Our hero: Daniel Day-Lewis
They should start naming the Oscar award for best actor the 'Daniel Day-Lewis award' such is the superiority of his talent over even the very finest of his peers. The evergreen 55 year-old just seems to get better with age, as proved by his latest performance in the Steven Spielberg biopic Lincoln, where he managed to pull off the formidable task of giving a worthy representation of one of the greatest American leaders in history.
Yet we shouldn’t be surprised; time and time again Day-Lewis has pulled off acting performances of remarkable scale with ease, a man who leaves no stone unturned in his quest for artistic perfection, each performance is no noticeable because – unlike some – you can clearly see the joy and passion he is taking from his job even after so many films. So what do we rate as his best roles?
My Left Foot (1989) - Christy Brown
The movie where we all first truly saw his greatness. Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for this role, and the first where he proved how strong he was at fulfilling the lead role of a biopic. The actor played Christy Brown, an Irish author, painter and poet who had cerebral palsy and could only paint or type with the toes of one foot. Day-Lewis sensitive treatment of the subject without shirking on illustrating fully the difficulties Brown faced in his life, made him a shoe-in for best actor. He prepared for the role by spending time getting to know people with disabilities at Sandymount School Clinic.
In The Name Of The Father (1993) – Gerry Conlon
There was to be no Oscar win for this one, as Day-Lewis teamed up once again with director Jim Sheridan for another biopic, but this was another great showing from the actor who once again took on a difficult subject in the Guildford Four, four people falsely convicted of the IRA’s pub bombings in the British town of the same name. In some ways it wasn’t much of a departure for Day-Lewis, given the Irish backdrop of the film, yet it was a role that consolidated opinion of his rising talent.
Gangs Of New York (2002) – Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting
It’s crazy to think that a whole nine years past before the actor took part in another high profile; yet that’s always been his way, Day-Lewis preparation for a role often so intense that he only feels able to do it when something comes along he’s really into. That so happened when Martin Scorsese came a-knocking for this historical drama set in 19th century New York. Day-Lewis blew a strong cast away, even a much matured Leonardo Di Caprio who played Day-Lewis’ adversary Amsterdam Vallon. The film showed the relentless march of time and technology beyond old rivalries, and Day-Lewis was enigmatic as Cutting, his power over New York gradually slipping away as new ideas and ways of thinking came in.
From The Archive: Read Contact Music's review of Gangs Of New York
There Will Be Blood (2007) – Daniel Plainview
There Will Be Blood was a masterpiece from start to finish and with a cast and crew who were all at the top of their game. Yet it was Day-Lewis who again trumped them all, reveling in the darkness of Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction, and in some ways dealt with similar themes of industry and cold-blooded progress that Gangs Of New York had focused on. Starring as gold miner-turned-oilman Daniel Plainview, he took another Academy Award home for best actor, his focus and commitment to the role again being highlighted by critics.
From The Archive: Read Contact Music's review of There Will Be Blood
Lincoln (2012) – Abraham Lincoln
We’re going to go out on a limb and say that this is in his top five. The gravitas of the role, the sense that if it had gone wrong many Americans might’ve gone as far as saying he’d insulted one of the greatest characters in their history. The pressure was on. Yet, whilst the film will have plenty of competitors for best picture at the 2013 Oscars, it’s hard to see who is going to come anywhere near Day-Lewis noble performance as Lincoln which is about as flawless a turn as you could hope to see. We’re putting another Academy Award in his hands for this one.