Daniel Day-Lewis has yet to give us an exact reason for his decision to retire from the acting world. Despite the immense amount of preparation DDL has put into his most recent role as Reynolds Woodcock (Phantom Thread) – which included apprenticing under the costume department head at the NYC Ballet and actually sewing a Balenciaga dress – he has stated that seeing the finished film is not an intention of his.

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“Not wanting to see the film is connected to the decision I’ve made to stop working as an actor,” he recently told W Magazine. “But it’s not why the sadness came to stay. That happened during the telling of the story, and I don’t really know why.”

Many speculate he’ll return to acting someday, but that’s mostly because this isn’t the first time Day-Lewis has announced his departure from the world of thespianism. After 1997’s The Boxer Day-Lewis went off-the-grid for a five-year period, in which the actor took up woodworking and shoemaking in Florence, Italy. Luckily for us, he emerged years later in the Scorsese epic Gangs of New York as the notorious Bill the Butcher. Ever since, we as an audience have been devilishly spoiled by this man’s ever so evident talents.


So, in light of the retirement, of perhaps, the greatest actor in our lifetime: My list of
the Top 12 Performances for the only man to ever win three Oscars for best actor in a leading role.

12.  The Boxer (1997)

In Day-Lewis’ third and least acclaimed collaboration with Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan, DDL plays the title hero, a former IRA youth released from prison years later. Wanting to stay on the straight and narrow… his old neighborhood and boss, beckon.

The boxing sequences are dazzling, as he trained long and hard for this flick – getting himself in tip-top condition. In a quietly dominant performance, Day-Lewis conveys the pain of a man who needs to forget his past, but knows he still has unfinished business.

11. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

Not enough people talk about Day-Lewis’ piercing performance in the adaptation of Milan Kundera’s intellectually sexual novel set against political turbulence. The backdrop is a Prague Spring in 1968, where he plays Tomas, a Czech doctor and noted playboy, falling for two women.

Having to choose between Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche might seem like a difficult conflict in and of itself, but Day-Lewis’s biggest challenge here is convincing the audience of his characters internal struggles and odd romantic philosophies. While affecting a near-perfect Czech accent, DDL’s commanding, sensually charismatic performance is just one of a few reasons this film deserves renewed attention.

10. The Crucible (1996)

While reviews for this ‘90’s Arthur Miller adaption were mixed, this is a great example of a big performance in a small movie.

The Crucible undoubtedly has its problems, but DDL isn’t one of them. His turn as the roaring John Proctor; A 17th century farmer torn between his God and his sin of adultery, is powerful at every swivel.

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9. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

In one of his first major film roles, Day-Lewis plays a bleached-blond street punk whose right-wing fascist past gives way to a gay epiphany.

Set in South London at the height of Thatcherism, this is an early gem from both him and director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena). A groundbreaking gay interracial love-story, DDL nails this tricky role with jagged wit and sensitive eroticism.

8. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

This Michael Mann epic has Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, a role he famously prepared for with now trademark intensity. While on set, the actor learned how to track and skin animals, built a canoe, and refused to go anywhere without his period-specific gun.

The adaption of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic adventure novel, showcases DDL’s rugged good-looks with a type of bravery that belied the savagery of the time (French and Indian War). An exceptionally riveting performance which is without question his greatest action role.

7. In the Name of the Father (1993)

In a role that earned him his second Oscar nomination, Day-Lewis plays the real-life Gerry Conlon, an Irish man who was falsely convicted and imprisoned for his suspected role in a 1974 IRA bombing in Guildford, England.

In his second Jim Sheridan directed film, DDL delivers all the passion, rage, and electricity that the weighty and intricate subject matter warranted. Here, the balance of vulnerability and fortitude, whilst facing malign injustice – makes this film a must-watch.

6. The Age of Innocence (1993)

Martin Scorsese’s lush adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel is a searingly intimate romantic production – a major departure from the director’s most popular movies. In this film, Day-Lewis internalizes all his method physicality as the repressed New York aristocrat Newland Archer.

Engaged to be married, he finds himself hopelessly attracted to an older “ruined” woman. Emotional turbulence and fervent conflict then unfolds, as this highly passionate depiction is astonishing from start to finish.

5. Phantom Thread (2017)

In what he claims to be his final film, Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, an ambitious couturier with an infatuation for aesthetic perfection. Teaming up with Paul Thomas Anderson for a 2nd time, I couldn’t help but notice a striking similarity between this portrayal and his previous one with PTA.

The elements of compulsion and addiction loom mightily, comparable to his character in There Will Be Blood. Here though, the stark difference is what drives it. For it is not money or power, but the strive to become a paragon in the art of creating garments. DDL is mesmerizing as a man in a love triangle betwixt the woman who adores him and the labor he so fondly treasures.

4. Gangs of New York (2002)

In his second collaboration with Scorsese – Day-Lewis recreates the terrifying vision of Bill the Butcher, founder of the Bowery Boys gang in mid-19th century New York.

Receiving his 3rd Oscar nomination for this role, DDL supposedly is playing second-fiddle to Leonardo DiCaprio, but you’d almost never guess it with this chilling performance. A smoldering life-story monologue, conveyed while draped in the American flag is acting that cannot be emulated.

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3. Lincoln (2012)

I have seen Lincoln. Though he died more than a hundred years ago, long before I was born – I have seen him and heard him speak because Daniel Day-Lewis created him in this film.

Forever known for his method acting, no other role in his filmography exhibits his dedication to the craft quite like this one, for which he won his third Oscar for ‘Best Actor.’ In the political biopic directed by Steven Spielberg, DDL is stunning as the man we know as “Honest Abe”, possibly the most mythologized figure in American history.

2. My Left Foot (1989)

At 32 years old, Day-Lewis won his first ‘Best Actor’ Oscar, and essentially set the bar for commitment and craft in his profession. The first collaboration with Jim Sheridan has Day-Lewis becoming artist Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy who can only move his left foot.

It is said that DDL spent months in a wheelchair and was spoon-fed by crew members as preparation for this complex role. His character’s projected inner-anguish, along with attention to detail, pragmatism, and humanity makes this performance one for the ages.

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There Will Be Blood (2007)

As a man powered by greed and his abhorrence for humanity, Day-Lewis delivers what some have called the greatest male performance in film history. In Paul Thomas Andersons’s modern classic, DDL captures his 2nd ‘Best Actor’ Oscar by bringing to life the madness and horror that comes with this unhinged oil prospector.

Day-Lewis is at his best when he plays brutal men, and no character he has consumed is more brutal than that of Daniel Plainview. Stalking the screen like a predator, sizing up everyone he encounters like a lion, this remarkable performance grows more and more disturbing until the film’s final, and shocking, scene. Truly, a bone-deep, mentally bruising, yet darkly hilarious study in personal, moral and spiritual corruption that’ll be quoted for decades and revered forever.

By Brandon Colón

One thought

  1. Extraordinary!! Totally forgot about some of the movies Daniel Day-Lewis was in. Very nicely written, DDL himself, would be pleased by your piece on his film career. I enjoyed reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

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