#309. Daniel Day-Lewis

Have you ever noticed that some actors seem to be in every critically-acclaimed movie? I’m not talking about the actors who win a lot of awards, but then also do some “low brow” comedies on the side. I’m referring to the actors who just seem to have a higher standard for the work they do. They usually aren’t the most prolific actors, but often they are the most awarded actors. It’s almost as if they have perfected the craft of acting and will only take on roles that they know will bring them the praise of critics and audiences alike. Daniel Day-Lewis certainly seems to fit into this category of actor. While he has appeared in more films in the early part of his career, lately his roles have been a little more spread out, but have earned him many accolades, regardless. This week’s two films highlight some of Daniel Day-Lewis’ most notable roles.

Gangs of New YorkGangs of New York
Year: 2002
Rating: R
Length: 167 minutes / 2.78 hours

Even though Daniel Day-Lewis has won multiple Oscars, there are still a few films where he was nominated for Best Actor and didn’t win the honor. It’s probably useful to note that these films were also nominated for Best Picture, but also lost to other movies. His first loss was to Tom Hanks in 1993 (for Hanks’ role in Philadelphia), despite a solid performance in In the Name of the Father (which itself lost to Schindler’s List). Fortunately, the only other time he didn’t win a nomination was in 2002 for his role in Gangs of New York (losing to Adrien Brody in The Pianist and the film losing to Chicago). Of course, Gangs of New York also garnered Martin Scorsese a nomination for Best Director. The only other time Day-Lewis and Scorsese worked together was for the period piece, The Age of Innocence (1993).

In Gangs of New York, Daniel Day-Lewis portrays William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting, a man whose violent tendencies crushed a rival gang of Irish immigrants led by a Catholic priest (Liam Neeson). Having no trouble cutting up animals or men, his intimidating persona managed to keep the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan in a state of fearful peace for sixteen years. In the midst of the Civil War, a man by the name of Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) arrives in New York and starts to stir up some trouble, becoming involved with William M. Tweed (Jim Broadbent), the boss of the newest rival gang to Bill’s “Natives.” As it turns out, Amsterdam has a connection to the previous gang war and it doesn’t take long for Bill to figure out who he was related to. Instead of running away to San Francisco, Amsterdam officially challenges Bill to a fight, which he accepts to his own peril.

LincolnLincoln
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
Length: 150 minutes / 2.5 hours

No other actor has won three Best Actor Oscars. Walter Brennan won three Best Supporting Actor statues, but everyone knows the highest honor comes with Best Actor. Daniel Day-Lewis has achieved this feat with only five nominations to his name. Even before he won his first Best Actor Oscar, he appeared in the Best Picture, Gandhi (1982). He would then go on to win his acting Oscars in the Best Picture nominees, My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Lincoln (2012). Perhaps due to his first Oscar coming from My Left Foot, Day-Lewis collaborated with director Jim Sheridan twice more for In the Name of the Father (which earned him an aforementioned acting nomination) and The Boxer (1997). Still, it’s his performance in Lincoln that pushed his name into Hollywood history for having earned three Best Actor Oscars.

While the gang wars of New York were coming to a head in 1863, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) made a definitive move in turning the tide of the Civil War by passing the Emancipation Proclamation. Unfortunately, now that he sees the end of the Civil War quickly approaching, he realizes that this wartime executive order might not stand up to legal scrutiny once the war is over. In order to keep the effects of the Proclamation permanent, he proposes the Thirteenth Amendment. This Amendment to the Constitution has a difficult road to ratification, considering the 16th President of the United States wants to have it approved before the end of the war so that the southern states re-joining the Union won’t be able to deny its passage and the freedoms it provides to slaves across the nation. It’s up to the men of Congress to ensure that Lincoln’s legacy remains intact, despite a sporty deadline quickly approaching.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 different Daniel Day-Lewis characters

Bacon #: 2 (Lincoln / Tommy Lee Jones -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)

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#308. One-eyed Villains

What is it about one-eyed villains that make them so intimidating? Maybe it has to do with their connection to the brutal and merciless pirates who often wore eyepatches (although not necessarily because their eye was damaged). While there have been a number of protagonists who have also sported the one-eye motif, but it merely enforces the tough and unstoppable stereotype. Even if most of these characters wear eye patches to cover their damaged eye, the antagonists who go without them end up being that much more intimidating. It’s almost like they wear their defective vision as a badge of honor, showing that it will take much more than a simple flesh wound to stop them from whatever they put their mind to. Perhaps these villains are a metaphor for the singular vision they hold, staying focused on one thing and one thing only. This week’s two films feature one-eyed villains.

Casino RoyaleCasino Royale
Year: 2006
Rating: PG-13
Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours

I would be amiss if I did not mention one of the most iconic one-eyed villains ever: Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This villain was not only a key antagonist of the James Bond series, but he has created a number of tropes as well, the most notable parody of them being Dr. Evil (Michael Myers) from the Austin Powers series. Despite his damaged eye only appearing in a few films, Blofeld as a villain appeared in From Russia with Love (1963), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), For Your Eyes Only (1981), and Spectre (2015). The latter of these films actually shows the incident where he loses his eye, mainly because the Daniel Craig James Bond films are seen as a prequel series. Of course, before they got to Blofeld, there was Le Chiffre in Casino Royale (2006).

Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) earned his considerable wealth through a number of unscrupulous dealings in the underworld. From funding terrorism to insider trading, eventually, the leadership of MI-6 takes notice. After unknowingly foiling a short-sell strategy Le Chiffre was using to fund a Ugandan warlord, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent to Montenegro to participate in a high-stakes Texas hold ‘em tournament that Le Chiffre decided to put on to recoup his losses. In terms of poker faces, Le Chiffre has one of the better ones, even despite having haemolacria in his left eye, which causes him to cry blood. After losing a significant amount of money to Bond, Le Chiffre eventually captures the British secret agent and tries to torture the bank account numbers out of him, but to no avail. When the rescue party comes to get Bond, Le Chiffre is killed in the process. However, his influences within MI-6 start to show well after his death.

Gangs of New YorkGangs of New York
Year: 2002
Rating: R
Length: 167 minutes / 2.78 hours

While wearing an eyepatch can give an intimidation factor to a character, I’ve found that the most interesting characters are the ones who are hiding something underneath that small piece of fabric. From the protagonist of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the antagonist of King Bradley from Fullmetal Alchemist, their patches covered up the secrets emblazoned on their eyes. I almost wish that there were more characters like this. When it comes to replacing a damaged eye, filling it with a symbol creates a character with a lot more depth than just someone who happens to be wearing an eyepatch. In fact, the best example of a character like this is none other than “Bill the Butcher” from Gangs of New York (2002). He has nothing to hide except his almost insane devotion to his country, and he wears it with pride on his left eye.

William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) leads a group of Americans who call themselves “The Natives” in a gang war against a recent influx of Irish immigrants in the area of Lower Manhattan known as “Five Points.” He is fiercely nationalistic, even to the point of having a glass eye emblazoned with an American eagle set in his left eye socket. Despite having killed Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), the leader of the “Dead Rabbits,” sixteen years ago, Bill finds that some of the Irish immigrants start to get out of line again when a man merely known as Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) arrives in New York. Eventually, Bill learns that Amsterdam is the son of Priest Vallon, and the cycle of gang wars reaches its climax once again, but this time with a much different outcome for Bill than the one that happened years ago.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 vision-impaired villains

#143. Leonardo DiCaprio

As was shown in a post from a little more than a year ago, Leonardo DiCaprio has been acting for a very long time. So long, that we’ve seen him grow up on the big screen. While many groaned at the sight of his name attached to a movie (especially after Titanic), now we almost expect his name to be linked to a great performance. I think that part of this was due to the Directors who hired him (or maybe he chose them instead). In fact, just looking at a short list of Directors he’s worked with reads like a “who’s who” of the Hollywood elite. Directors like Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Sam Raimi, and Baz Luhrmann pepper the list. He’s even managed to collaborate on multiple Martin Scorsese films. This week’s two films look at DiCaprio’s ever developing career.

Django UnchainedDjango Unchained
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 165 minutes / 2.75 hours

One of the other Directors Leonardo DiCaprio has worked with is Quentin Tarantino. This does not necessarily mean that DiCaprio has not worked on an extremely violent movie. As I mentioned earlier in this post, he has worked on many occasions with Martin Scorsese. Two of these films were Gangs of New York (2002) and The Departed (2006). Even though DiCaprio has played the hero in many films, one of the few in which he plays the villain is Django Unchained. As such, no longer constrained to play the “good guy”, he seemed to have a lot of fun really getting into the passion of his character. With his boyish charm having evolved into the cleverness of manhood, DiCaprio no longer has to rely merely on his looks to get by, but rather on his superior acting talent honed over the years.

In Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays southern plantation owner Calvin J. Candie. Aside from his love for speaking limited French and eating sweets (hence the name (and delicious pun) of his plantation: Candyland), Candie is very proud of his collection of Mandingos: slaves who are pitted against each other in fights to the death. One day, he’s approached by a Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a man interested in purchasing one of his Mandingos. Schultz has brought along a freed slave by the name of Django (Jamie Foxx), who is a self-proclaimed expert in Mandingos. However, Candie’s head house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) thinks the two men are there for something other than Mandingos. Eventually the truth comes out and Broomhilda, one of Candie’s female slaves, is sold to Dr. Schultz. And yet, this powder-keg of tension eventually comes to a head, with most people ending up dead.

Catch Me if You CanCatch Me if You Can
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours

I would be amiss if I did not mention, in this long list of great Directors, that DiCaprio has also worked with Steven Spielberg. And yet, in Catch Me if You Can, he plays another villain of sorts: the anti-hero. While we would like to root for the side of law enforcement, there’s just something about the chase that makes us root for the criminal. Even though the term “anti-hero” can be loosely applied in many applications, I tend to look at it as someone who is usually on the wrong side of the morals and laws we’ve all come to conform to, but who lives their life in such a way as to almost have a freedom from these constraints. And yet, the freedom they express is in order to fulfill a deep need that was not satisfied in the more traditional means, thus causing the anti-hero to attempt to fill the void with what essentially boils down to crime.

Set in the mid 1960’s, Catch Me if You Can stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenager who has run away from home after his parents’ financial troubles lead to their divorce. Having earlier posed as a substitute French teacher, Frank has found that confidence is all he needs to get by in the world. Unfortunately, as he runs out of money while living on his own, he turns that confidence into cash when he poses as a pilot for Pan Am. After almost $3 million in fraud is committed, Frank is soon chased by Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), an FBI agent who narrowly misses catching Frank upon their first face-to-face meeting. And if being a pilot wasn’t enough, Frank soon becomes a doctor and a lawyer, which gets him a girl, Brenda (Amy Adams). Unfortunately, he has to leave Brenda when Carl gets too close again. Will Frank disappear for good, or will Carl follow the clues to find him?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 DiCaprio “villains”

Bacon #: 2 (J. Edgar / Clint Eastwood (directed) -> Mystic River (directed/ Kevin Bacon)