-List: Tom Cruise

Originally, I set out to make a list of the current crop of a-list actors.  I was going to write up arguments for and against the inclusion of certain actors on the list.  But I quickly realized that this was unwieldy.  Not only was it time consuming, it made for very scatter-shot reading.  Instead, I have decided to handle this subject in a series of one-offs. 

For my first subject, I have selected Tom Cruise.  Cruise’s career has always been a fascinating one to watch.  His reign atop the A-list in almost unprecedented.  After gaining acclaim in films like Risky Business, Cruise became an international box office super star with Top Gun.  And for 20 years after that, Cruise was the consummate Hollywood super star.

Cruise in the movie that cemented his status at the top of the A-list, Top Gun.
I have never been an especially big fan of Tom Cruise as an actor.  To me, he has always been a better movie star than an actor.  He’s loaded with charisma that makes him an engaging screen presence even though his range is arguably limited.
 
That was especially true early in his career.  Almost every role Cruise played was some variation on Maverick from Top Gun.  He was the cocksure young rebel with a killer smile in The Color of Money, Cocktail, Rain Man, Days of Thunder, A Few Good Men, etc.
 
Aside from type-casting, those movies have two things in common.  One, they were all box office successes.  (Cruise’s first real box office bomb post Top Gun was 2001’s Vanilla Sky.)  Second, (and to my mind most importantly) Cruise worked with the best directors in the business.
 
Early on in his career, Cruise seemed to recognize the importance of working with top notch directors.  It’s very rare to see Tom Cruise starring in a movie by a journeyman director.  It’s like he’s been checking them off a list.  Scorsese, Levinson, Stone, Howard, Reiner, Pollack, DePalma, Spielberg.  Heck, he even checked off Stanley Kubrick!
 
Even the “lesser” directors in Cruise’s filmography are pretty impressive.  Tony Scott may not have the same level of respect as his brother Ridley (who Cruise has also worked with), but he is a successful commercial director.  Cruise has also caught up-and-coming directors like Cameron Crowe, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird.
 
Of course, the story of Cruise’s remarkable box office winning streak doesn’t make for very interesting reading.  The thing that makes Cruise’s story so interesting is when he seemingly went batshit crazy on national television.
 

It's still funny!

We all remember the infamous couch jumping incident and the fall-out that followed.  Here was a guy we all felt like he knew.  He was arguably the most famous actor in the world.  And while he was plagued by some tabloid rumors about his sexuality and his religion, his personal life had never really played out in the public view.  Even his celebrity divorce from Nicole Kidman was civil.  And now, it looked like the guy was imploding in the messiest way possible.

To make matters worse, Cruise just kept opening his mouth.  He had a public battle with Brooke Shields over depression medicine which led to a painful spat with Matt Lauer.  Cruise came across as argumentative as he accused the affable Lauer (repeatedly) of being “glib”.  The melt-down continued.

Then there was this little number.

If you’ve never seen this leaked Scientology video, you owe it to yourself to watch it!  This is Tom Cruise with the public facade pulled back.  And, man, is he ever crazy!  That shit on Oprah’s couch does not even compare to Cruise preaching the virtues of Scientology like he’s saving the world single-handedly.  (And with the Mission: Impossible soundtrack playing on a non-stop loop in the background).

At the end of the day, none of this would have mattered.  But Cruise’s career stumbled.  I doubt many would argue that Cruise’s strange behavior was at least partially to blame for his failing box office.  Reportedly, Stephen Spielberg was pissed at Cruise for the somewhat disappointing box office of War of the Worlds which he blamed on Cruise’s public image spiral.

In 2006, Mission Impossible 3 was a big budget disappointment that seemed to spell the end for Cruise’s personal action movie franchise.  Many took this as a sign that Cruise was done.  Paramount ended a long-running relationship with Cruise very publicly after the failure of MI:3.  It seemed like the end of an era.

The next test of Cruise’s box office status was 2006’s Valkyrie.  Valkyrie failed to gross 100 million.  This was once unthinkable for a Tom Cruise movie.  However, it did recoup its costs and even made a small profit.  It was not the bomb many made it out to be.

The same can not be said for 2010’s Knight & Day.  Knight & Day was the kind of assembly-line action/comedy Cruise usually wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.  And not surprisingly, it bombed.  The press was only too happy to announce Cruise’s failure.  After a couple of soft performers and one legitimate bomb, many were writing Cruise’s Hollywood obituary.

But they were being premature.  This holiday season, Cruise’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol has been a run-away hit.  The press has been declaring that Cruise is back from the dead.  Most prognosticators expected the Sherlock Holmes sequel to be a big hit while Mission Impossible died a slow death.  But they weren’t paying attention.

The only thing that surprised me about the succes of MI4 is how surprised everyone in Hollywood seems to be by it.  Word of mouth on MI4 was great.  And, it’s the kind of movie audiences want to like. 

Cruise has been on his best behavior in recent years and really, most of us don’t care what the guy is like behind closed doors.  We just want our box office golden boy back.  As long as Cruise doesn’t rub his eccentricities in America’s face, most of us are willing to ignore the fact he refers to us in Scientology weird Scientology jargon and laughs about reading about us in the history books.

Many are proclaiming that Cruise is back on the A-list.  And I agree that he is.  But I would argue that despite a few missteps, he never really left.  True, it was touch and go for a little while there.  I wondered if I might be writing “What the Hell Happened to Tom Cruise” in the not too distant future.  But for the time being, Cruise’s place on the A-list remains secure.

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Posted on January 2, 2012, in A-List, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 49 Comments.

  1. I’m kind of torn w/ Cruise and that surprises me. My gut reaction whenever I hear his name is that of a plastic, tinsel town, manufactured, nut job hack. However when I stop to think about it he has done some good work and he is not a bad actor. I thought Valkyrie was a pretty good show and his 80’s/90’s popcorn flicks are what they are….just good eye candy fun. Collateral was a complicated role and The Last Samurai was a decent “Dances-With-Wolves” type historical drama. He can act a range of emotions believably and doesn’t come off all wooden like so many “fake stars”. I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan, and I still do think he’s a fruit loop but I’m willing to give his movies a chance on the off chance they’ll be good. And ranked based on Hollywood power players you’d have to put him squarely in the A list I suppose.

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    • He’s a grade A nutjob. Maybe not in the same league as Val Kilmer. Or at ;east not as self-destructive.

      But in spite of whatever demons Cruise may have (or maybe because of them) the guy knows how to succeed in Hollywood. If you look at his career, he picks great projects with great directors. He has mega-watt charisma and enough talent to pass muster. Of course when you’re working with the best directors in the world on every single movie, it helps. And I’m sure he’s picked up a trick or two working with the likes of Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman as well.

      I’m not a fan. And if I had to have lunch with Cruise, I’d probably consider gnawing my arm off to escape. But there’s no denying that the guy is the consummate Hollywood movie star… when he remembers to act the part anyway.

      Oh, and he can act too.

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  2. Whatever you think of Cruise he is one thing….a survivor!
    I’m probably even less of a fan than you are, but when I reflect on the fact that I was a teenager when I first saw him in Risky Business, and now half my life later he’s still on the A list it’s nothing short of remarkable.
    Even his meltdown passed me by, that’s why I’m grateful to your post for filling in some gaps, and I especially appreciate the link to the Scientology video.
    That was a real eye opener!!

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    • That video was so captivating. I watched it over and over again. The laughter! To watch it is to remove all doubt about Cruise’s mental state. The guy’s a nutbar. But who cares? He’s an international mega-star. Those kind of guys don’t come around very often. Eccentrisities are part of the package.

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  3. Happy new year! I, too, ain’t the biggest Cruise fan. I do want to share he was just in Pittsburgh for a month long shoot (big year for the ‘burg, movie-wise. Dark Knight tied up Oakland for a week). By all accounts, the few of us locals who got to meet him, he was very gracious. His handlers were, allegedly, butt-heads, but I am sure its a job that attracts folks with esteem issues.

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  4. ps ever read “Bald-faced Messiah”? I think it’s out of print but it is a gem. It’s about the cult founder. Anyhow, have a great new year,including me fellow lebeau fans 🙂

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    • Hey Thom. Happy New Year to you as well. And thanks for sharing you holiday pics! I really enjoyed sharing some holiday memories with you guys.

      I have heard that Cruise is a charmer. Remember when he stopped to resuce some women trapped in the snow? I actually think his heart is in the right place. He’s just got his head screwed on wrong. That will happen when you join a cult.

      Sorry, was that glib?

      I have not read Bare-Faced Messiah. I Googled it and it sounds interesting. I’ll have to see if I can track a copy down.

      I know very little about Scientology. (They are so damn secretive!) But I have done a bit of research. Heck, I sat through Battlefield Earth – Twice! That ought to count for something, right?

      Another favorite Cruise moment is that squirt gun/microphone gag. Again, you really see the facade crack for a second.

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  5. My mom had a crush on Tom Cruise (She also had one on Val Kilmer and Patrick Swayze as well). So she would go to see pretty much anything he was in.

    I’m not a major Cruise fanatic at all. But I’ve seen and liked a great deal of movies he’s in. However I can’t recall going to a movie because of him. It’s either because the premise sounded fun or interesting (The Last Samurai, Ghost Protocol), I’m a fan of the film’s director (Magnolia) or both (Collateral, Minority Report).

    He’s managed to keep himself relevant by working with directors that are good as well as being wiling to push him when need be. Unlike Eddie Murphy who’s more or less worked with journeymen directors over the past couple decades.

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    • That has always been the secret to Cruise’s success. He works with great directors and lets them call the shots. For most of his career, he has had enough power he could run the show. But he knows better. He picks talented directors and gives them the reigns. He may be a loon, but he’s no dummy.

      Pre-Couchgate, Cruise had established himself as a brand name that to many meant “quality”. There was a time when people would go to his movies just because he was in them. The average Joe might not know who the director was, but they knew Tom Cruise had never done them wrong. Movies don’t work that way anymore which is why we may never see another movie star as big as Tom Cruise used to be.

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  6. cruise is an amazing actor he proved with born on 4th of july he has range and can act.

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  7. how about doing one on my favorite actor tom hanks cruise is good but tom hanks has had a better career and has best resume ever. Plus he is the highest grossing actor beating out jackson ford and cruise. all lead roles. You should do one on him like cruise hes an actor who will never be on this list

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  8. how about throw matt damon in there bourne identity succeed on his name alone

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  9. Lebeau, do you think Tom needs a good director to shine? I’ll admit, i’ve always thought that’s part of his success, he works with great directors, but I think he’s a powerful actor in his own right. Few actors have that kind of intensity.

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    • What Cruise has is mega-watt screen presence. That’s his gift. He owns the screen. But to stretch as an actor, yes, I believe Cruise is very dependent on his director. Especially early on. He has always been very careful about which directors he works with which is the secret to his longevity. Cruise works with the best. If they aren’t big names, they are promising upstarts. And when he gets a promising novice director, he nurtures them instead of steamrolling over them like some other stars. He knows where his bread is buttered.

      By this point in his career, I imagine Cruise has probably picked up enough skills that he doesn’t require all that much coaching any more. Is he a great actor? It depends on what you are looking for in an actor, I suppose. He doesn’t have a lot of range. But he can give you that intensity. When he’s on screen, he holds the audience’s attention. To me, that makes him a great movie star. Not necessarily a great actor.

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  10. Do you think the secret and swift divorce process Kathy Holmes executed on Cruise would be an interesting update on this article? I think it was a bit of talk of the town at the time and people were speculating on how she managed that under Cruise’s and his people‘s collective noses.

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    • Honestly, this article needs a TON of work. I din’t think anyone has looked at it in years prior to bodwaya digging it up.

      I have been kicking around some ideas for what to do with the A-list. It’s a series I never invested much time into because WTHH took precedence. If all goes well, you’ll see what I have in mind tomorrow. I am thinking about making it more of a quick hit than a deep dive. Because deep dives take a lot of time and quick hits recharge my batteries in between WTHH articles.

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  11. I’m assuming you mean Katie instead of Kathy. But what on earth does his divorce have to do with his movie career? As for Tom’s range, I wish he’d do a smaller movie again and remind people of his talent.

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  12. You’re right, it automatically does. There’s no getting around that. I’d like to see him do something a little more character driven and less about saving the world.

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    • I’ll give Cruise credit. He does push himself. He stretches from time to time. And usually when he does, it’s pretty good. He was probably the best thing about Magnolia and Tropic Thunder.

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  13. Hes more range then people think such as collateral jerry maguire , a few good men and last sameria the problem is people want to see him more in action flicks although his dramatic roles are hits too. He needs to work with top director and give an amazing dramatic performance like born in 4th of july

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  14. 100% agree. A Few Good Men is one of my favorites and he definitely deserved that Oscar nomination for Born on the 4th of July, but I do think people want to see him in action movies where he’s blowing up buildings and saving the world. He needs to give another great dramatic performance, just like you said.

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  15. valkyrie flopped it was his last dramatic role the failure of that may have strayed away a bit for dramatic roles. Rock of ages also flopped and it wasnt an action.I do enjoy his action films but i enjoy his serious stuff better he is able to demonstrate more charisma in serious work which he has lots of. tropic thunder proved he can do comedy which he should also do more of.But who iam to say iam not his agent and his career is not falling the radar so he dont my advice and i dont see him on this website anytime soon

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  16. Valkyrie made $200 million on a budget of $75 (check box office mojo). It may not have grossed what Tom’s movies usually make, but that sounds like a hit. If it wasn’t for Tom, a movie like that probably wouldn’t have done so well. But yeah, he has tons of charisma and even though Rock of Ages bombed, I thought he was the best part of that movie.

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  17. true and look his upcoming roles there is no dramatic roles.But iam sure as he gets older he will be too old to do action films and resort to dramatic roles .which he shines i wouldnt mind a sequel to jerry maguire

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  18. payton who are your top ten fav actors mine are tom hanks ,costner,hackman,denzel,deniro,cruise,nicholson,williams,freeman and spacey

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    • Depends if you are talking those currently working or all-time.

      Currently working male actors :

      Edward Norton, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Jack Nicholson, Geoffrey Rush, Christian Bale, Ian McKellan, Colin Firth, Anthony Hopkins, Robert De Niro

      All time :

      Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Al Pacino, Alec Guinness, Peter O’Toole, Laurence Olivier.

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  19. Top 10, that’s a tough question. I’d definitely put Tom on the list. Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Jude Law, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn, Joaquin Phoenix, Robert Downey Jr. I do like some of your picks, like Denzel, Deniro, Nicholson. I’ve enjoyed most of them in movies. The number 10 spot is such a tough pick!
    What’s your favorite Cruise movie?

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  20. its definitely jerry maguire perfect combination of drama and comedy.Cruise best performance it was kind of a different role for him but he did good . Instead of playing confident characters like he did in top gun he played a vulnerable flawed human character who dosent have everything in control. he was good. To be honest although u got good taste in movie with the exception of sean penn ,cruise and leo iam not a fan of alot of actors on your list especially pitt. I think we should have an article on robin william cause hes an amazing actor his death is sad

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  21. he has range his character from last sameri different then rain man his performance he more depth then hoffman although Hoffman as great his performance was easy he only had a few ranges of emotions cruise had character development his performance was harder.The only reason some people think he has no range he is such a huge name so its hard to disguised him from his character unlike some one name daniel day lewis who isnt mainstream picks indies isn’t in the news very much so its easy to see the character not him.Hes the only 3 time oscar winnder i know who i get confused looks from movie buffs when i mention him. Not a bad thing he is a good actor.Cruise has the movie star appeal with charisma and leading man looks.But he is also a good actor in traditional sense he can transform from risky business to magnolia he has energy in that roles even though it was short he stole the show a sign of a good actor is someone who turns a small role into something i would say he is better then daniel day lewis

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  22. I agree with you. Jerry Maguire is definitely a great one. I think my favorites are The Firm and A Few Good Men. You nailed it in regards to Hoffman, Tom had to show so much more emotion and create a convincing character arc, which he did perfectly. And this might not be a popular opinion, but i’ve always thought daniel day lewis was overrated.
    I know people might consider Brad more movie star than actor, but i like him. I’m not a huge fan of costner, but i’ve liked a few of his movies. I just heard about Robin, it’s so sad.

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  23. it is sad when i was depressed i watch his standup’s and laugh and feel better good wil hunting woudnt be anything without him i dont have a problem with lewis he is a good but he is too serious he try comedy loosen up and sometimies hes to hammy i would cruise performnce in born 4th of july is better then my left foot lewis always aims for oscar movie its get pathetic sometimes . Too be honest i found brad pitt bland and if u dont like costners acting movie upside of anger and man of steel he steals the show

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  24. Good Will Hunting is a pretty good movie, he added a lot to that. I thought another good Williams performance is One Hour Photo. And I do think day lewis always seems to be aiming for an oscar. My problem is costner is I think he’s bland (just like you think about Brad). To me, he always seems to be playing the same part over and over again. Have you seen The Guardian? That is one movie of his I like.

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  25. watch awakenings he is different then his wild funny performances he calm and reserved and he adds so much to his performances without going over the top he out acts deniro.i recomand lewis takes a risk and maybe do comedy have fun like cruise. Guridan is ok at best not his best. If you think hes bland watch bull durham or a perfect world he bring so much life into those roles.He can convey so much emotion so facial exprissons and little words which is hard to do.Jfk is another good role.I just think pitt is decent when is supporting role with good actors like cruise in interview with vampire or spacey in seven but when he has to carry one on his own like killimg them softly he just is flat not strong enough . I think he hasnt shed that pretty boy image

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  26. Awakenings was a movie my mom liked, I haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet. What you said is what I think the definition of good acting is, all in the eyes and without words. It’s funny because your assessment of Costner is exactly what I think of Pitt. His ability to show emotion. I know not many other people liked this movie, but I love Meet Joe Black. He added so much childlike innocence to the part, as opposed to playing it as sinister as I think another actor might have done.

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  27. what you think of hanks hes my favourite

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  28. I can’t say i’m his biggest fan, but he’s not a bad actor and i’ve enjoyed him in some movies. I know colin farrell may not be on the same level as deniro or nicholson, but what to you think of him?

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  29. i dont think hes a great actor his action films are lame and hes not good at drama. But he was amazing in horrible bosses iam surprised how funny he was i think he should stick to supporting roles in comedies he is kind of funny

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  30. Some Colin performances that I thought were amazing are a home at the end of the world and dead man down. He didn’t say very much in the latter and I thought he communicated so much with his eyes. He definitely has a knack for comedy, I wish he would do more of it.

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  31. i like in horriable bosses how he was able to shed his pretty boy image boy liiking like a wreck I would like colin if he did comedy in bruges was ok. I saw meet joe black i thought pitt had a blank expression. pitt should take acting tips from gosling who is said to be young pitt gosling is considerd sex symbol but can act. Another good robin movie u should watch is fisher king

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  32. I can understand why people took it as a blank expression, but I read more into it. I like that he didn’t chose to play death as dark and sinister. To me it was a look of wonder. He’s like a kid who’s experiencing everything for the first time. It was an original way to go. I haven’t seen the fisher king yet, makes me think on how few serious roles i’ve seen of his. I’m wondering if i should check out insomnia, did you see that?

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  33. good movie he played alot of good dark roles. He was great in that its one of the few good 2000s movie.Anthoy hopkins owned him in that role.I think pitt has gotten worse over the years

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  34. I guess we’ll just agree to disagree. I haven’t liked all of Brad’s movies and he might not be Nicholson-level, but I think he’s done some pretty impressive performances. I thought him and anthony hopkins worked well together in meet joe black and legends of the fall

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  35. i thought pitt was good in oceans thirteen i just dont he is charasmitc but hes more better then clooney

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  36. i really think should do one on hanks hes my fav actor hes still a list his career hasn’t diminished yet his last hit was captain phillips lebeau u think its good idea his films gross the highest do one jack nicholson too

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  37. thanks ill read do u like tom hanks i think u should one on matt damon and jack nihcolson cause damom rarely makes flops and jack is one of the few veteran actors unlike deniro and pacino who dosent make crap

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  38. u lied when u said its far from your best work its grest

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