The Top 10 Most Unforgettable Daniel Day-Lewis Characters
There's never been anyone better.
Film buffs everywhere went into virtual mourning when Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting, in 2017. The following statement was released by a representative of the actor, at the time:
"Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor. He is immensely grateful to all of his collaborators and audiences over the many years. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject."
That news was crushing to both the actor's fans and the entire film community. Day-Lewis is arguably the finest talent of his generation, if not all time. He didn't make many movies, but his impact will span centuries.
Day-Lewis is the only man to win the Best Actor Academy Award three times. He was nominated in the category for 30 percent of his films (six nominations for 21 movies). Day-Lewis has had a career for the ages. However, choosing his finest work is like shopping for a Lamborghini. It's near-impossible to pick one. We're going to try, and try to do the Great One justice in doing so.
10. Cecil Vyse - A Room with a View (1985)
DDL's portrayal of the E.M. Forster character brings comic relief to the well-mannered A Room with a View. The pretentious Cecil Vyse is a quintessential dandy fop and DDL couldn't be more convincing. He once called the character "a bound-up aesthetic who can't open his mouth without clearing the room."
9. Johnny Burfoot - My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
The same year DDL appeared as Vyse, he also played a bleach blond homosexual punk named Johnny in My Beautiful Laundrette. It's another stellar supporting role, but a much riskier one than Vyse. Day-Lewis was never afraid of taking on a challenge and this one got him noticed in a major way during the '80s.
8. Reynolds Woodcock - Phantom Thread (2017)
Day-Lewis's sixth Oscar nomination for Best Actor came via his second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson. As haute couture dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock, the actor is lithe and dignified, arrogant and unyielding. And especially when he takes a young waitress, played by Vicky Krieps, as his muse. But DDL defies expectations in the film, and shows he can really do anything on-screen.
7. Hawkeye - The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Hawkeye, the adopted white son of Chingachook, is a moral hero for all-time. Immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his seminal novel set during the French and Indian War, Hawkeye is even more vivid onscreen thanks to Day-Lewis. With long, flowing hair and a bravery that belies the savagery of the time, he's almost out of time in the film. It's his greatest action performance.
6. Gerry Conlon - In the Name of the Father (1993)
Day-Lewis' portrait of the wrongly convicted Gerry Conlon is a sweeping performance of a man over many periods of his life. Conlon, a hippy imprisoned for a vicious IRA bombing in England, fights the system for years, watching the police arrest members of his family along the way. DDL brings the joy of freedom, the bewilderment of being wrongly accused, the depression of realization, and the anger of injustice in equal amounts.
5. Danny Flynn - The Boxer (1997)
Day-Lewis' second IRA-themed film working with director Jim Sheridan was The Boxer. In it, DDL plays the title hero, a former IRA youth released from prison years later. He wants to stay on the straight and narrow, but his old neighborhood and boss, beckons. In a quietly powerful performance, Day-Lewis conveys the pain of a man who needs to forget his past, but knows he still has unfinished business.
4. Abraham Lincoln - Lincoln (2012)
For anyone else, this would be a career achievement: Portraying Honest Abe and winning an Oscar for it. But, for Day-Lewis, it's simply another great role in a career made of them. The greatest feat he pulls off as the 16th president is convincing the world he is just that. Watching the film, you forget about the actor behind the top hat and iconic chin strap beard.
3. Bill the Butcher - Gangs of New York (2002)
This is another example of the role being greater than the sum of its subject matter. Gangs of New York may not go down as a great film, but its villain will. Day-Lewis brings true viciousness to his portrayal of Bill the Butcher, the de facto crime boss in turn of the 20th century New York City. Losing any semblance of his Britsh accent and disappearing behind matted hair and a glass eye, Day-Lewis personifies early American greed, violence, and prejudice.
2. Daniel Plainview - There Will Be Blood (2007)
Perhaps more than any other cinematic anti-hero of the past 50 years, Daniel Plainview defies categorization. His evil is the result of a lifetime of hard work, something most Americans know plenty about. Can we blame him for how he turns out? The mystery is due to the performance of Day-Lewis, who instills in Plainview a work ethic any father would want in their son. But his American Dream comes at a price, and Plainview pays it over and over again, sacrificing his humanity along the way. There Will Be Blood stands as the signature film for the corruption of the American Dream and Day-Lewis stands as the reason why.
1. Christy Brown - My Left Foot (1989)
A list of the greatest movie performances of all time, on its own, would be hard-pressed to forget what Day-Lewis put onscreen in My Left Foot. Yes, he won the Oscar for the role and yes, it's a hugely respected piece of dramatic art, but you've still got to see it to believe it. DDL was well-known as a strict method actor and he went to incredible lengths in his portrait of Christy Brown, an Irish artist born with cerebral palsy who only had control of his left foot. Confined to a wheelchair for much of the film, Day-Lewis must rely on his body to communicate, not his voice. It's the single most impressive physical performance you'll ever see, and the greatest of the actor's storied career.