Again, this is one man’s opinion at a particular moment on a particular day. The first performance noted is my favorite of the decade, while the subsequent nine performances are listed in alphabetical order by the actors’ last names.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, 1989). The five most brilliant performances to be rewarded with Oscars, chronologically, are these: Bette Davis in Jezebel (William Wyler, 1938), Laurence Olivier in Hamlet (Olivier, 1948), Simone Signoret in Room at the Top (Jack Clayton, 1958), Patricia Neal in Hud (Martin Ritt, 1963), Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. The last, the most recent, is the portrayal, of course, of someone who actually lived: Christy Brown, who struggled to paint and write. Born with severe cerebral palsy to a poor family in Dublin, spastic, alcoholic, enraged at his limitations, including his lack of control over his body, and at the various responses these attributes drew from others, Brown had no choice but to work—to paint and write—with the only limb of his that would work: his left foot.
Day-Lewis is the son of Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, who also was Oscared (for his contribution to the 1938 adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion that Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard directed). He is probably the single most gifted male actor working today in English-language films, and his massively moving Christy Brown is his crown jewel: a ferociously embittered individual who can never be right with the world, even when he seems to have it in the sole of his functioning foot. Brown, as Day-Lewis portrays him, far from being a freak, is an Everyman in extremis, but one whose challenges necessarily blind him to his kinship with others. Day-Lewis’s Christy assaults the same inhospitable world that unmans, more quietly, less outrageously, others. Day-Lewis helps us to feel our kinship with Christy Brown.
2. Ildikó Bánsági, Confidence (István Szabó, 1980).
3. Soumitra Chatterjee, The Home and the World (Satyajit Ray, 1984).
4. Günter Lamprecht, Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980).
5. Gary Oldman, Prick Up Your Ears (Stephen Frears, 1987).
6. Vanessa Redgrave, Wetherby (David Hare, 1985).
7. Hanna Schygulla, Sheer Madness (Margarethe von Trotta, 1982).
8. Barbara Sukowa, Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980).
9. Barbara Sukowa, Rosa Luxemburg (Margarethe von Trotta, 1986).
10. Carlos Vereza, Memories of Prison (Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1984).