Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis was born on April 29, 1957 and though the now 64-year-old has announced that he has retired from acting, it’s worth taking a dive into his relatively limited movie resumé.
While there’s plenty of argument as to who the “greatest living actor” might be, (Sir Anthony Hopkins, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Sir Ben Kingsley… the list goes on), there’s no debate on Day-Lewis’s accomplishments. He’s received six Academy Award nominations and has won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role three times for the following films: 1989’s My Left Foot, 2007’s There Will Be Blood and 2012’s Lincoln.
Believe it or not, Day-Lewis has only 30 credits as an actor on IMDb.com, and many of those are early roles. His first starring turn came as Tomas in 1988’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Since then, he appeared in only 14 more movies, with his portrayal of an haute couture dressmaker in 2017’s Phantom Thread being his last.
He’s one of those actors who makes whatever movie he’s in automatically better, and because he’s in a movie, it’s almost guaranteed to be good. The question arises, then, what are his five best movies? Not necessarily his performance in those movies, but the movies themselves. Here, we present our five choices:
5. There Will Be Blood (2007)
In this movie, Day-Lewis is in practically every scene, and he owns every scene. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who would later work with Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece. Day-Lewis deservedly won Best Actor for his portrayal of Daniel Plainview, a silver miner-turned-oilman. Based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, it’s not exactly a happy-go-lucky romp. It’s a tough watch. Is it a great movie? Absolutely. Do you want to watch it over and over? Maybe not. Regardless, this scene certainly highlights Day-Lewis’s acting abilities.
4. In the Name of the Father (1993)
This one is based on a true story of four people falsely convicted of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings, which killed four off-duty British soldiers and a civilian. Co-written and directed by Jim Sheridan, who also directed Day-Lewis in My Left Foot and The Boxer, In The Name Of The Father is an intricate tale covering a variety of topics, including British-Irish relations. The movie makes this list because of the relationship between Day-Lewis and his father, portrayed by the late, great Pete Postlethwaite. Heartbreaking at times, the story of the wrongly convicted plays out in court with Emma Thompson as the attorney who works to uncover what really happened. This scene between Day-Lewis and Postlethwaite features their father-son relationship.
3. Lincoln (2012)
Directed and produced by Steven Spielberg, Lincoln stars Day-Lewis as the 16th President of the United States and features an all-star cast of Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, and Tommy Lee Jones. It covers the final four months of Lincoln’s life, focusing on his efforts in 1865 to abolish slavery by having the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution passed. Some historical movies can get stale or might present as boring to the audience, but the direction of Spielberg and acting of Day-Lewis maintains forward momentum throughout. Even though you probably already know the ending, the suspense works. Day-Lewis’s portrayal gives a glimpse into who Abraham Lincoln really was, as exemplified in this scene, extending basic premises of Euclidian math to the concepts of true justice, decency, equality and humanity.
2. Gangs of New York (2002)
Set in the 1846 New York City slums and directed by Martin Scorsese, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Cameron Diaz. In retrospect, DiCaprio and Day-Lewis could have both earned Best Actor nominations, but only Day-Lewis received one. The movie was also nominated for Best Picture. Day-Lewis lost to Adrien Brody for The Pianist and Chicago won Best Picture. The supporting cast of Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson and Brendan Gleeson helps to make the movie great, but it’s Day-Lewis as William ‘Bill the Butcher’ Cutting who, once again, steals the movie. This scene features two great actors, with Day-Lewis, in no uncertain terms, asserting his alpha-male status.
1. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
An historical drama is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War, The Last of the Mohicans still holds up today and has the best combination of acting, romance and action. It was co-written and directed by Michael Mann and is loosely based on James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, although many liberties were taken in the movie. Starring Day-Lewis as Hawkeye (Nathaniel Poe) and co-starring Madeleine Stowe, the movie has a solid cast, with Jodhi May, Russell Means, Wes Studi, Eric Schweig, and Steven Waddington in supporting roles. The historical accuracy, cinematography and musical score add to its timelessness, and Studi plays an excellent villain in Magua. The hand-to-hand fight scenes are suspenseful and tense and incredibly realistic. The love that builds between Stowe and Day-Lewis is undeniable. (“I WILL FIND YOU!”) If you’ve never seen it, it’s well worth the hour and 52 minutes, and the music is so good, you might just buy the soundtrack. Here, we see Hawkeye and Cora falling in love inside Fort William Henry.
If you’ve missed any of these movies, there’s good news – a few of them are currently available on streaming services! “Last of the Mohicans” is on AmazonPrime; “There Will Be Blood” is on Netflix; and “Lincoln” can be seen on HBO Max.