One of the saddest days in the history of filmmaking in Hollywood was when veteran actor Daniel Day Lewis announced that he would be retiring from acting after the release of his film ‘Phantom Thread’.
The 61-year-old British actor is hands-down, bar none one of the finest actors to have graced his presence in movies and in our hearts. Born and raised in London, this English actor holds citizenship of both England and Ireland.
Lewis is often counted amongst the greatest method actors who have ever acted on-screen so much so that he would often be so immersed in character throughout the shooting schedules and even sometimes off the sets of his films that sometimes his health was also adversely affected.
Day Lewis is also known as one of the most selective actors to date as he only chose to star in six films since 1998 and sometimes took a leave of up to five years in between his films.
Lewis was given a knighthood in 2014. He is notoriously camera shy and has rarely given interviews and even then is extremely guarded about his private life.
In his career spanning close to 40 years, he has starred in 20 films and won the Oscar for Best Actor on three different occasions for My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007) and 2012’s Lincoln.
Here is a look at his top 10 performances in films till date:
10. The Crucible (1996) – Though the movie was a commercial non-starter, Lewis’ performance as the inimitable John Proctor in the modern day adaptation of Arthur Miller’s classic play was absolutely riveting. Starring opposite Joan Allen, this is one of the most beatific performances by Lewis even though the movie has now become a cult classic.
9. The Last of the Mohicans (1992) – This movie is famous not just for its haunting soundtrack. This Michael Mann adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel was one of the biggest smash hits when it was released. In the movie, Lewis plays the role of a romantic native american hero who sports a long, lustrous mane. The role, in equal parts an action flick and a romantic saga, was a first for Lewis who had never done such a role in the past.
8. The Boxer (1997) – This is one of Lewis’ least heard of roles. Even though his performance as a reformed IRA member who steps back into the ring to become a pugilist after spending a 12-year stint in prison is hauntingly beautiful, this movie failed to leave its mark in the annals of movie making. The movie marked the third collaboration between the actor and Jim Sheridan and it is their least famous one. Though it is a visceral masterpiece.
7. Lincoln (2012) – Even though Lewis won his third Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in this Steven Spielberg directed masterpiece, this movie is not considered his best performance. There is a little fault in Lewis’ stoic performance in this political biopic for one of America’s greatest presidents. But given the collaboration of Spielberg and Lewis for this role, the movie was bound for greatness even before it released.
6. My Beautiful Launderette (1985) – Released simultaneously with ‘A Room with a View’, critics were left stunned by the versatility of Lewis’ performances in the two movies. This 1985 classic was Lewis’ breakout performance in films and was the beginning of his much envied award-winning career. In this movie, Lewis perfectly portrays the role of a bleach-blond young punk whose far-right fascist past gives way to his maturing into becoming gay. Lewis embodied the nuances of his characters’ epiphany with such a grace that it instantly became one of the most notable performances in the history of cinema.
5. In the Name of the Father (1993) – The second collaboration between Lewis and Jim Sheridan resulted in this epic courtroom drama. Lewis plays the role of a falsely accused IRA bomber Gary Conlon. Lewis’ impassioned performance of a man broken by the system got him his second Oscar nomination. However, the film was very controversial owing to its historical inaccuracies and because its courtroom antics were factually incorrect.
4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) – One of Lewis’s least talked about roles, owing to the sensitive nature of the movie, is actually one of his finest performances to date. Lewis’ performance as a womanizing brain surgeon is a piece of artistic genius. Philip Kaufman’s erotic thriller set against the political backdrop of Prague is a renowned piece of work. Lewis’s sensual and charismatic performance as the central character in the movie makes it must-watch.
3. Gangs of New York (2002) – Though widely known as the first collaboration between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, this movie is actually a brilliant piece of filmmaking that features Lewis in top form. The movie was not an out-and-out critical success as it left their opinions divided, but Lewis’ performance was hailed nonetheless. The movie covers the frail conditions of New York in the turn of the 19th Century. Lewis’ performance as Bill the Butcher is often considered one of the finest pieces of screen acting.
2. My Left Foot (1989) – Lewis won his first Oscar for his role as a cerebral palsy-afflicted artist Christy Brown in the 1989 Oscar winner, My Left Foot. Very few actors in even fewer roles manage to strike a chord so deep in our psyche that we crave for such performances. This performance by Lewis did just that. And oh so so much more. However, Lewis’ Oscar hopes were met with competition from Tom Cruise as another wheelchair bound character. Though Cruise’s performance was brilliant, Lewis’ acting chops in this movie simply blew away the competition out of the water.
Honorable Mention: The Age of Innocence (1993) – This 1993 turn-of-age drama was Martin Scorsese’s first collaboration with Lewis. The movie was based on Edith Wharton’s work by the same name. Though this role was not quite as exquisite as his other performances, Lewis’ portrayal of another romantically turbulent hero was a winner at the box office and with the critics.
1. There Will Be Blood (2007) – If ever there was a role that was tailor-made for any actor, it was this. Director Paul Thomas Anderson is known for writing roles especially for the actors he loves and then makes masterful movies around them. One of the finest examples of this collaboration is 2007’s There Will Be Blood. A role that fetched Lewis his second Oscar is by far his finest performance to date.
Lewis plays the role of the demented oil explorer Daniel Plainview who is in equal parts unhinged and filled with a twisted sense of humor. Day Lewis’ performance is touted as the finest piece of acting done by any actor in the history of cinema. The movie is a chilling overview of the psychological troubles of a deeply flawed, morally and spiritually bruised individual who had nothing but corruption in every bone of his body.
Before the list is wrapped up, there is a need to point out that though Phantom Thread, Lewis’ last performance was indeed wonderful, it could not make the cut of his top 10 performances. But the movie gave Lewis a platform to go out on top. If that was the last movie Lewis will ever do, which we all hope is not true, the Paul Thomas Anderson film gave him the send-off he truly deserved.