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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Silver Screen Surprises of Cuba Gooding Jr.

Silver Screen Surprises Shows You the Money with These Hidden Gems

By Chris Sabga

With the Oscars now behind us, it's easy to wonder where the most recent crop of Academy Award winners – such as Matthew McConaughey and Cate Blanchett – will be a decade from now. What roles will they play? What will their careers look like? Will they still be on top of the Hollywood food chain?

When Cuba Gooding Jr. won the Best Supporting Actor statuette for 1996's "Jerry Maguire," the actor – who famously uttered the line "show me the money!" in his award-winning role – seemed poised to have a big money career.

He probably didn't imagine his post-Oscar trajectory going quite the way it has. Instead of reigning atop the box office, he ended up toiling away in mostly obscure direct-to-DVD movies that gathered dust in video stores, rental kiosks, and bargain bins.

But Cuba Gooding Jr. is an Academy Award winner for a reason: He is an enormously gifted performer with a staggering level of range – no two characters of his are ever the same – and he remains, without exaggeration, one of the best actors in the world.

Here are five "silver screen surprises" from his career, both before and after the Oscar. Some of these went straight-to-video but deserve to be seen by a far wider audience.

Life of a King (2013): Based on the life of Eugene Brown, an ex-con who developed a chess program for inner city high school students, Cuba Gooding Jr. shares the screen with Dennis Haysbert ("24"), LisaGay Hamilton ("The Practice"), and several promising young actors. This particular story is nothing new for Hollywood – you've seen it all before in films such as "Dangerous Minds," "Lean on Me," "Freedom Writers," and "The Ron Clark Story," to name a few – but it never gets old. Cuba, especially, is fantastic. His portrayal of Brown – beaten down and humbled by hardship and past mistakes, but still willing to fight for the right to make a difference – is such a far cry from the arrogant buffoon he played in "Jerry Maguire." This film may not cover any new territory, but it's still incredibly entertaining and inspirational. You'll feel great after watching it. The best part: The real-life Eugene Brown is still teaching kids how to play chess.

Shadowboxer (2005): Before director Lee Daniels became famous for "Precious" and "The Butler," he worked with Cuba Gooding Jr. in what has to be the strangest film of either man's career. How strange? Gooding and Helen Mirren play lovers. Yes, the same Helen Mirren who played the elderly Elizabeth II in "The Queen." If that wasn't enough, Mo'nique and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are also romantically involved. What else can really be said? If that doesn't pique your interest, nothing will. I can't guarantee that you'll actually like this oddity, but you certainly won't forget it.

Dirty (2005): This movie seems to take a few cues from the far more famous "Training Day" – both are about corrupt cops – but Cuba may have actually out-Denzeled Denzel here with a completely a wild, balls-to-the-wall, anything-goes performance that immediately grabs your attention and never lets go. Even though it's been years since I've seen "Dirty," Cuba's crazed character continues to be indelibly etched in my memory.

Judgment Night (1993): Led by Emilio Estevez and also featuring Stephen Dorff, Cuba Gooding Jr. appeared with two other future stars, Denis Leary and Jeremy Piven. The premise: a group of friends take a wrong turn, witness a murder, and then all hell breaks loose. It's a wild ride and one of the most enjoyable and underrated action movies of the '90s.

Coming to America (1988): Everyone has seen "Coming to America." But what most people may not realize is that Cuba Gooding Jr. is in it. He's the boy in the barber shop. Okay, it's hardly a large or important role – his presence certainly doesn't make or break the film. But it's definitely a cool early career highlight for him – not to mention a fun Easter Egg for sharp-eyed viewers to spot and say, "Hey, wait a minute, isn't that...?"

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