Monday, February 18, 2013

Reasons Why Daniel Day Lewis Doesn't Deserve A Best Actor Statue

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln
As I have long established on this blog, I feel like director Steven Spielberg's historic drama Lincoln is a little on the overrated side. While the buzz around it winning Best Picture has diminished, a few things haven't. True, I root Spielberg to take Best Director, but there seems to be something more definite. Something that I have never quite been able to accept. True, it is largely due to an insane dedication to The Master and more specifically Joaquin Phoenix, but there is more to it than that. Why is Daniel Day Lewis the clear runaway hero for Best Actor?  

Don't get me wrong, when history writes itself, Daniel Day Lewis will go down as one of the greatest actors of this, or any other generation. Look at the caliber of work he has created over the numerous decades. If that isn't impressive, consider the method acting that has forced him to live in wheel chairs and stage sets for infinite periods. He is dedicated to his craft. In fact, he is more than deserving of those Best Actor statues for My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood. At very least, My Left Foot goes down as one of the greatest performances of the 80's and exemplified what he was capable of as time went on.

Even There Will Be Blood was amazingly magnetic. His progression into greedy business man, and that impressive "I drink your milkshake" finale are all the signs of an actor who isn't afraid to just go wild when necessary. That is why Lewis is far and away an exciting actor. In fact, take a look at this image (try to guess all of the films. It's fun) and see just how diverse his roles have been:

With that said, I feel at times that maybe he has deserved more trophies and his loss may have only been to appease other actors. However, take a look at this body of work full of eccentric, diverse characters that all portray a fearless actor willing to do anything. Now consider Lincoln, in which he plays a quiet man. True, his internal struggle drives the movie and the family conflict only makes it more justified, but for me, the performance is too subdued to really be more than expected. By most actors, Lincoln would be a touchstone. However, considering that Daniel Day Lewis has done all of those movies pictured above, it just makes little sense why he should be commended for one of the more underwhelming entries on his resume.

Of course, there is Robert De Niro's Silver Linings Playbook Best Supporting Actor nomination, which I wasn't a fan of either. Both are actors I completely respect and admire, but these roles are not what should put them back in the awards circuit. True, Lewis is already on track on the sole purpose of killing at the Golden Globes, but I still feel like this is more of a controversy than anything. In decade's time, we'll remember Lewis for Gangs of New York sooner than we will Lincoln. So why should this film get to be the exception?

I believe the math is the real reason. This is a year in which the Academy is going for records. Just look at the nominations:
  • The oldest Best Actress nominee is Emanuel Riva (Amour)
  • The youngest Best Actress nominee is Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  • The Best Supporting Actor category is made up of previous winners
  • The Best Supporting Actress category is made up of characters who played mothers
  • The Best Animated Short category features the shortest nominee in the category's history (Fresh Guacamole)
  • The Best Supporting Actress nominee Sally Field (Lincoln) could win her third slot in the category
  • Silver Linings Playbook takes all top categories, including acting, writing, directing, and Best Picture in nominations
  • Front runners Argo and Zero Dark Thirty both got axed from Best Director category, thus making it possible for either to be the first to win Best Picture without a Best Director nod since 1989's Driving Miss Daisy
Those are just a few of the categories that are tipping me off to the show following a coincidental formula this year. Still, none are more blatant than Daniel Day Lewis. Having won twice before, he stands a guaranteed chance of being the first actor to have three Best Actor trophies to his name. I admit, if anyone deserves that honor, it is Lewis. Still, I feel like the hype building around this win is notably because Steven Spielberg is a giant, familiar name with multiple nominations under his belt and that alone is giving Lincoln some leeway in this process. The prestige is really what is driving the film over actual quality. Who deserves to win?

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
I know that you are tired of hearing about me loving Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, but if you want to really clarify what makes a great performance, consider a few things. Notably, there has to be a physicality. Lewis did just that with There Will Be Blood and even more-so with My Left Foot. In Lincoln, he is so subdued that the performance is not really that memorable. Even Tommy Lee Jones or some random member of congress will leave a more satisfying acting performance. In terms of great performances, you think of ones that required dedication to the craft and left an impression. As it stands, I still felt that Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) was far superior to Daniel Day Lewis, who wasn't bad, but nowhere near great.

Phoenix, who has had a fascinatingly rocky career, came out of the woods with The Master and gained everyone's respect before possibly sabotaging it in an Elvis Mitchell interview. At very least, this reflects an actor who is willing to take chances. While The Master was rougher and more provocative, it portrayed a sense of delirium that only the finest of actors could pull off. Phoenix, who also has had an odd Academy Award history, nailed it and may only be overshadowed because of lewd comments and his unpredictable real life nature that only makes his performance seem less real. And that is a shame.

In fact, of the Best Actor nominees, Lewis isn't really runner up for me. Anyone who has seen Les Miserables will be aware that Hugh Jackman gives a dynamite performance. While the film has been overlooked in some ways because of it being a musical with high ambitions and not universal clarity, it is impossible to deny that Jackman, who drives most of the movie, gives it his all and proves why he shouldn't be doing superhero movies. Of course, the film's true success story is Anne Hathaway, so the film will not go home empty handed. Still, it is a shame that a performance with this much gravitas is being overlooked, possibly because Jackman is a first timer and probably will be back around. Still, the way he emotes through singing is fascinating.

Phoenix and Jackman are both examples of great performances worthy of a nomination. They tried something ambitious and while it wasn't always perfect, it was interesting. Lewis' performance may have been good, but what was so memorable about it? His soft talking or occasional wise cracks? These are all respectable attributes, but in lesser hands with an equal performance, no one would be spreading as much attention. This is all because Lewis is a prestigious name and with the chance to win a Best Actor statue in a movie by renowned Steven Spielberg, this somehow justifies it to rank above Jackman and Phoenix. I will give you that he may be better than Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) and Denzel Washington (Flight).

So when you hear me badmouth Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, do know it is largely because I feel that the hype around him is overrated. He may win, but like Meryl Streep winning Best Actress for The Iron Lady over Viola Davis for The Help, the best performance went to the biggest name simply because they haven't won in awhile. I probably will not be entirely upset, though I still feel like Phoenix is overdue an award, especially after Gladiator put him on the Academy's map. He may be deranged in comparison, but his efforts are dangerous and fun, which is something crucial to interesting cinema.

Do you think Joaquin Phoenix can win? Is Lincoln and Daniel Day Lewis' performance overrated? Will Hugh Jackman be around in for an acting nomination in the future? Will anyone care about Lincoln in five years like The Master?


  1. I freaking love this. My thoughts exactly.

  2. Daniel Day-Lewis should not have got the oscar. His performance so soulless due to method acting. No close up so no facial impression .