Daniel Day-Lewis has been hailed the greatest living film actor, and with the exception of Meryl Streep, and some might argue even that, he might be. The only actor in film history to win three Academy Awards for Best Actor, (Katherine Hepburn won four for Best Actress), Day-Lewis works infrequently, but when he works it is cause for celebration because you can bet the performance is going to be something very special. In addition to winning three Academy Awards he has been nominated two other times. Despite having a career spanning three decades we have gotten to see hardly two dozens of Danial Day-Lewis movies.
He shuns the business, choosing to live in Ireland with his wife and children, and hates the spotlight, the press, and the studio business that often comes with it. Since 1988, twenty five years, he has made just fourteen films, with a period of up to five years between working. When he decides to make a film, he totally immerses himself in the role, refusing to answer to his given name, being the character for the entire duration of the shoot. So great is his preparation for a part he asked Steven Spielberg for a full year to research Lincoln, making sure he had read one hundred or more books about the late President, read extensively about his voice, how he sounded, and his mannerisms. As the great method actors do he gives himself over to the part in every way, and his genius is that it works.
Just once has he faltered and I might be challenged on that, but I did not find his performance in Nine (2009) to be terribly great. There is nothing I can pin down why it did not work for me, it just felt forced, and awkward, as though for the first time we could see him acting, and that has never happened before.
Each performance is radically different from the last, he never seems to repeat himself, and is such a complete chameleon we barely recognize from one film to the next. Is there any other actor who has been so consistently diverse in their roles…if so I am not aware of them. Is he the greatest we have ever had on screen…he might be. Whatever the argument, his performances are more often than not legendary.With that said, here is the list of top Daniel Day-Lewis movies, carefully selected from his impressive filmography. You can stream some of these Daniel Day-Lewis movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
1. There Will be Blood (2007)
As Daniel Plainview, a man driven by greed and his contempt for humanity, Day-Lewis delivers what might be the greatest male performance in film history. Stalking the screen like a predator, sizing up everyone he encounters he is like a lion, his gaze all but turning them to stone. He used an interesting voice here, sounding something like the great film director John Huston, reminding us of his twisted character from Chinatown (1974). An astonishing performance.
2. Lincoln (2012)
I have seen Lincoln. Though he died more than one hundred years ago long before I was born, I have seen him and heard him speak because Day-Lewis created him in this film. From the first moment we see him in the film, speaking to two black soldiers, he IS Lincoln, there is no doubt. Focusing on the last two months of his life, the film strives to show Lincoln as a husband, father and President. Shrewd and smart he knows what he must do to get Congress to pass his bill…and he does just that.
3. My Left Foot (1989)
As Christy Brown, his body twisted and tormented by cerebral palsy, Day-Lewis was a revelation, giving a performance for the ages that won him his first slew of awards. What is remarkable about this performance are how his eyes burn with intelligence and mischief throughout the film, we always see the mind behind the body and limitations, though Brown himself knew none.
4. The Crucible (1996)
This is his greatest performance that no one has seen. As John Proctor, the conflicted hero of Arthur Millers superb play The Crucible, an allegory for McCarhty-ism set during the Salem witch hunt in 1692, he is magnificent. Knowing the girls claiming to see the devil are pretending he sets out to expose them and in doing so condemns himself to death. His roar about his name comes from the depths of his soul and is frightening.
5. Gangs of New York (2002)
Yes it is a big performance, showy and over the top, but it works precisely for that reason, for someone like this, so confident in everything that is his and what he does would be like this I think. Bill the Butcher is always on stage and knows it because he must protect his interests. Ferocious, vicious and unkind, it is a stunning piece of acting which dominates this epic film, almost overpowering the film.
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6. In the Name of the Father (1993)
Based on a true story, Day-Lewis portrays a young man wrongly accused and convicted of a bombing and imprisoned. His father is implicated as well, and at first the two of them are estranged in the jail, but gradually he comes to his fathers side and the two of them lash back at the government and eventually manage to have the ruling overturned. Day-Lewis is intense and intensely brilliant.
7. The Age of Innocence (1993)
Martin Scorsese directed this adaptation of the Edith Wharton book about New York society in the late 19th century. Engaged to be married, he finds himself hopelessly attracted to a Countess, and though their passions run high they each know they cannot have the other. This is a society when a gaze or look can get you in trouble or start rumors. The performances are superb throughout.
8. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
A tremendously brilliant, fierce physical performance in which he always seems to be moving, running, walking, fighting, just always in motion. As Hawkeye the hero of the James Fenimore Cooper novel, Day-Lewis is terrific as a pioneer hero fighting the men over taking the land he loves so dearly. Michael Mann’s superb film was elevated by the performance no question.
9. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
One of his first great performances he is superb as Tomas, a Czech doctor who likes to seduce women with the opening line take off your clothes. Affecting a Czech accent Day-Lewis is at the center of this powerful study of a world in transition in the sixties. Sexual and filled with sexual chemistry, it is an exceptional work.
10. The Boxer (1997)
As a fighter returning to the world he knew before a long stint in jail, Day-Lewis is as always terrific opposite Emily Watson. A tough, uncompromising film with excellent boxing sequences, he trained long and hard for the film, and got himself into peak condition for the picture.
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