a woman under the influence, academy award, belfast, best actor, bill the butcher, brian cox, carl theodor dreyer, daniel day-lewis, daniel plainview, emily watson, father figure, gangs of new york, gena rowlands, george michael, gerard mcsorley, hallmark channel, in the name of the father, ira, jim sheridan, john cassavetes, juliette binoche, ken stott, La passion de Jeanne d'Arc, lena olin, leonardo dicaprio, lincoln, maria falconetti, martin scorsese, method acting, my left foot, oscar, paul dano, paul thomas anderson, philip kaufman, prague spring, steven spielberg, the boxer, the passion of joan of arc, the troubles, there will be blood, tony kushner, unbearable lightness of being, winner
I’m not sure it needs to be said, but I’ll state it for those who may not realize it – Daniel Day-Lewis is the best actor working today. In the event he chooses a role to play, he goes (to use a phrase common in my home state of Indiana) whole hog, often times remaining in character for the entire film shoot. His is a dedication that is few and far between in Hollywood and would account for why his filmography is fairly small for a man who has been working in film since 1980 appearing in only 19 feature films. He has created so many lush and wonderful characters, it seems like he’s done far more work than that. Now – I’m going to admit something that is fairly shameful, especially since I dearly love DDL‘s work – I’ve never seen My Left Foot all the way through. GASP! As an aforementioned proud Irishman, it’s hard to admit that. I’ll get around to it at some point.
That said, here are my five favorite Daniel Day-Lewis performances:
5) Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln
I really didn’t like this movie at all and only saw it because I wanted to see Day–Lewis. His performance was the only thing worth watching. Not only did he inhabit the part, he looked it as well. Sweet damn, it’s like Lincoln is sitting right there. Had this script been better (hard to believe someone like Tony Kushner wrote something as contrived and boring as this script), I think this film might have hit me in the gut a little more. Really, it was just Spielberg giving us another one of his father figure (no, not the George Michael song)/father-as-savior films. Boooring. That the film was/is too speechy and leads us to believe that everything that poured from Lincoln‘s mouth was worthy of Bartlett’s Quotations is an understatement. To DDL‘s credit, though, he made them sounds damn well worthy. I firmly believe this film will be forgotten (as it was by the voters of every major film award’s committee this year) in the years ahead aside from DDL‘s performance. He carried this film like a papoose. His method of remaining in character for the duration of filming clearly affected the performance for the good. No surprise that he won Best Actor at the Oscars for this performance. I honestly think that award was handed out when he accepted the role.
I will reiterate the fact that I really thought this film was more like a Hallmark Channel film than anything. Spielberg lost his edge a long time ago. But DDL? Spot on as usual.
Here’s the trailer:
4) Tomas, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
As sex-crazed neurosurgeon Tomas in Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Milan Kundera‘s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, DDL shows us a side of him that up to this point in his oeuvre had yet to be seen (although it’s really only his second starring role) – a loathable character. His complicated relationships with Sabina (Lena Olin who is FANTASTIC in this) and Tereza (Juliette Binoche) unfold amidst the Prague Spring in 1968, window dressing for the unraveling of a country as well as personal relationships. You love and hate Tomas in this film and it’s DDL‘s charisma that makes the entire film click. Binoche and Olin are integral to this as well, but their orbits revolve around Tomas. Without the chemistry between him and the two women, this film is nowhere near as successful. This was the first of DDL‘s performances I saw. I wasn’t sure what to think of the film in that initial viewing, but it was readily apparent that DDL was a talent.
Here’s the trailer:
3) Danny Flynn, The Boxer
DDL wouldn’t be true to his roots if he didn’t get his IRA on. As boxer Danny Flynn, who has been released from prison after 14 years inside, DDL crafts a fantastic performance capturing the struggle at the heart of The Troubles – Catholics vs. Protestants – and how this conflict has torn apart both communities. While my sympathies have always lain with the Catholics, DDL‘s turn as someone who, having experienced The Troubles in armed conflict firsthand, decides to stay above the fray when returning back to his old neighborhood in Belfast. His chemistry with Emily Watson is electric. With top notch talent like Watson, Brian Cox and Gerard McSorley (can this man play anything other than shitheads?) surrounding him, DDL has plenty to work off of. Flynn’s relationship with the drunk trainer Ike (Ken Stott) is the where DDL shines the most though. A solid film and the second in the DDL‘s collaboration with director Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father).
Here’s the trailer:
2) Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood
Perhaps DDL‘s most iconic role, his performance as Daniel Plainview, the unscrupulous oilman, won him his second Oscar. Another notorious instance of DDL staying in character throughout production, it’s hard to find any fault with this performance. This is 160 minutes of raw, pure acting at its finest and Plainview is on screen for the bulk of it. Working with Paul Thomas Anderson clearly suited DDL and I long for the day that they collaborate once again. The high points of this film are in the interaction between Plainview and the Rev. Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). Their battles are as epic as they come, the battle of greed vs. good, evil vs. the (not-so) righteous culminating in one of the most spectacular endings I’ve ever seen (as stated here). This is probably one of the top 10 finest performances I’ve ever seen…and it isn’t even his best. That says something.
Here’s the trailer:
1) Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, Gangs of New York
Without a doubt one of the most haunting performances I’ve ever seen, DDL as Bill “The Butcher” stuck with me for months after seeing this the first time. The growl of his voice, the squint of his eyes, the greasy curls of his hair – all of it was absolute perfection. I would say that Cutting is the scariest villain I’ve ever seen. Here’s DDL doing his thing:
That he was based on a real-life person (although spruced up by Scorsese for the film’s sake), makes me all the more glad I was born when and where I was. I don’t think I would have fared very well in the 1860s. I wish DDL had had a better counterpart than DiCaprio in this film. I have no problem with Leo per se, but he just couldn’t keep up. DDL owned every scene in the film. It’s hard to have sympathy for the main character when this is the case.
I will say this to anyone – outside of Gena Rowlands‘ performance in John Cassavetes‘ A Woman Under the Influence and Maria Falconetti‘s in Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s La passion de Jeanne d’Arc, I’m not sure that there is a finer performance committed to celluloid than this DDL as Bill the Butcher. As uneven as Gangs of New York is, DDL carries the day and I watch in awe each time.
Here’s the trailer:
So, Daniel, if you are reading (and why wouldn’t you be reading this terrific ass piece) – please give a few more performances like this one before you hang it up and go back to being a cobbler. I would surely love to see you and your wife Rebecca Miller work together again as well. You have given me some of the finest cinematic moments of my viewing life. Thank you. I’d hate for that to end.