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Is Daniel Day-Lewis the Best Actor of All Time?

Last updated on: February 28, 2013 16:59 IST

Is Daniel Day-Lewis the Best Actor of All Time?

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Raja Sen in Mumbai
Is he the BEST ever?

It's impossible to ever agree on this, but the question must indeed be posed -- now that he has become the first actor in the history of the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences -- to pick up three Best Actor statuettes.

The British actor has long been regarded as infallible, and must be canonise alongside the all-time greats as a true master of the craft. But sensational he has always been, right from the start.

Here, in chronological order, is a list of the 10 Day-Lewis performances I applaud the most:

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

In Stephen Frears' adaptation of Hanif Kureshi's screenplay, Daniel played Johnny, lover to Omar Ali, as played by Gordon Wanecke.

It's a tender performance filled with urgency and vitality, and even though Day-Lewis plays a punk, he brings a tragic vulnerability to the character.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis (right) in My Beautiful Laundrette

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A Room With A View (1985)

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James Merchant was slavishly loyal in his adaptation of the EM Forster novel, but Day-Lewis fleshed out his character -- an English snob called Cecil Vyse -- far more than the book allowed.

Affluent, respected but essentially haughty, the character is almost more intriguing than the narrative wants him to be.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis and Helena Bonham Carter in A Room With A View

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The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (1988)

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Milan Kundera's novel was always going to be a hard adaptation, and Philip Kaufman's film did well to get Daniel to play the troubled brain surgeon Tomas.

Deeply in love and yet unable to stop womanising, Dr Tomas is both a flawed man and a true intellectual, and Day-Lewis is excellent in the part.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis in The Unbearable Lightness Of Being

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My Left Foot (1989)

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Daniel got his first Best Actor Oscar for this Jim Sheridan film where he played Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy.

It's a highly emotive, staggeringly accurate portrayal, and was the first true demonstration of the actor's intense method acting ways, where he'd live like the character he played.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot

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The Last Of The Mohicans (1992)

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In this Michael Mann adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper classic, Day-Lewis played Nathaniel Hawkeye, the heroic adopted caucasian who becomes the most iconic of the Mohicans.

It is a dynamic, forceful and, at times, romantic performance, one that marks him out as a powerful leading man.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last Of The Mohicans

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In The Name Of The Father (1993)

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In this Jim Sheridan directed true story about four boys falsely convicted for the IRA pub bombings, the actor scorches up the screen as Gerry Conlon, who goes from being scornful to sympathetic, even under wrongful imprisonment.

The progression is a tightrope-walk for any actor, but Day-Lewis glides across it with complete, evocative credibility.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis (left) in In The Name Of The Father

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The Boxer (1985)

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Yet another Sheridan film where he gets to play Irish, The Boxer sees Day-Lewis as a disgruntled ex-convict trying to pick up the pieces of his life by getting back to boxing.

It's a rock solid performance and, as can be expected, the level of authenticity he brings to scenes of conflict -- both in the ring and in his relationships -- is incredible.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis in The Boxer

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Gangs Of New York (2002)

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Martin Scorsese's sprawling film set in mid-nineteenth century New York sees Day-Lewis in one of his most enjoyable roles, that of the towering antagonist Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting.

A theatrically menacing figure, Day-Lewis plays it large but -- thanks to how good he is -- never appears unreal.

Even when tapping at his glass eye with a dagger.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs Of New York

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There Will Be Blood (2007)

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Frequently referred to as the greatest film of the last decade, Paul Thomas Anderson's stupendous film rests on Day-Lewis' shoulders throughout.

As oil prospector Daniel Plainview, the actor is unforgettably astonishing -- frightening and fierce and constantly riveting. (Here's my review from that year.)

The film rightfully earned him his second Best Actor trophy.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood

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Lincoln (2012)

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What better film to make history with?

That unprecedented third Best Actor trophy came with Lincoln.

Opinions may well be divided on Steven Spielberg's film, but there has been nothing but unanimous cheer for Day-Lewis' portrayal of the most mythologised President of them all.

More authentic than the head of a penny, his Lincoln speaks with a reedy voice, walks with a stoop, and yet towers effortlessly over his world, a graceful giant.

It is a spectacular performance, and while I still do not consider it this year's best, it is utterly magnificent and beyond possible reproach.

Image: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

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