Friday, July 4, 2014

Twice a Best Actor Bloggers Roundtable: Daniel Day-Lewis


So, we’re back from our week hiatus and coming full force with the one we all knew was going to pretty much blow away the competition (until Marlon Brando week comes around).  Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis week is here!  Now, this was hard for me.  I, personally, find Daniel Day-Lewis to be one of the most overrated actors out there, and had he won for some of his other nominations (like Gangs of New York or In the Name of the Father) I could have easily expounded on that overrated status…but alas, this isn’t about the actor but the performances he actually won for, and those performances were pretty outstanding.

Now, we aren’t going to discuss his win for Lincoln, because this is about becoming a TWO-time Lead Oscar winner.

Again, here is our panel!

Alex from And So It Begins
Andrew from The Films the Thing
Drew from A Fistful of Films
Mario from Two Dollar Cinema
Shane from Film Actually


ALEX:
The Performance
I love how unsympathetic Christy Brown is in My Left Foot. So many biopics are weighted down with their idiotic Disney-like sentimentality, painting their subject out to be a woe-is-me victim. I’m so glad Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day-Lewis showed Brown for who he really was, faults and all. Also, it’s crazy to think that, with the exception of his work in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, prior to the release of My Left Foot, no one really knew who Daniel Day-Lewis was. But when his tortured and flawless incarnation of Christy Brown hit the world, film acting was never the same.

The Field
It was Tom Cruise’s Oscar to lose, and justly lose it he did.
My Grade:  A+

ANDREW:
Before he became Sir Daniel Day-Lewis, the world’s greatest living actor (sorry, it’s not up for debate), he was just another young actor passionate about his craft. Which is why you have to admire the bravado of the relatively little-known star to be so fully committed in the role that brought him his first Oscar win (from his first of five nominations) of real-life writer and painter, Christy Brown, who suffered from cerebral palsy and spent most of his life in a wheelchair. Staying in character throughout the entire shoot, requiring crew members to carry him to set if his wheelchair couldn’t make it over the camera cords, and immersing himself so deeply and passionately into bringing this man’s story to life that, rumor has it, he cracked two ribs from being hunched over for so long, Day-Lewis is simply astonishing. But his physical transformation and preparation would mean nothing if he hadn’t been able to develop a fully fleshed out character on screen. Day-Lewis’ work as Brown is deeply human, he’s not afraid to dig within the darkness of a man whose body fails his brilliant mind and show us the pathos, anger, and frustration. His Brown never begs for our pity either. In what could easily turn into a sentimental story of inspiration about overcoming doesn’t shy away from Brown’s complexities, even making him unlikable at times, but he always remains fascinating. That year saw strong work from Tom Cruise in his first Oscar bid and the arrival of a new Shakespearian multi-hyphenate, Kenneth Brangah, but DDL’s win was inevitable and deserved and the first of many performance that would join the canon of all-time greats.  
My Grade:  A

DREW:
Yes, there is a level of gimmick here, but that is only to be expected, and I think to harp on gimmick just for the sake of it being gimmick is harsh and unnecessary.  If we didn’t have gimmick, we wouldn’t be able to make half the movies we make.  The important thing is how you handle the gimmick.

Daniel Day-Lewis, at least here, handles it very well.

First, this is an extremely difficult performance to pull off, physically.  There is so many technical aspects to this performance that make it a tough sell if done wrong, but it is so commendable the way that Day-Lewis actually attacks each aspect of the character’s physicality.  It isn’t just a robotic or stale understanding of the actual ticks and infirmities, but there is so much personality displayed in every range of motion.  Day-Lewis finds ways to make Christy Brown come to life, despite the lack of full capacities, and this makes for a performance that is truly hard to shake.

Now, I have not seen Tom Cruise’s performance in Born on the Fourth of July, but I didn’t think Branagh was anywhere near up to Day-Lewis’s standard here, and Robin Williams was kind of a joke nomination.  The only nominee that I consider giving the win to over Day-Lewis is Freeman, who was so naturally tender and moving.  Jeff Bridges SHOULD have been nominated for his tremendous work in The Fabulous Baker Boys, and probably should have won as well.

Probably.
My Grade:  A

JOSH:
Day-Lewis won his first Best Actor Oscar for playing Christy Brown, a man who suffered from cerebral palsy and painted with his left foot. This film had everything Academy voters look for: a disabled protagonist who overcomes his physical limitations, a feel-good tone, and a great lead performance. Moreover, Day-Lewis nails the physical aspects of the performance, while conveying a sense of humor beneath his daily struggle to live with limited mobility. It's a very challenging role, and the Oscars justly took notice.

Did Day-Lewis deserve to win?

This is the win Day-Lewis deserved the most. In a masterful performance, he displays a range of emotions (despite great limitations) and gives this paralyzed man a fully fleshed out character. He never goes wrong here, and I can't name a more deserving winner that year. Though, a win for Kenneth Branagh's wonderful turn in Henry V or Tom Cruise's compelling performance in Born on the Fourth of July wouldn't have been undeserved.
My Grade:  A+

MARIO:
Who I was rooting for:  I recall none of these performances, as I likely saw each of them over twenty years ago (though, for the record, I’ve never seen Henry V).
The role:
Day-Lewis plays Christy Brown, a man with cerebral palsy growing up in the slums of Dublin.
Watch for:  The scene at the restaurant with Eileen and Peter. This is an intense and cringe-worthy as any moment I can ever remember. On my couch, with my feet up…I’ve never felt so uncomfortable.
Yay:  Christy making jokes about porridge.
Boo: So, you couldn’t have just kept the card, Rachel? That would have been too much to ask?
Summary:  Daniel Day-Lewis, as much as any actor I’ve ever seen, simply disappears into his roles. Never, ever did I think about the actor or even the performance, as at times, this film felt like a documentary. Christy Brown is a fascinating character, overcoming increasing adversity throughout his life. Day-Lewis not only transforms his body, his face and his voice to portray this, but I swear you can see it in his eyes. First there’s fear, then uncertainty, and eventually a glimmer of confidence appears in his eyes, but no matter the situation, it simply feels real. I honestly don’t know of another actor alive who could have portrayed Brown as authentically as Daniel Day-Lewis does here. It’s incredible.
My Grade:  A+

SHANE:
Of all the performances so far, this is the one that I was most apprehensive about re-visiting. The reason being that Daniel Day-Lewis is so good in 'My Left Foot' that it literally frightened me the first time around. I’m sure he went through some serious preparations to get into the character, but I don’t even want to know about it. It’s too much to comprehend. All I can do is sit back and watch in awe.

Now admittedly, I wasn't so daunted by the performance this time around. Still, it maintains all the characteristics that make it such a remarkable piece of acting. It’s all there in the way he modifies his face, body and voice to make you really believe he has cerebral palsy. To top it off, he manages to convey considerable emotionality through his quest for romantic love. He truly makes Christy Brown a fully realized character.

I honestly can’t find any fault in this performance, so I think he’s absolutely deserving of this Oscar. I’m willing to consider Tom Cruise in Born in the Fourth of July, but I think the Academy made the right call.
My Grade:  A


ALEX:
The Performance
I made a list a while back in which I ranked my Top 10 favorite Best Actor winning performances. Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview came in at number two, directly behind Robert De Niro’s Jake LaMotta. Day-Lewis’ work in this film is as good as screen acting gets. Period.

The Field
Daniel Day-Lewis. Full stop.
My Grade:  A+

ANDREW:
For the first fifteen minutes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling American epic There Will Be Blood, virtually no dialogue is spoken, no explanation given, but we are nevertheless riveted by the powerful presence of Daniel Day-Lewis on screen. Such is the gravitas he brings to the role of an unrelenting oilman obsessed with discovering the black gold, that nothing needs to be said for us to already be interested in his Daniel Plainview. And once he does begin to speak, with a voice unlike Day-Lewis’ own, at once commanding and delightfully strange in its old-fashioned accent, and spouting such instantly iconic lines as “There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking,” and, of course, the infamous, “I drink your milkshake!” - look out! Because nothing and no one is safe from his cruelty. Even his own son, whom he abandons after an accident leaves him deaf, the only person he ever truly shows affection for, becomes another victim in Plainview’s march against humanity. He seems to be pushing him away the closer he wants to be. Plainview is a man that keeps a distance, distrustful of basic human emotions. And Day-Lewis is like a force of nature in bringing that seething resentment to life. I don’t think that Anderson’s complicated film could have been made without the involvement that Day-Lewis’ clout brings nor can I possibly imagine any other actor in the part of Plainview. Day-Lewis created an indelible portrait of this despicable man, drawing us into the sticky chambers of Plainview’s mind. His performance towers over the other actors that year so greatly (despite a career-best turn from George Clooney and the talented Viggo Mortensen’s only nomination), that there surely would’ve been blood had he not won. Hailed almost immediately as a masterpiece, in the years to come, his Daniel Plainview will still stand as one of film’s greatest creations. 
My Grade:  A

DREW:
So, this one performance is often considered the KING of all (or most) Oscar winning performances, and in many respects I can understand why.  Daniel Day-Lewis is a fire.  You can’t look away from him.  He just delivers a captivating and completely consumed performance.

And yet…

I do sincerely love this performance, and for years I defended it to the few naysayers.  I still consider it a triumph of sorts, and yet rewatching it recently I could see where some of those nitpicks were coming from.  Day-Lewis, as an actor, has a tendency to overdo it.  He’s SO in it that he forgets to let it rest, let it marinade, and so sometimes he goes so far into it that he goes right through it and ultimately takes himself (and the rest of us) out of it.  I can see that happen a few times here.  He never allows things to simmer, but instead boils the entire running time.  Even when he’s quiet, he’s RIGHT IN YOUR FACE!

Still, he’s a presence you can’t shake, and because of that I truly understand his win here.  In fact, I kind of respect his win more so because of how fiery and dedicated he is here, because this kind of full on despicable behavior isn’t often rewarded with the Oscar.

AMPAS wants to like you for some reason.

Still, I’ve always thought that Mortensen should have won that year, of that lineup.  The real Best Actor of the year was Casey Affleck, but he was nominated in the wrong category, so what are you going to do about that (but his loss to the subpar Bardem is a travesty).  I can’t begrudge this win though, even if I don’t agree with it (and possibly agree with it less as time goes by).
My Grade:  A-

JOSH:
Day-Lewis won his second Best Actor Oscar for playing Daniel Plainview, a greedy oil man who'll stop at nothing to find a fortune. The film was one of the best-reviewed of the year, as was Day-Lewis' larger-than-life performance. I hesitate to say he overacts, but the performance is a bit too grandiose at times. Still, he delivers a stunning portrayal of a despicable protagonist hell-bent on personal gain. He shows no restraint in his exploration of this seedy character, and it's easy to see why so many people are taken aback by this performance.

Did Day-Lewis deserve to win?

I don't begrudge him this win in the slightest, but I saw better performances that year, including ones that weren't nominated. The award should've gone to Tommy Lee Jones for his subdued turn in In the Valley of Elah or Viggo Mortensen for his striking performance in Eastern Promises. Though, Day-Lewis gives a great performance, which deserves most of the acclaim it received.
My Grade:  A

MARIO:
Who I was rooting for:
I was pulling for Clooney in Michael Clayton, only because I had seen that one theatrically. Upon seeing There Will Be Blood, everybody not named Daniel Day-Lewis could f—k off.
The role:
Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a relentlessly driven oil-man in turn-of-the-century California. He’s somehow a very calculated man, while being entirely wreckless and batshit crazy.
Watch for:  The final ten minutes. I can’t breathe every single time I see it.
Yay:  Plainview in church, ‘confessing’ his sins.
Boo: Bastard in a basket! Even when being a ruthless, cunning bastard, there was always a certain charm with Plainview. Here, all of that vanishes and I just want him dead.
Summary:  This performance is probably in my all-time top 5, but to be fair, it’s due to not only Day-Lewis’ transcendent performance, but also what I consider one of the best written characters ever. It’s not to say that anyone could have created Daniel Plainview, but the material is just so good. Combine that with a completely unhinged performance, and you’ve got something that resonates years later. Certain movies have that one scene that makes you lean forward and f—king devour what’s on screen. This movie is like that the entire time. If DDL only played Plainview, it would still be a magnificent performance, but the fact that this is the same man who portrayed Christy Brown? I’m not sure there are words.
My Grade:  A+

SHANE:
Contrary to 'My Left Foot', Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in ‘There Will Be Blood’ is one that I was very excited to watch again. It’s a film that I was originally quite cold towards, yet I had such vivid memories of certain scenes, for obvious reasons.

Well, I was definitely more appreciative of the film this time around and was once again taken aback by Day-Lewis’ skill. From his first big speech (“I’m an oil man”), it somehow already feels like we’re in for something iconic. There’s a menace in those eyes that never fades throughout the entire movie.

It’s those intense eyes and authoritative voice that convey much of the movie's feeling. Indeed, I was quite surprised to find that the performance isn't nearly as broad as I’d remembered it. It’s actually quite contained for the most part, yet he’s still able to convey that internal rage. So when the showy scenes eventually come, they just feel like a natural extension of the character. As he confesses to his fake brother Henry, he’s just a competitive, hateful man.

His monstrous descent into madness leads to that scintillating final scene. Without it, this is just another excellent Daniel Day-Lewis performance, but when it arrives, it confirms the performance as one for the ages. The physical comedy, the line delivery and the unbridled fury are all immaculate. Apologies to the other nominees, but there was no competition for this Oscar in my opinion.
My Grade:  A+

FINAL SCORE
There is a number assigned to each letter grade that helps us give a score to each performance. The highest number (and A+) would be 20 points. An F would warrant 0 points (a D gives you 5). So these are the scores for each performance as well as a collective score (which will be used at the end to rank each individual actor).

Daniel Day-Lewis received a total of 114 points for his performance in My Left Foot.
Daniel Day-Lewis received a total of 112 points for his performance in There Will Be Blood.

This is a collective total of 226 points (44 points in the lead).

As a point of reference, the highest collective score you can attain is 240.

An interesting point is that Daniel Day-Lewis is the first actor in this series to have both of his performances receive across the board A's from everyone on the panel.  Our degree of A ranges (from A- to A+) but we are all in agreement that both of these performances are exceptional.

So this closes our discussion of Daniel Day-Lewis.  Next week we’re going to tackle the mighty Jack Nicholson!


Again, as always, a special thanks to the five incredible bloggers who agreed to attack this project with me! It wouldn't be the same without any of you!

12 comments:

  1. These grades are pretty much what I expected DDL is a phenomenal actor.

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    1. I knew this was coming, and despite the fact that I don't always drink his milkshake, I have to admit that these grades are deserved.

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  2. Interesting insights into two of his great performances. I'm not a big fan of actors who feel they have to suffer tremendously for their art, I don't need to feel that they are hurting themselves for my entertainment. It actually makes me uncomfortable and pulls me out of the film when they do. Christian Bale is a particularly tiresome member of this group, it's showy and usually unnecessary. As Olivier said to Dustin Hoffman "Try acting, dear boy...it's much easier."

    That being said I think that My Left Foot was one of those necessary times. Brown's infirmity was so all consuming that I don't know if Day-Lewis could have understood it as he did without putting himself through his preparation. I was already familiar with him and his versatility having seen his work in My Beautiful Launderette and A Room with a View back to back but even with that knowledge he blew me away in My Left Foot. Then he turned around with a performance of incredible physicality in Last of the Mohicans. The Oscar was absolutely deserved.

    He was wonderful in There Will Be Blood too but I hated that movie. I still felt he should win though even with my distaste for the film.

    I don't know if he's the greatest living actor, that's so subjective, but he is without question one of the greats.

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    1. Thanks for the comments Joel!

      Yeah, I wholly believe that the investment into living as Christy did was necessary to created such a realized and textured performance. Day-Lewis really honed his craft with this performance.

      I loved his work in A Room With a View, mostly because he doesn't feel so tortured for his work but feels oddly effortless and natural, which is something that Day-Lewis does not often portray.

      Like you say, some actors suffer too much for their craft, and I think Day-Lewis is in this boat to a degree. That whole method acting has it's limits, limits that Day-Lewis hasn't heard of apparently.

      Still, both these Oscar wins are very deserving.

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  3. I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE..... I DRINK IT UP!!!! Definitely one of the best performances.... EVER.

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  4. And the winner of the roundtable is... I wonder about Brando's chances, though. Day-Lewis only got three A+'s for each performance. Surely Brando can top that?

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  5. DDL astounds me as an actor and deserved both wins, hands down. When I watched the ceremony and DDL won over Cruise, I literally jumped and did the jig! Anyone but Cruise! I must see My Left Foot again

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    1. I recently saw Born on the Fourth of July and thought that Cruise was actually really, really good...but DDL was the deserved winner.

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  6. I would say that both of his aforementioned Oscars were very well-deserved. His win for Lincoln has me completely in the middle, though. Not a terrible performance, by any stretch, but it doesn't really measure up to his previous work imo.

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    1. His work in Lincoln is certainly commanding and completely transformative, but I wouldn't call it Oscar worthy.

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